Guys, here’s how you retain female talent

PJ Pereira on stage at 3% Conference in NYC / Bronac McNeill

The 3% Conference wrapped up the week before last with hopeful new statistics, moving female creative director representation from 11% to 29% in the 31 brave agencies who have accepted to do the survey. Optimistic, but let’s be cautious. Here’s the percentage of females in these positions: 45% of ACDs, 29% of CDs, and then 15% of ECDs. A 15% drop per title bump. Yikes. Why are they leaving?

Guys. You are an important piece of the diversity puzzle—like, 85% of the senior creative leadership puzzle. As behavioral scientist Matt Wallaert put it humorously, “To show their support, men are socialized to bring flowers and candy. But how can we actually be supportive?”

Thank you for being our allies. There’s been so much progress. Yet, sometimes you annoy the hell out of us without even knowing it. And I say this with kindness and empathy. I have so many men to thank for in my career, and I know you mean well. As women, we will not always “speak up” every time things go wrong. As the recurring minority in the room, we don’t want twelve eyeballs staring at us for bringing up something that may sound “aggressive” or “emotional.” So, we shut up. We build resentment. And then, one day, you’re like, “WHAT!? You’re quitting?!” And we’re like “WHAT!? How can you NOT have seen the signs!?”

Let’s stop signs and interpretations. Let’s be clear and help each other out. Here is great advice from the 3% Conference that resonated with my experiences.

Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB, gave a brilliant session on mentorship and the importance of listening. “Listening is not only hearing words, but listening to how they’re said.”

Women tell you things that will really fix your company—but don’t feel heard. Some several times, others might be more subtle. So listen, but also watch for body language and cues. That’s what diversity is about! Different personalities working together. Being part French, I have an excuse to be maybe too honest and I can always pull out the French card whenever I cross the line. “Whoops, sorry, ‘little asshole’ is totally affectionate in French!?” I also see women say powerful things in elegant ways. And you know what: whether we’re blunt or subtle, after saying the same shit all the time, I don’t know why—we still don’t feel heard. So, listen hard. Ask questions. Soon enough, you’ll know the truth.

God-Is Rivera, Director of Inclusion & Cultural Resonance at VML, recommends you proactively ask women the questions they wouldn’t dare bring up during the interview. For example, “What lifestyle flexibilities would help you bring your best work?” Tech companies and brands are nailing flexible schedules.

Some prefer money, others titles or time. Stay open with our different motivations. We don’t all want a corner office. We don’t all want to have kids, either. Diversity also means ambition and expectations come in all shapes and sizes. Just ask, and we’ll be excited to see you care.

72andSunny offers 6 months of maternity leave. Crazy!

Berlin Cameron offers a day a month for their employees to work on their side hustles. Obsessed!

Wolf & Wilhelmine insists on no emails after 7 pm. And no bonuses if staff don’t take all their vacation days. Speechless.

I know there’s a tendency to park lady bosses with young ladies and dude bosses with young dudes. But, it’s important to mix it up, so everyone is exposed to a diversity personalities. I was blessed to work closely with Rei Inamoto, former global chief creative officer of AKQA and co-founder of Inamoto&Co. When we were at AKQA, 50% of the creatives he managed were female! I asked him where his positive relationships with women came from: “I’ve had amazing female bosses.” Rei sees female potential, because he’s learned to meet and respect women above him.

On the other side, guys, you have a huge influence on women too. You have this innate confidence that we don’t stereotypically always have. (One day tho. It’s coming. Grrr.) Studies show that women apply for jobs when they have 100% of the qualifications, and men go for it when they have 60%. That’s confidence.

Keith Reinhard shared how coaching mentees to believe in their talents has a lasting effect on their career. Make sure you tell her why she’s awesome. She probably doesn’t realize it. How often have we complimented a woman to hear back, “Ah...it was teamwork!” or “Oh psshhh no.” Guys! give these women some of your confidence.

If not, you can always buy them this t-shirt.

(Come on, just kidding around...it’s true tho. Lord, please.)

Michele Sileo, partner & chief growth officer at Eleven Inc., shared an amazing tip that built her confidence. “Donny Deutsch always asked my opinion. It made me feel compelled to always show up with a point of view, and it made me feel good about the fact that it mattered. It was important to have a voice in the room early in my career—it formed me later in life to become opinionated.”

I judged the One Show two years ago. 12 men, 3 women. ECDs flying from all over the world to debate the best work of the year, so, yeah, men with big voices and big opinions. I’m not shy. I just have this sick tendency to want to let people finish before sharing my opinion.

