Creative Director Women's History Month Agencies

1 in 3: fixing the advertising industry’s problem with women directors and creatives

By Staci Meyer, Group Creative Director

Signal Theory


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

March 30, 2023 | 9 min read

Signal Theory’s Staci Meyer outlines a no-nonsense proposal to address the substantial lack of women in advertising directors’ chairs.

A woman carrying a film camera

Signal Theory has a suggestion for how the advertising industry can correct its course on hiring women creatives / Erica Lewis via Unsplash

Seven women have been nominated for best director in the Oscars’ 95-year history. Of those seven, three won: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009, Chloé Zhao for Nomadland (2020) and Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog (2021).

So, when women are nominated, they do well. But only when they’re nominated. This year, no women were nominated. It's especially ironic when the lack of equity is broadcast smack-dab during Women’s History Month and the celebration of International Women’s Day.

This is not just an issue affecting the film industry. It is a symptom of an issue plaguing advertising and marketing, too. That’s because a lot of directors get their start directing commercials.

The creative direction

Advertising offers amazing opportunities to up-and-coming directors, cinematographers, and other creatives. While the film industry churns out a few hundred movies and TV yearly, the advertising community creates thousands upon thousands of opportunities.

Equity has been on my mind a lot lately – at least since my first 3% Conference in 2008. I went hoping to get better advice on my career than ‘smile more’. Until The 3% Movement came along in 2008, only 3% of all US creative directors were women. Now 23% are women. I’m honored and terrified to be one of them.

Since attending the conference, I do my best to support all the creatives I oversee, no matter how they identify. I also make sure women and Bipoc creatives are not overlooked when opportunities arise, and I’m working toward hiring a more diverse creative team overall.

Being at a human-centered advertising firm, we apply behavioral science to the way we develop branding and advertising for our clients. We know this needs to be not only in the work but the people behind the work.

Sometimes that means having uncomfortable conversations, pointing out biases and what would be considered ‘old-school’ hiring practices. Even my firm, which is aware of the need for more DEI in advertising, realizes that this is a journey; we can't just do what’s easy and hire who we know and have worked with in the past.

I want to be clear that over the last few years, equity and diversity have become a priority for our senior leadership. We’ve created the Resonance Scholarship, a very active employee resource group (ERG), appointed an amazing DEI lead and more. We actively and transparently measure our progress (or lack thereof).

I just don’t think any of us thought it would be so hard – which sounds ridiculous. But it is hard because it also means doing the work of checking yourself every day to make sure you’re not on autopilot, defaulting to the ‘obvious’ white male choice. I’ve been so guilty myself.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

The shortlist

So when my creative team brought me their director shortlist for an important spot about celebrating and inspiring women in agriculture (eventually titled ‘A Different Kind of Crown’) I about lost my ever-loving mind.

These were directors they had worked with in the past; the directors they were comfortable with; the directors whose work they admired.

They were all white men. Talented, yes. And I wasn’t sure we would find better. But I asked anyway. I asked them to consider some diverse candidates. Out of that next group, one and one half (of a two-person team) were women. In the end, we hired the woman. Because she was a woman?

No. And yes. We hired her because she had the most connection to the story. While going over her treatment, she related her own story about the obstacles she’d run into becoming a director in a male-dominated profession. And she was able to articulate how she could capture the powerful moment when someone, like a father, recognizes what his daughter needs to feel seen and heard. Which made her absolutely the best choice.

She also had a beautiful reel. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Reel problems

As creatives, our go-to for making selections are reels, portfolios, etc. But if people aren't allowed to build their reel, then how are they going to have a stellar reel or portfolio?

It’s a catch-22 when hiring any type of creative, especially at that all-important, foot-in-the-door entry level.

And it makes no sense. After all, women influence or make 80% or more of all purchasing decisions. Hiring women to sell to women should be a no-brainer. Or, if it’s not a no-brainer, consider that women are as ambitious as men. Women deliver a competitive point of view difference. And women are creative powerhouses for any category.

But this industry still struggles to show women as anything but homemakers or users of feminine hygiene products, makeup and perfume. And when there’s a struggle to get women in front of the camera in an authentic way, there’s even more so to get them behind the camera. It’s not any better for Bipoc candidates – it’s worse. An intersectional candidate? Good luck.

But hiring women can have a powerful waterfall effect. Remember the meaningful women empowerment spot I mentioned earlier? Our female director, Cinzia Pedrizetti (Spark & Riot), hired a female director of photography, the amazing Allison Anderson.

So while awareness moments like International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month serve as great reminders of how far we have come, they also remind the industry of how far we have to go.

If you’ve got a spot in the works, start thinking about giving a woman or person of color a shot. Don’t just think about it. Make it a mandate. One in three. One non-white male director candidate for every spot.

One in three. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Creative Director Women's History Month Agencies

Content by The Drum Network member:

Signal Theory

Signal Theory is a brand development, marketing and design firm with offices in Kansas City and Wichita. Our job is to help people and brands connect in ways that...

Find out more

More from Creative Director

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +