Q&A with Kat Gordon, 3% Conference founder: 'Your femaleness is not a liability. It’s an asset. Celebrate it.'

Kat Gordon has been in the industry for several years and has witnessed firsthand the gender inequality the creative industry faces. She launched her own agency that targeted the female consumer, and subsequently launched the 3% Conference.The conference encourages gender equality within the industry, and helps agencies realize how they can make a difference.Gordon chatted with The Drum about the progress the industry has made since the first conference four years ago, and about the progress that still needs to be made.

Why did you begin the 3% Conference?

I started after watching for years that the power of the female consumer coming had come to this fever pitch. I run an ad agency that I started that specialized in marketing to women. So I spent a lot of time researching that segment and every indicator was that women were eclipsing men in every single key indicator: wealth, education, social media sharing, consumer influence, and tech adoption. Everything.

And I kept looking to the advertising business where I hailed from and seeing it be so stubbornly male. All the leadership, when I’d open up AdAge or Creativity, were white faces of men, over and over again. So I just got really curious about why an industry that’s so progressive and problem-solving, we couldn’t look at ourselves the way we ask our clients to look at their businesses. So I started doing research about why this problem persists and put together a plan for how we can start to dismantle some of the persistent problems.

Why does this problem still exist?

It’s not a recruitment problem, it’s a retention problem. Advertising is not like technology in that it has to lure women and girls into wanting to work in the field. They do want to work in the field and are graduating from portfolio schools and what happens is that we have a really full pipeline, and then it leaks like crazy around the time that women want to start to have families. So the number one reason is the lack of support for family life.

But, there are a lot of other insidious things that happen that perpetuate the problem. Things like all-male juries on the award shows where the type of work we celebrate tends to be more appealing to the male sensibility. Then, the more male judges you have, the more that work gets celebrated and away we go.

There’s a lack of mentorship for women. A lot of men in authoritative roles are reluctant to mentor young women because they think it looks unsavory and so they mentor their own. So women just don’t get that exposure to people higher up.

Lack of confidence and presentation skills is a huge thing we work on at 3%. A lot of women are amazing creatives but they don’t have the confidence to sell their work. Again it’s a visibility issue that they’re not owning their work. They’re also not learning how to sell their work effectively which would help with the crazy hours. The better you can sell your work in the first meeting, the less likely that you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and work all weekend.

How do we change this culture and these mindsets that seem to be repeating themselves?

One of the things that happened in the years after we started the conference is that the art directors club issued their 50/50 initiative where they task award shows to committing to having 50 per cent of their award shows be female.

A lot of times it's things like that. It’s creating new roles and expectations.

Agencies need to also start to become honest with themselves about their metrics. A lot of agencies don’t even know how they’re doing on this front so we encourage them to do an audit. How many female creative directors do you have?

We had a session at our conference last year where an agency revealed how they audited themselves. They revealed what their numbers were. They revealed what they’re doing with that data. We have a similar session this year about wage equity. How are you paying your women?

A lot of it is just getting honest about the state of things now, following these micro-actions moving forward and having a conversation where brands are now parting of the conversations, telling agencies “We want diversity in our creative partners and we’ll work with you to make that happen.”

Do you think digital has made a difference at all? How so?

I do. A lot of this is hard because there aren’t readily-available numbers. We’ve heard anecdotally that agencies that were digital pioneers have better female representation and leadership.

I don’t know if it was an all-hands-on-deck where agencies suddenly have to require new skills and women just got more opportunity, but it seems women are owning leadership in that sector more than in traditional agencies.

What are the changes, if any, you’ve seen since beginning the 3% Conference?

I guess the Art Director’s Club initiative is the most obvious industry-wide change we’ve seen. The number three per cent was on a study that hasn’t been done in nine years so we recreated the study and found that the number was up to 11.5 per cent, so that was encouraging.

Bigger than that, it feels like we have raised the awareness and every-day conversations around this because we have a very active social media community 365 days a year. We’re not only about our events. It feels like everybody is aware of this and they’re looking for places they can improve this.

I get a lot of phone calls from agencies who specifically want to see female candidates. I get calls from other conferences who want to feature more women on the stage.

It’s like I tell women at conferences, “Your femaleness is not a liability. It’s an asset. Celebrate it.” And the world is waking up to how valuable that is.

Looking forward – five, ten years from now – what do you hope to gain from the conferences? What are your priorities?

I always say that my priority is to put myself out of a job. I don’t think the conference should have to exist and that my goal is that it won’t.

It will get to a place where women are 50 per cent of creative directors globally. Where I see our contributions shifting is that we’ll go into agencies and audit them and help them self-audit around gender friendliness. They can become 3% certified, or not. And if they’re not able to become 3% certified, we’ll show them where they’re falling down and we’ll help them figure out where they’re going to get better.

My goal is to supplement what we’ve done with the conferences to help agencies get honest. I’ve phone calls with agencies who complain that there are no benchmarks around this. They want to know how they’re doing, and they want to know who’s doing it better. Agencies are very competitive with one another.

So, we want to create that baseline that says, “Here is what a healthy agency looks like.” Then they can audit themselves around that benchmark.

How long do you think it’ll take until the industry is actually 50/50?

It’s hard to know. I would love to say that it will be within the next ten years.

So that’s a realistic timeline?

Why not? We don’t have to lure a new generation of girls to want to get trained to be creative directors. We have the talent, we just have to stop hemorrhaging the talent.

There’s no downside to this. It’s all good. It makes us more profitable, it makes us more creative, it makes us better partners, it makes us more attuned to consumers. It’s all upside.

So, why not in ten years?

Gordon is hosting a 3% mini conference in London next month, and a full conference in New York this fall.

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