I am a female Creative Director that works in an industry still very much dominated by males: advertising.
At last count, 97 percent of creative directors in the U.S. were men. This is not a new statistic, but it is a relevant one. Undoubtedly, some people will assume that as one of the 3%, I would focus on how this feels unfair and imbalanced. While I won’t wholeheartedly dispute that, I see it more as an opportunity.
We need to change the way we work. Embrace our leaders, no matter who they are, and remember that playing victim won’t get you ahead. But change doesn’t come overnight, and even with the leaps and bounds made by women over previous decades, it is now more important than ever to challenge the existing model. No matter what industry we work in, women need to recognize the importance of raising each other up. How can we do that? By taking risks. By being uncomfortable. By being a voice for change.
I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s 3% Conference, a passion project founded by Kat Gordon, to bring awareness to the imbalance of men and women in director positions in the creative field. And while the focus of the conference lent itself to the ad industry, the lessons were universal. My biggest take away? Learn acceptance and take risks. All leaders, male and female, need to actively take risks. Not just creatively for clients, but for the success of our careers and our industry as a whole.
I work for Zambezi, a creative agency that was founded by two young entrepreneurs (both men), and that works largely with male-targeted brands. Moving across the country to work in a world of beverages, video games and sports after spending seven years on brands that were both run and geared towards women was the biggest professional risk I’ve taken to date.
The shift didn't take immediately. I was uncomfortable. I was the first full-time female in the creative department, and working on subjects that didn’t match my background. So, I researched. I learned about my clients, asked questions, made mistakes, and then I realized something -- I didn't have to be an expert on the subject matter -- I had to be an expert on how to make it a desirable brand. My discomfort in the unknown drove me to work even harder to come up with relevant creative solutions, which helped me gain the trust of my bosses, and ultimately lifted my career to a level where I now can be a voice for change.
I have been. The agency has taken on more and more female-focused work, as well as embraced the fact that a good creative can work on any type of business. I’m helping re-define the course of our company, and now feel a big part of my role is to lift up my peers who may not have found their voice yet.
Here are a couple things I wish someone had told me as a budding female creative – and trust me, men are already doing these:
Put yourself first. The great news is women in leadership roles are very much in demand right now. This means you can take your time, find the right fit, and help be a voice for change where you feel most excited. This doesn’t mean seeking something comfortable. I, in fact, support choosing the uncomfortable. This is where you’ll take the most risks. You’ll work harder, ask questions, fail, and then find what works for you to succeed. Emphasis on YOU. These are the qualities that build the trust of leaders. Anyone can be good at something they’re already good at.
When you find the right fit; do the job your way. You got to this position because of who you are and how you do things, why change now? You will always have to adapt to a new way of working, whether that’s a new client, a new brief or a new boss. Just make sure you’re watching out for yourself, first. Dr. Romila Mushtaq, a panelist at this year’s conference, stressed the importance of taking care of your health - be it mental or physical.
Take the risk. The scariest (but the most important) tip: take risks. Every day. This doesn’t mean quit your job or move across the country. Rather, find the everyday challenges and take the road less traveled. We all need to be a voice for change. There’s no right or wrong way, just say something. Anything. At the conference, Cindy Gallop, founder of ‘Make Love Not Porn’, stressed the fact that “if nobody speaks up, nothing changes.” Trust me that most (if not all) employers will be open to feedback. Your honesty will make you an invaluable asset. If you can’t say, then do; it will often bring you to a place you wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. A new idea, a new friend, a new way to work. Put yourself forward. Be a mentor. Challenge the status quo. Grow the “3%.”As Cindy Gallop, put it, “Women challenge the status quo, because we are never it.”