What are you going to do about it? Ahead of the 3% Conference, industry figureheads share their micro-actions on diversity

91% of women in advertising have heard demeaning comments from male colleagues

We’ve heard the stories and we’ve seen the stats. Women are still, in 2016, not on an even footing with men in the advertising industry. But what are we going to do about it?

For women in the creative industries there is some good news, and a good chunk of not-so-great news. First, the sunny side of the street: since Kat Gordon founded the 3% Conference in 2010, women in senior creative leadership roles has gone from 3% of the industry to 11%.

This is still a ridiculously low number (and the same could be said about people of color, who are also disproportionately under-represented in the industry), but it does represent progress.

Now the bad news. The Elephant on Madison Avenue survey of almost 600 industry women, conducted by the 3% Conference, found that 91% of women in advertising have heard demeaning comments from male colleagues.

Let that number sink in for a moment — 91%.

What’s more, 54% of women in the industry have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances in their career — and 70% of these came from a superior. These were not necessarily one-off incidents either.

Despite the slight progress made, women in creative roles continue to feel isolated. Over half (58%) of those surveyed said they have felt excluded from important business meetings and only one in four feel that they have the same opportunities as men.

Speaking at Advertising Week New York, Colle+McVoy executive creative director Laura Fegley shared her frustration.

“It’s hard to feel inclusion when your numbers are so small. In the press, there has been a couple of notable douchebags who have cast aspersions on what leadership is at agencies but I think, for the most part, most creative male leadership is really well-intentioned.

“However, we tend to surround ourselves with people that are like us and a lot of male creatives just gravitate and feel more comfortable with other dudes like them and as women we feel that. So until we get our numbers up significantly in leadership roles, we will always feel like we are standing on the outside.”

For the most part, advertising is an industry that was founded by white men, as Shannon Washington, a senior creative director at Invnt pointed out on the same Advertising Week New York panel discussion.

“I have always said that creative departments are like a free space for men,” said Washington. “That’s great, but a creative department should be for everyone. But you can’t bump tradition and a lot of people hold on to that because that is what they know, but it wasn’t necessary created for all of us. As more of us break into these senior roles, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to shift the culture of inclusion.”

But what about the actions of everyone in the industry — men and women? What are the daily, ingrained things that can be done to ensure that this industry evolves, changes and is, ultimately, more welcoming to all, especially women?

Gordon, for her part, advocates a combination of sweeping and incremental change. The sweeping change is in the form of policies, guidelines and leadership commitment. The incremental change comes in the form of a ‘micro-action’; key moments and philosophies that individuals can do to press consistent, constant and productive forward momentum.

We asked people in the industry who are committed to change what ‘micro-action’ they are taking and why it matters.

Kat Gordon, founder, 3% Conference

Number 30 on our ‘100 Things’ list of micro-actions will be my focus in 2017. It reads: ‘Have answers ready for naysayers who claim advertising is a meritocracy or gender-blind. Direct them to research that proves otherwise. Data often opens minds that don’t even know they’re closed.’

3% will continue to do proprietary research and will do a complete website overhaul to make our videos, research, blog posts and other content categorized to be easier to search and share.

Bonnie Wan, partner and director of brand strategy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

A study by Lean In recently showed that 67% of women who negotiate are perceived negatively as ‘bossy’. Yet, the art of negotiation is so critical in our industry — whether it’s for your salary, a new creative direction or a scope of work.

Therefore, we are making a pledge at Goodby Silverstein & Partners to offer every woman negotiation skills training so that they are confident advocating for themselves and for others.

Edward Boches, professor of advertising, Boston University, and former partner and chief creative officer, MullenLowe USA

I teach advertising to future creatives. 80% of my students are women. I not only help them prepare their portfolios but encourage them to develop the skills and mindset to change the industry. I urge them to find mentors, advocate for themselves, and never defer to someone just because he’s a man.

Libby DeLana, partner, creative, Mechanica

What am I going to do about it? I am going to rebrand ‘failure’ in 2017. I love failure. It is really the only way to be original. Failure is also the best teacher so I plan to invite the storytelling and sharing stories about failure to break down the cultural judgement that failure means the individual is a failure.