As we were debating the Best In Show, I tried several times to butt in, like “Eh…” “Uh...” “Hheehh...” and after the fourth attempt, I was like, “Omg STOP. You’re embarrassing yourself. You can’t even properly cut and share your opinion.” So, I kept quiet until the end. At that moment, an angel appeared from within the circle: Larry Corwin from Facebook. “Hey, Mara, did you have something to say?” YES. I FUCKING DO HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY. But it’s really hard to do it when we have big voices cutting us off all the time.

Men are likely to interrupt women 33% more than men. It’s exhausting, guys.

Please do notice the ladies who are quiet in your meetings. They probably have something really interesting to say. Probably so interesting that they’re afraid of sharing it. Usually I’m quiet when I have disruptive thoughts. Ask the quiet ladies what they really think. They will challenge you.

Stop losing amazing talent to other companies! I’ve seen so many baller women feel underappreciated and jump ship.

Guys, we get recruiter emails almost every day. It’s like being in a romantic relationship where your partner isn’t paying attention to you, while there’s all these attractive people just craving to give you their love. Make it easy for us to like you.

Here’s how. Say thank you. Check in with her. Give her feedback. Goals. Get her promoted.

This is complex though, so I want to unpack this. Men are 15% more likely to be promoted than women. It’s a mix of culture and gender bias.

Let’s start with cultural differences. Here’s a quote: “I had people around me for a year telling me I was doing the job above me. So, by the time I was given my promotion, I was 150% ready. And it builds resentment when you're confident in your abilities, but also don't want to shout about it all the time. When I have to be very vocal about my accomplishments, sometimes I'm like, how are my bosses not noticing!?! When everyone else peripheral is. It's annoying to me that I should have to shout from the rooftops about how great I am.”

I see both sides of the story. Male friends are like, “They need to speak up! You don’t get what you don’t ask for!” Ok, so: did you tell her that? Please tell her now. Whether you’re her boss or her friend. Shake up her humility and help her feel shameless about communicating her achievements. With a lot of women, and a lot of immigrant cultures (both men and women), boasting our achievements is not how we’re wired—it’s usually frowned upon in many cultures. Some need a bit of help with the humble brags. Notice these talented humble folks, and help them talk about themselves better.

Let’s finish with gender bias.

Ok I finally had the guts to ask for a promotion. I spoke up, yay! Breaking cultural and gender stereotypes! This is the response I got: “A title won’t make you a better leader?! Look at [Eric] See how he owns the room with his personality. No one cares about his title. You just need to behave like a leader, and people will see you as one. You don’t need a title.”

I actually love the guy who told me that, but DAMN...that was hard to hear. The disconnect was: everyone I worked with did see me as a leader for years, so, what was he on about? Because I didn’t act like your average loud-mouth douchebag?! Yeah, I’m an optimistic, empathetic, no-BS, self-aware leader. I don’t talk with “gravitas.” I don’t strike awe and fear with my authoritative charisma. Jesus. I get more shit done by being respectful to people. The day the agency begged me to accept the promotion was the day I had quit. Thanks for that.

I’m just sharing my awkward moments for your team sanity. If there’s a lady out there who is doing a good job, who asked for a promotion and you shut her down: she IS on her way out. Pay attention to her. If she’s not ready, coach her to get there.

So WHY do moms get more maternity leave than dads!? That’s fucked up. Actually, there’s probably a fairly simple reason. Focus group of one: guys are not asking for more? More than 90% of women and men believe taking extended family leave will hurt their position at work. I get it. You don’t want to leave work for months because you love your job to death and your agency will crumble if you leave so long. Or you don’t want people to get used to you being absent.

The problem is, if we don’t start seeing men in leadership leave the office and take care of their families, showing the example for the next generation of leaders, how are we ever going to solve the diversity problem? How are we ever going to make women feel like you have their back? How can women, who look up to you, see that you can do it—be ambitious and have a family—if you actually can’t and won’t do it? That’s the message you're sending us. To be a CCO, you need to put work first. Family should be dealt with by your partner.

Here’s a company that’s moving the needle: Facebook offers 4 months of parental leave to split between parents. The best part is, because Mark Zuckerberg took the full 2 months, most of the guys at Facebook are now doing it too.

Senior guys. Lead by example! Mini guys are looking up to you.

Kudos to Momentum for spearheading the efforts in advertising, and offering 6 weeks paternity leave. And to VML and 72andSunny to win the 3% Conference Certification for working hard at moving the needle for diversity in advertising.

Phew. This is it. Guys, we’re in this together. I believe all issues stem from miscommunication, and can be solved with empathy and education. The solution can be fairly straightforward: listen, ask questions and show that you care.

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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Mara Lecocq

Mara Lecocq is creative director at 72andSunny/Sundae, and formerly at AKQA New York, Tribal DDB Toronto, and BETC Paris.

Instagram: @lets.take.this.offline by @mara.lecocq

Twitter: @mara_lecocq

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