‘Where are the boss ladies?’ Online database collects listing of female leadership at ad agencies

A team of female creatives built a database, "Where are all the boss ladies," highlighting women in leadership roles. / Malika Favre

An online database has been collecting the names of women in leadership from all facets of the industry. Titled, “Where are the boss ladies?”, this list has been answering the call for women in leadership after conferences such as CES couldn’t find women in executive roles to speak at conferences.

For Mara Lecocq, the freelance creative director who led the creation of the list as an evolution of an Instagram account she created as a passion project earlier this year, the answer was more personal. “I was looking for freelance opportunities and randomly wondered, ‘What would it be like if I had a female boss?”

She was inspired by a 3% Conference talk where female-led agencies such as Wolf & Wilhelmine and 72andSunny explained how they disrupt facets of the traditional agency model, mostly in subtle ways like adding extra time for parental leave, or keeping employees from answering emails after 7pm.

“This industry attracts a lot of passionate people, who end up being workaholics,” Lecocq adds, “so if no one’s there to watch out for me, I’m not going to watch out for myself.”

Lecocq set out to find more examples of this sort of leadership. She initially put together a list of 10 people that she knew in such roles, and asked recruiters who she stayed in touch with for agencies that had women in director-level positions.

The responses were plentiful, prompting Lecocq to try reaching out to a broader community—mobile-first whisper forum Fishbowl. From there, anonymous Instagram whistleblowing group Diet Madison Avenue got wind of it, posting the info to their page and sharing with its 18k followers. The 3% Conference and non-profit Girlsday also learned of the page, and their respective communities added names of their own.

The influx of responses got to a point that Lecocq couldn’t handle alone; she joked that the process made her feel “like a bouncer.” Lecocq enlisted an all-inclusive team, beginning with creative manager/"spreadsheet expert" Christina Jones to help with maintaining the database. Illustrator Malika Favre and R/GA creative director/designer Lucia Orlandi were added to Lecocq’s team to build out the brand and site.

Favre, who attended art school in Paris with Lecocq and also designs covers for magazines such as The New Yorker, said of the page’s main image: “When Mara reached out to me and told me about the project, I immediately connected with what she was trying to do and offered to create a new illustration for the launch of the platform. As an illustrator, I feel I have the social responsibility to support the things I believe in and put my skills to good use.”

This piece shows a trio of strong women coming into the light. “It is a simple," Favre adds, “yet universal idea and one that gets our point across. It was about creating a positive and empowering image that reflects the great women out there. Activists shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to designers, creatives and even influencers that can help communicate their ideas.”

The database, as of today, has just shy of 450 entries of women in leadership, sorted by city, discipline, and title. Compliments are added in, if necessary, and checkmarks given to agency founders and executive women of color. The team took it a step further, building a second database for agencies that walk the “diversity and inclusion” talk in their missions and senior personnel in their departments.

Lecocq hopes this list has viewers look at how they search for agencies in a different light. To her, the search for a good agency to work at shouldn’t just be for the amount of awards they win or what "best of" lists they end up on - which Lecocq finds inadequate models - but for how much they care about elevating people of color to senior and executive roles, or how long their maternity leave policies are for. “People have been super engaged and confiding in us a lot," she says, “especially for those mothers in advertising! There are so many frustrations moms can’t talk about.”

The list has also inspired variants tailored to women in STEM careers, social work, and other fields. It's garnered requests from an international audience including the UK and the Phillippines, where Lecocq's from. Overall, Lecocq and team feel inspired by what they found to be an overwhelming amount of positive support and reinforcement from women in advertising. “There are so many women who want to drop out of advertising," Lecocq said, “but then they see the list and get inspired by the resource who want to stay on and one day end up on the list themselves.”

The Instagram page will remain, to both promote the page, women on the list, their allies, and words of inspiration and wisdom for the page's. For Lecocq and team, the entire weeks-long process has been a joy and they hope it helps to change the face of Madison Avenue.

"It's been a real community effort," she said, "and I'm really happy that it's resonating."

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