Dawn Bovasso, vice-president, group creative director, content strategy and experience design, DigitasLBi

As a woman and mother working in advertising, I noticed that most expense policies are biased against women: generally, expenses are covered if they are something that makes men’s lives easier while on the road or in the office (like alcohol or takeout) but not if they are something traditionally taken care of at home by women (like babysitting). So for 2017, I’m going to help change biased corporate expense policies.

Bennett D. Bennett, writer, AdColor advisor, AAF Mosaic Next Generation Leadership Council member

There are now two advertising high schools in NYC — something I never had growing up. My pledge is to be an accessible mentor to those students. This city is synonymous with advertising and yet very few young girls and boys of color know it exists, or of their potential to create amazing things. I hope to help change that.

Rachel Svoboda, vice-president, Idea Hall (formerly of Amusement Park)

While working at Amusement Park I’ve been proud to serve as the lead female advocate on behalf of women at the agency. I’m excited to accept my new position working for a 100% female-owned ad agency. It’s a great opportunity to foster courage and inspire up and coming female leaders. Being a survivor of domestic violence, I pledge to lead by example and show women that they don’t have to be a silent victim in their personal lives or professional careers.

Jimmy Smith, partner, chairman, chief creative officer, Amusement Park

That’s a weird question for me because we’re already doing something about it. I can’t even articulate what are we going to do about it when, for instance, on Heaven Sent one of the main executive producers is female, the creative director is female, the person holding up the phone right now and charging new business is female.

I guess if you ask what are we going to do about it, we’re just going to act like human beings. How about that? It pushes out all of the rest of the bullshit.

Brad Jakeman, president, Global Beverage Group, PepsiCo

Be committed to diversity in your teams. Diversity of thought, diversity of team makeup, of backgrounds, of experiences, of face, of gender and sexual orientation. Innovation and creativity don’t come from homogenous groups who approach problems and opportunities in the same way.

We will not move industries, brands, programs and markets forward under the exclusive leadership of white straight men. Only when we are committed to putting this into practice will we start to see meaningful change.

Kelly Fredrickson, global marketing, Bank of America

I am committed to being a mentor. Over my career I have been fortunate to have had impactful mentors and am proud to work for a company like Bank of America that gives me ample opportunity to pay that forward.

Whether through formal programs, like our Diverse Leader Mentor program, or more informally through personal requests, I always find that I learn just as much, if not more, from these relationships. Building a choir of people who can support you is critical to success and I am always happy to lend a voice to help lift someone up.

Susie Nam, chief operating officer, Droga5

Our focus for 2017 is deepening the role of men as part of the women’s initiative for Droga5. We have named our effort S/he with the express intention of highlighting the role of both genders in the progress of women. We continue to develop our community of strong, intellectual and vocal women who we hope will become the next industry leaders.

Crucially, we want men to become allies who join the discussion. We want to avoid creating an echo chamber of women talking to other women about women. Over 50 Droga5 men are already formal mentors to women across the agency and many more are present in our S/he programming – but we will strive for more.

Tammy Soares, chief executive officer, Rosetta

What am I going to do about it? I pledge to refuse to speak at conferences with a speaker lineup that doesn’t include at least 20% women.

Anthony Reeves, executive creative director, Amazon Media Group

Facts don’t lie. There’s ample data that proves there is a need for a significant increase in female leadership. Yet passion will still override the strongest data point. It takes white men like myself to open doors and beat the drum of change. Women alone can’t make a difference. Day-by-day, step-by-step, position-by-position, my job is to make sure those doors are now open and women know that they are open.

Matt Eastwood, worldwide chief creative officer, J Walter Thompson

J Walter Thompson will continue to put the right role models in place, particularly in markets where it is difficult to achieve like New York, Buenos Aires and Cairo. We have put quotas in place when recruiting for all creative and technical roles, mandating a diverse candidate slate. And we have just signed up as a founding sponsor of #FreetheBid, a simple, action-based initiative that ensures female directors are at least invited to quote on all production jobs.

Doug Zanger, North America editor, The Drum

I started my show, Exceptional Women Out West, because I care deeply about simply telling and sharing the stories of great women in the industry, no matter the level. Suffice to say that geography plays a role, as I live in Portland, but we are committed to expanding this to the rest of the world. Additionally, as editor, my mission is to ensure that we’re part of the solution in pushing the diversity conversation in a positive direction whenever we can.

The Drum is media partnering with the 3% Conference, taking place in New York City on November 3-4.

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