Every movement begins with a moment.

97% of Creative Leaders Are Blind

Posted 21 August 2014 9:28 AM by Anthony Reeves

Women account for more than 80% of consumer spending, yet only 3% of creative leadership is female. Does this create a virtual blind spot in advertising campaigns? And does it mean that ads created by men for women are doomed to fall into a hit-or-miss situation — no matter the testing?

While I don’t think the above is completely true, it definitely raises questions about diversity in creative leadership. We have heard a tremendous amount about the “male gaze,” and with the inaugural 3% MiniCon hitting Atlanta on September 10, I thought that this would be a great time to get a handful of Moxie’s creative leadership together to ask them a few questions.

I selected different folks — from different leadership levels, different parts of the country and different sexes — who all work on different accounts. The conversations were thought provoking and diverse. Men’s experiences greatly varied from women’s, as you’d expect. But the insight on the opposite sex is what hit me the most.

The all-Moxie panel included:

Justin Archer, Executive Creative Director, Los Angeles/Atlanta
Renee Blake, Group Creative Director, Atlanta
Suzanne Darmory, Creative Director, New York
Adriana Jacoud, Design Director, Pittsburgh
Greg Kerns, Creative Director, Atlanta
Jenny Storino, Creative Director, Atlanta
Val Tirella, Senior Art Director, New York

I broke down our discussion into a series of eight questions:

1. What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years regarding women at work, and what things could they be doing better to advance their careers?

ADRIANA: I think most women try to help everyone and don't know how to say no, to the point that they get overwhelmed and break. There are definitely several things we can do to advance, but I've found that the most successful professional women do these three things: They are bold, they know how to promote themselves and they create a network that supports them. 

GREG: I've seen some women — not all — focus more on how they are doing than what they are doing. Personal development is important, but there should be more conversations about the actual work and how to make it better.

RENEE: Women, including myself at times, tend to devalue our contributions and therefore ourselves. We expect management to notice on their own and then feel frustrated when they don't. We could learn from our male counterparts; taking proper credit for what we're already doing right helps make us all successful.

VAL: Women need to fight for themselves more often. Too frequently we are too passive in the workplace because we assume that's what's expected.

JENNY: Not believing in our ideas and points of view. Women could learn a bit from their male counterparts. Women believe they need to be 100% correct in order to state what they believe, whereas men only believe they need to be 20% correct — somewhere in between is actually correct.

SUZANNE: I feel that men say what and how much they want and constantly remind people why they are worth their value. Generally, women don't feel nearly as confident about asking for what they want — and ensuring that they get it — which makes it a harder fight.

2. How do you think about the issue of women and leadership in the context of your own career?

SUZANNE: I have only worked for one woman in my entire career. 

She was so threatened by me that she kept me behind the scenes instead of nurturing me to get to the next level, which is why I go out of the way to mentor female creatives through SheSays.

JENNY: Honestly, I’ve only worked for men before coming to Moxie. There were obviously women creative directors around, but I just didn’t have the pleasure of working for one. I think a bit of me was apprehensive — men were the known quantity.

GREG: More women than men have hired me. In fact, some of my best bosses have been women. 

Val: It's always inspiring to see women in positions of power. It makes you feel that anything is possible.

RENEE: I'm a bit of a rare bird — being at this level as a female in creative. I could write a book about all the times I’ve been prematurely ruled out for opportunities based on my more typically “female” strengths. The pages, however, would be filled with examples of how I proved people wrong rather than how I did what was expected. Being a strong creative female leader has, surprisingly, proven to be how I now stand apart from the rest.

3. People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. What are your thoughts on that?

GREG: Women lead by leaning in, by getting involved and by caring. Men typically wait for you to say you have a problem. 

ADRIANA: I think most women who become leaders do so because they seem to exhibit the same sorts of leadership behaviors as their male counterparts. The differences are small and the overlap is considerable. But if I focus on the differences, women in management positions tend to place more emphasis on communication, cooperation, affiliation and nurturing than men, and we tend to have more communal qualities. Men seem to be more “agenic” and more goal- and task-oriented.

SUZANNE: Men lead with more confidence since they are the rule, not the exception. Women lead the way they think men would, to transition from being the exception to being the rule.

RENEE: The women leaders whom I look up to challenge the status quo, because we have never been the status quo. We are naturally wired to think, act and innovate like immigrants, because we have “assimilated” in order to succeed. We see what others don't, and we're accustomed to pushing an idea (even when others say: "don't!").

VAL: I don't honestly pay attention to gender when it comes to leadership. It's all about the individual.

JUSTIN: I think, due to the stigma attached to a lot of women in management roles, they sometimes tend to overcompensate and become more hardened or scripted in management positions; often they are not accurately portraying who they really are.

4. How did you overcome any gender-related roadblocks in your career? Or if you are a male, did you see any occurring and how did you act?

RENEE: Most of my roadblocks came when I was starting out and, therefore, not empowered. I experienced everything from being ruled out to travel for an opportunity based on the perceived burden it would be on my family, to hearing my manager say, "It sucks to be a mom," after he reduced my pay upon returning from maternity leave. I quickly conditioned myself not to bring up my family at the workplace; therefore, I never really thought I could bring my "whole self" to work. Now as a leader, I intentionally foster inclusion that allows both males and females to approach challenges from their unique perspectives.

SUZANNE: When I first began my career, being a female creative was held against me. At this stage, it's become an absolute career asset.

ADRIANA: I have not experienced a lot of gender-related roadblocks since most leaders in my office are female. I have experienced more issues regarding lack of mentorship and sponsorship. But my mantra has always been: “Work hard, be honest/kind and get the job done with quality and on time.” Good work shines through, and people will notice you. No need to advertise. 

