"It's not that we are women. It's that we are not men, we are the other,” said Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld.com, speaking of the agency world, and
firing up the audience, 400-women strong, at The 3% Conference last week in San Francisco.
“We are not men” has a catchy, Devo-ish ring to it, but
Gallop went on to explain that given the reality of 21st century demographics, treating people of color and women as “the other” is a huge business problem. “If you start
an ad agency today with an all-male founder/leadership team, you’re screwed. You will not own the future,” she said. Because that’s not what contemporary America -- and the rest of
the world -- looks like.
Named for the woefully feeble percentage of creative directors in advertising who are women, The 3% Conference was founded last year by creative director Kat Gordon to name and
recognize the problem, as a way to begin changing it. By this, the second year, the collective power of the women gathered in the ballroom could have blown the roof off the Intercontinental
In fact, one of the presentations was called "Blowing up the Business Rules that Hold you
Back.” That's where Nancy Vonk pointed out an impossible double standard exists in the agency world: “Kids mean less commitment on the part of women. Kids mean more commitment
on the part of men.” Actually, Vonk said, “Women with children become better -- better time managers and better workers. There’s a humanity to the work.”
Vonk and Janet Kestin (aka "Jancy") are the former co-chief creative directors at Ogilvy Toronto responsible for the breakthrough Dove Real Beauty
They left the agency world to start a consultancy, called Swim, (as in, sink
or…) and are now writing a book full of hard truths. For example, Vonk talked about the importance of mentoring, not as a chore, but as an act of “enlightened self
“The next generation of leaders is
missing; there simply hasn’t been time and resources put into bringing people along,” she said. Therefore, “selfish mentoring,” -- or, as Vonk called it, “putting
freakish amount of time and energy” into helping new talent -- can be “an authentic career strategy.”
Indeed, the focus for this year’s conference was on what’s doable: re-engineering agency structure through micro-actions, rather than all-encompassing,
sweeping changes that are threatening and impossible to carry out.
“Prototype the change you want to see in the world and begin taking small steps,”
suggested Jenn Maer of Ideo in her presentation with Sally Thornton of Forshay, called “What a Creative-Friendly Company Looks Like." “Working all the time makes you less creative. By
making even one small shift, you can see immediate improvement in the quality of your life. “
Of course, a creative-friendly agency is more collaborative, results-oriented, and allows for a
For Thornton, achieving that balance took an unimaginable life crisis: She got the strength to leave corporate America and start her own business seven years ago,
after her brother was killed in a plane crash, and she was eight months pregnant at the time.
Certainly, some of the women had solved their own problems by leaving
big agencies to start their own businesses.
But I moderated a panel with some major agency players: Susan Credle, the chief creative officer at Leo Burnett;
Vida Cornelious, chief creative officer at GlobalHue; and Mimi Cook, chief creative officer at Y&R, San Francisco.
These are women who’ve had long, storied careers within the system. Credle, who spent many years at BBDO before leaving for Leo Burnett, is married, with
no children. She admitted that she would sometimes get freaked out watching a creative director’s “sweater getting bigger,” imagining what that would mean for her team once she was
out on maternity leave.
Credle said she finally came to terms with the fact that the world wouldn’t end due to a three-month leave. Though the business is 24/7, yada yada, she said
the truth was more often that the mother would come back, post-leave, “and I’d hand her the same (effing) brief, which still hadn’t been solved.”