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Detroit’s ‘manbassadors’: Execs from Doner and Campbell Ewald discuss their efforts to champion women

Campbell Ewald's Kevin Wertz, Doner's James Ward and SapientRazorfish's Alyssa Altman

To kick off the 3% Conference in Detroit, founder Kat Gordon opened with a story about her firsthand experience witnessing gender discrimination during a pitch for an automotive brand.

While working as a copywriter at Hal Riney in the ‘90s, Gordon said she was dismayed when she realized that 16 of the 17-person team pitching for the Saab account were men. (The lone woman was Bonnie Wan, who is now director of brand strategy and partner at GS&P).

“I remember thinking that there was something very broken about this lineup of talent that did not look at all like what car buyers look like,” she said. “Sure enough, they didn’t win the business. It was one of those moments that sticks with you for a really long time and it bothered me,” she added, noting that the failed pitch was the catalyst behind why she wanted to start a conference that champions female creative talent and leadership.

Since Gordon started the 3% Conference five years ago, strides have certainly been made: women now make up 11% of creative directors instead of a paltry three. Even so, there’s still a long way to go, which is why chief executive of Campbell Ewald Kevin Wertz and Doner’s chief strategy officer James Ward took to the stage at 3% Detroit to discuss what steps they’re taking to ensure that women are just as much a part of the agency fabric as men.

Ward said that while Doner’s diversity efforts are still “a work in progress,” the agency has taken tangible steps as of late to “raise consciousness and get people talking about” the issue of diversity. He pointed to Doner’s recent Equal Pay Day walk out as an example of how the agency is working to advocate for things like the elimination of wage disparities.

“Having done that, what’s really critical is that we follow through with it every day,” he said, noting that things like day-to-day mentoring are just as important as attention-grabbing stunts.

“Just the sheer act of tearing down walls between people is really crucial,” he said. “Some days the efforts are more extra-curricular and grand, and in other instances it’s just about how we treat one another.”

Doner also recently announced that six of the eleven new creative hires at its Detroit headquarters are women, a move that was praised by Cindy Gallop. Over at Campbell Ewald, Wertz said that more than 50% of the agency’s employees are female, a number that he said isn't “a success or a failure, it’s just sort of a fact.”

“The same percentage of women in the workforce are in senior leadership roles at our agency,” Wertz said. “So success to me is not seeing a drop-off in senior leadership in the female ranks.”

Last year, Campbell Ewald named Jo Shoesmith as its first-ever female chief creative officer in the agency’s 105-year-old history. She took over from longtime chief creative officer Mark Simon, who left in the midst of Campbell Ewald’s ‘Ghetto Day’ email scandal that resulted in the termination of its chief executive Jim Palmer.

During the session, Wertz acknowledged that there’s still more work to be done despite Campbell Ewald’s strong female leadership numbers. He said that although the agency does a good job of tracking things like who’s being hired at what level and how much they’re being paid, they haven’t done much to actually quantify any of that data to see if it reveals any concerning patterns.

“What we haven’t done is quantify [that information] and said, ‘are we losing more women in middle management, and are they leaving for predominantly pay situations?’ We have all that data, [but] we’ve never looked at it that way,” he said, adding that the agency recently tasked its head of human resources with sorting through some of that information.

He also said the agency is working to make sure that women aren’t getting pigeonholed into working on briefs that are traditionally “female,” like packaged goods or beauty brands.

“We have women that are working on the Harley-Davidson brief right now and men that are working on Snuggle Fabric Softener, because that diversity of background and thinking is going to make both of those campaigns better. So if you’re a woman here, go and ask for a better brief. Go ask for a cool assignment,” he told the audience.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she oversees creativity coverage in North & South America and runs The Drum’s weekly “US Creative Works” roundup. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal and has interviewed dozens of creatives for The Drum’s “What does it take to be a great creative?” video series.

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