3% Conference asks the youngest generation about their successful mothers and gets interesting answers

Margaret Johnson and daughter Vivian at the 3% Conference / Bronac McNeill Photography & Film

The daughters of some of the top women in advertising gathered with their mothers to discuss how growing up with strong women has affected them – both good and not so good – at the 3% Conference in New York.

‘Daughters of the Evolution’ saw R/GA chief creative officer Chloe Gottlieb with her daughter Leela Ting; Kerstin Emhoff, co-founder and president of Prettybird and her artist daughter Ella Emhoff; Goodby Silverstein & Partners chief creative officer Margaret Johnson and her fourth grade daughter Vivian Gray McHugh; and chief executive officer Canada and chief creative officer North America, Leo Burnett Canada Judy John and her high school daughter Kia Medlock.

The panel started with moderator Lauren Greenfield’s short film highlighting the daughters talking about what their parents do, both good and bad. How tough it is to be the kid of someone driven in their job but also how their mothers are making a big change in the world, due to the campaigns they work on and their work ethic. Funnily enough, most don’t want to go into advertising.

While the answers were frank, the film took an honest but lighthearted approach. The live conversation dug much deeper and showed the maturity and poise of the girls and young women on the stage. The strength of their mothers also came out.

“I think she definitely encourages me to finish what you start, and you can’t stop in the middle of something if you don’t like it,” said McHugh, who said she stays up late to practice math with her mom. The youngest panelist also relayed a story about being refused a space on the school basketball court because a boy said they already had a girl.

“I probably shouldn’t have done this, but I punched him in the stomach…She taught me it’s always ok to stand up for myself,” she said to laughs and cheers.

It was obvious that the hard work the mothers put into their jobs bled over into their home life. Medlock said that her mother often critiqued her student films and suggested changes, while Ting noted that her mother hasn’t been at all her graduations, but that her hard work has rubbed off.

Gottlieb said that Ting would often stay up until 3am to do homework, which would make them argue, but “the irony is, I want her to go to bed so I can go back to work.”

Ella Emhoff, now a freshman at Parsons School of Design, said she has learned a lot from her mother. “I’ve been watching her since I was a child,” said Emhoff, who added that her mom taught her not to let the patriarchal system quiet her down. “She has done such a good job of showing me that I can push through and not let any man stop you.”

Some of the women noted that they were not raised to be leaders. John was raised the third child, a girl in an ethnic family which had low expectations of her. Johnson stated she was uneasy with self-promotion. Gottlieb noted that her husband, with whom she works, had more initial self-confidence and her lack of that trait was projected on to her daughter, which sparked her to change.

“I want to give her and other girls a tool kit so she can get there faster than myself,” said Gottlieb.

Ting added a bit of humor: “One of her main ambitions in life is to get paid more than my dad. It’s kind of mean, but what she was saying is that she wants to be respected as much as everyone else.”

The conversation turned serious when the topic of sexual harassment was brought up. When Greenfield turned to the audience to ask how many had experienced sexual harassment in the ad industry, more than half the hands went up. Then the women on stage relayed their stories.

Kerstin Emhoff said that when she met a potential work partner at a cocktail she was hosting, he made a rude sexual comment, and she couldn’t come back against him because she was stunned by it.

“When I realized what he said, I felt like an idiot. I felt like he had cut me off at the knees,” she said, and later added that she had been sexually assaulted in college, which led to years of fear.

John told of her first trip to Cannes, which was paid for by her employer at the time. She was told she had to share a room with a man from another office, which led to three days of unwanted sexual advances.

Ella Emhoff said that the #MeToo movement, which her mother was a part of, created a dialogue that will hopefully help “end the stigma about harassment. You should allow it to be bad. It should start a powerful movement,” she said.

McHugh, when asked what she thought of harassers, asked “Who would do that, and why would you do it?”

A spot was then shared, called ‘Unacceptable Acceptance’, which was headed up by Johnson and Emhoff for the Don't Accept Rape campaign. It shows a high-school aged girl getting accepted to college, then reading her acceptance letter, which stated that the girl’s rapist will only be suspended for a single day “then you’re on your own.”

The powerful campaign brings attention to the fact that one in five women are sexually assaulted in college.

The session ended on a note of empowerment, where the mothers noted that they all had to work hard to get ahead, especially juggling motherhood and careers, but all admitted having their children was the best. Their smart, driven daughters all know that their mothers are strong and want them to get ahead, even if it’s not in advertising.

“I definitely don’t want to work in advertising,” said Ting. “I want a job with more flexibility where I can be in more control. I want to be doing something I love…and interacting with my soul.”

Wunderman proudly supports The Drum’s 3% Conference coverage. We believe true diversity does not check boxes, it checks itself. http://wunderman.com/

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Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle