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Diversity and determination is good for business: Reaction to The 3% Conference London

London's 3% Conference photographed by Bronac McNeill

Last week (Friday 12 June) saw the arrival of The 3% Conference train to London – the first event out of the United States for the 3% team since their inaugural San Francisco session on September 2012.

The drum they’re banging? Diversity = creativity = profitability. Women are the main purchase decision makers in every category bar three YET the people coming up with the ideas are predominantly male.

In the US in 2012 3 per cent of creative directors were women and as Kat Gordon, founder of the event, puts it perfectly: “The truth is that women are the superset, not the subset… Yet the work that is supposed to motivate them springs almost entirely from a male perspective. The advertising business is a $33bn industry. Misunderstanding female consumers, from a business perspective, is sheer lunacy.”

Back to Friday and how did The 3% Conference translate for the London advertising scene?

The drum that was banged was undoubtedly a welcome beat here. The UK suffers from the same challenges as the US – female creative directors are less than 15 per cent of the population. And this is a global issue; a study undertaken by Dr Jean Munroe of 50 countries, 2.000 agencies, shows across the globe only 14.6 per cent of creative directors and 20.3 per cent of all creatives are female. At under 15 per cent we’re looking at tokenism – which means women are “an alien organism that has to adopt to the wider body around it”. This is a serious business problem.

There were a few differences with the London mini-con and a major one was called out by Kat in her opening address – the majority of the audience were white. In fact, they were the most white audience the 3% team had experienced at any of their events. And really this is the underlying point of 3% – The 3% Conference is calling for diversity in business. Sure, their main focus is women in creative departments but more fundamentally they’re a rallying cry for difference and against homogeneity.

A wonderful quote from Kat sums this up perfectly: “If two people think the same, one is irrelevant.” You need different perspectives on situations to come to a genuinely insightful, resonate and successful idea.

A further London anomaly was the lack of men. In attendance were a mute handful, looking a bit squirmy on their seats. Now, (negatively phrased), quotes like advertising is “a closed group of white guys, talking to white guys, about white guys” might have scared the men away. But again that would miss the point of The 3% Conference.

The conference is pro-diversity. They love white guys. In fact there was a whole panel of white guys, man-bassadors, enlisted to talk about how they have instituted change in their agencies. Without men taking part in the debate the issue can never be resolved. If they’re the ‘ruling class’ we need their buy-in to institute change. Next time men, don’t be scared – join in as the “women’s debate is a diversity debate".

The Manbassadors panel photographed by Bronac McNeill

When Cindy Gallop took the stage, a 3% tradition, she moved the conference to a more fundamental place. Of course, she did not neglect the diversity debate, proclaiming the “women’s debate is a diversity debate” and “the new creativity is female informed”. Rather she went straight to the crux of the matter – how you achieve change – which, at its heart, is the point of 3%.

Cindy believes that the only way to change the world is by doing not talking as demonstrated by her ‘IfWeRanTheWorld' and ‘Make love not porn’ businesses.

She has coined the phrase “communication through demonstration” and believes we do not need to "lean in", or adapt to a set of institutions created by a male dominated world, rather we need to change them. And isn’t this what the new world economy should look like – a system where every creative idea, every organisation and every hierarchy is equally female, male, white, black, gay and straight informed?

Cindy Gallop at London's 3% Conference photographed by Bronac McNeill

The 3% Conference could be seen by the naive as a ‘creative women’s conference’ talking about ‘creative women’s issues’. But it is way more than this. The 3% Conference calls for diversity as this equals profit and then equips you with the inspiration needed to go out and attain it.

Next time men, don't be afraid - join in!

Nadya Powell is managing director of Lost Boys London. She tweets @NadsBads

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Nadya Powell

Nadya Powell’s career in advertising began 15 years ago at Grey Interactive exploring WAP, video streaming and TV as interactive platforms.

After almost four years at Grey she jumped ship to Dare, where she developed the agency’s social and innovation offerings and took up the role of chief innovation officer.

In the past 12 months she has started up MRY – a leading US social agency – in the UK, rebranded it to Lost Boys and won clients including Honda, The Glenlivet, Interactive Investor and UGG.

Powell is a member of Tech London Advocates, a mentor for Wayra and works with Hackney Community College on the Millennial Mentoring programme.

She is also co-founder of Innovation Social – a collaboration enterprise involving senior and influential innovators across agencies and brands which holds formal events and informal networking sessions.

All by Nadya