One of the key aspects of this year’s 3% Conference, which starts this Thursday in New York, is the evolution of the theme – ‘Beyond Gender.’ It’s an opportunity for the organizers and founder Kat Gordon to address issues around inclusion other than just gender and, specifically, about the impact that diverse teams can have on the bottom line.
What Gordon, the 3% Conference founder, started six years ago, while incredibly vital, has evolved and emerged.
“This needs to involve everyone,” says Gordon. “It’s been kind of a re-steering of the ship. We are a business event. I’m always saying that over and over again.”
Indeed, at the beginning of its journey, the event itself was overwhelmingly female in attendance and on-stage representation but, over the years, Gordon and her team identified that getting critical mass and action required the input and participation of other constituencies including diverse views around race, the LGBTQ and disability communities and those who feel they are “aging out” of the industry.
As it relates to the original spirit of the event and movement, though, men are becoming more present both on stage and in the audience, a far cry from the first year of the conference.
“We certainly had male speakers in year one,” notes Gordon. “I’m not sure we had a single male attendee.”
Gordon concedes that the first year position as being “the first-ever event for female creative directors” had some effect on male attendance but, over time, the ratio has grown. A dedicated ‘Manbassador' track at the event, this year sponsored by IPG, has shined a light on both the perspectives of men and also what they can and intend to do about the gulf that exists between men and other people in the industry.
This year’s speaker slate includes legends like DDB’s Keith Reinhard and up-and-coming male champions that have the opportunity to make substantial change in the industry as they ascend and gain more time in their roles.
Simply being present is one thing, but agencies and companies are beginning to make this conference, like Cannes, Advertising Week and others, a priority for their male leaders. In fact, BBH saw a good opportunity to get their most senior people to the conference by changing the location of their annual CEO get-together from London to New York.
“Rather than ask any CEOs planning to attend the conference to cancel, we decided to move the meeting to New York to facilitate an even higher number of our leaders attendance at the 3% Conference,” says Niall Hadden, BBH’s global chief talent officer. “This was a quick and easy decision to make, based on our wish to support the conference.”
The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by the 3% Conference leadership with male leaders from Singapore, India, Sweden, the UK and US offices represented. In all, BBH is sending five male and two female CEOs to the conference this week. To Gordon, this speaks volumes.
“It means that they understand that what we're doing has global ramifications, is a business imperative — is not nice to have, but necessary,” says Gordon. “I love the efficiency. They took away one of the hurdles that would make it impossible and they collapsed two events into one.”
Though the recognition was appreciated, Hadden saw this simply as a good opportunity for BBH’s leadership team to participate in a meaningful way.
“We are delighted it’s been acknowledged,” says Hadden. “But, really, we are providing the opportunity for a number of our leaders to be inspired, in support of making more progress on all aspects of diversity. We want all senior leaders, across all disciplines, to realize the role that they can play in creating the right conditions at BBH in which greater diversity can flourish. The CEO role is critical in helping to deliver against this ambition.”
Progress is an interesting prospect at the present time. Though senior male leaders such as IPG chief executive Michael Roth, FCB chief executive Carter Murray and others are 3% Conference mainstays, Gordon feels that, though there is momentum afoot, there is one critical place where men can make more of an impact.
“I think it’s the mid-level men,” says Gordon. “It’s amazing to have the Michael Roth’s and Carter Murray’s but it’s going to be about the men who will are on their way to creating cultures inside agencies that they’re either going to lead or own. To get this guidance early, so that they understand and can build a culture [is key]. We need the young guys that are going to be part of this movement.”
To extend the learning opportunity, the 3% Conference, for the first time, introduced a live streaming option for those who cannot attend. Arnold, Duncan Channon and The Martin Agency are some agencies taking advantage.
“We are so excited to bring this experience to younger agency staff via the live feed, especially the junior and mid-level men at our agency,” said Duncan Channon in a statement. “They are key players for change.”
From this point, armed with new knowledge and perspective, Gordon hopes that leaders, especially those at the mid-level, own the agenda, conversation and action around diverse talent.
“They should be talking about it in very public form. They should be talking about it at all-hands meetings inside their agencies. They should be talking about it in their annual reports.”
Additionally, Gordon hopes to continue to get unfettered feedback, especially from men and the Manbassador track, to continue to help shape how they continue to engage men — and is always willing to be there for everyone, but especially men, in the industry as it continues to navigate its way forward.
“We're there for them,” she says. “We get that people might have questions and that might be uncertain territory and new. We’ve got your back. No one owns us. We're truth tellers. We're safe people to come to. I think they'll just feel a sense that they actually understand their role and they're excited about it and it's not daunting and a compliance thing. It's something they actually really want to do.”
Wunderman proudly supports The Drum’s 3% Conference coverage. We believe true diversity does not check boxes, it checks itself. http://wunderman.com/