JENNY: I kept my head down and tried to do the best work possible. I also learned as much as I could, and I am definitely continuing to learn from those who succeed — male or female.

VAL: I don't think I've really faced any, to be honest.

5. You have spent many years working in the industry. Any observations about the challenges women face that are specific to ad agencies

JENNY: There are fewer women in the creative department the higher you go up. Not the same in other departments; I think that’s interesting.

GREG: I worked at a top agency in New York where a woman on the leadership team expressed that she was being kept out of the “boy’s club” after a new male CEO took the helm. 

ADRIANA: Agency life is brutal, with long hours, especially for creative people who don't know when the big idea will come. Balancing family life is among the greatest challenges for women, and that is very difficult in our field. I truly believe there are not a lot of women in advertising leadership because it's almost impossible to have balanced life, and we are not willing to give up one over the other. So most women either leave to find a job that will allow them to have the dream life, or they decide to not advance to a leadership role that most likely will require more time and investment. 

SUZANNE: There is a glass ceiling. Very few agencies have female leaders. One strong asset that differentiates Moxie from other agencies is our strong female leadership, starting with Suzy Deering.

RENEE: Our consumers may be 85% female, but our clients are still often 85% male. It can be challenging for a female to be perceived as strong in front of a client unless she possesses outward strengths that are more typical of a male creative leader. Opportunities and rewards are therefore sometimes harder for females to achieve.

VAL: I get the sense that there is an assumption, generally speaking, that men have the best ideas.

JUSTIN: Women with a voice are considered bossy. Men with a voice are considered leaders. Creative is usually viewed as a "man's world,” while media is dominated by women.

6. Is finding a mentor the key to success? Explain how some of your mentorship moments had a “pay it forward” effect and how have you been able to make it recurring.

GREG: I believe in networking. On numerous occasions, I've helped connect and prep people for jobs that I thought they were right for. I've done this for designers, writers and art directors. I even helped one of my former bosses get an interview at an agency where I used to work because I knew it was a good fit.

RENEE: Honestly, this is still an issue. I have always had male mentors myself. And now that I'm in a position to pay it back, there are not enough female creative leaders for all the rising talent out there. Where I have had success, however, is in catching people in the moment. Never underestimate the strength of telling someone the "why" behind an idea/decision. 

VAL: These happen naturally, I think, with someone senior to you. With junior team members, I think you have to recognize the opportunity to take someone under your wing. I try to remember when I was in their shoes and think about what might have helped me.

JENNY: I’m not sure it’s a key to success, but it certainly helps. I personally try to help anyone when they’re struggling or looking for mentorship. I don’t think it needs to be a formal thing. I personally have learned from so many people in many different ways.

SUZANNE: Mentoring, being on panels and being active in helping female creatives establish themselves in a male-dominated industry.

7. Surrounding yourself with good people is a way forward — especially in passion-driven businesses. How have you done this? Is it worth it?

JENNY: 100% worth it. I spend more time at work than with my family and certainly my friends. It would be a wasted life to not enjoy the people I work with every day. I’m also more creative when I’m comfortable and enjoying myself. 

GREG: By spending a lot of time carefully reviewing candidates before I hire. I also stay in touch with former coworkers through social media. And of course, rule number one: Never burn a bridge. It's totally worth it because I learn more from being around people who do great work and have great passion than I learn from just doing the work.

ADRIANA: I truly believe it is important to be surrounded by people you like and have chemistry with. I have carefully handpicked all members on my team based not only on talent, but also on personality. We spend more time with our coworkers than with our family and friends, so we need to get along and have common interests. So far, it has worked wonders. We work, we laugh, we fight, we complain, but most of the time, we are happy and having fun while doing it. 

VAL: I think one thing that women do well is know how to nurture. So if you don't feel like the team is working well together but you have solid talent, it's important to find ways to bond outside the office to bring the team closer together.

SUZANNE: I always try to hire and/or push people to be passionate about advertising as well as their personal hobbies. That's what makes it all worth it. Otherwise, we should have chosen different career paths.

RENEE: I have had great results from surrounding myself with talent that complements my strengths and weaknesses. It is this contrast and diversity in thinking that uncovers unconventional talent and builds the dynamic leaders of tomorrow.

JUSTIN: The advertising industry is one of collaboration. There are no armies of one. I gain inspiration from many sources, and often from junior team members.

8. What does the 3% Conference in Atlanta (and overall) mean to you as an individual?

GREG: It's an exciting thing to happen in our own backyard. I believe that the more minorities that are seated at the table, the more interesting the conversation becomes for everyone. The days of rooms full of white guys talking to white guys about white guys are becoming a thing of the past.  

ADRIANA: It's an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate your life. It’s a rare moment when you can focus on you, your dreams and how you can achieve them. 

RENEE: Men and women alike get to experience the halo effect of "doing it right."

SUZANNE: One step toward a better aligned and more insightful industry.

JUSTIN: Moxie is an example of an agency empowered and led by women role models. We are proud to host such a great event. I personally have enjoyed working with the women leaders within our company.

JENNY: Personally, it’s amazing to have it here in my home state. I was lucky enough to go to both years in San Francisco. I look forward to the energy and conversations that us Southerners will bring.


Anthony Reeves is the Chief Creative Officer at Moxie USA. He is a driving force behind bringing the inaugural 3% MiniCon to Moxie’s Atlanta campus on September 10, 2014. Anthony started his career in Australia and traversed several countries before settling in the USA.





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