3 Percent came to London…

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3 Percent Conference Speed Mentoring copyright Bronac MacNeil

3 Percent Conference Speed Mentoring ? Bronac MacNeil

When Kat’s call for a 3 Percent London Minicon blogger went out via the Bloom network my email to volunteer shot back faster than the hand shoots up in class – Sheryl Sandberg couldn’t have been more proud. So June 12 found me, along with around 250 delegates, at the Hilton Park Lane for the movement’s first European adventure. Keynote speaker Cindy Gallop attests, “Women challenge the status quo because they are never it.” In the UK the percentage of female creative directors is around 8.9%, and only 13.9% of all creatives are women – thank you Jean Grow, you’ve given us all a target to smash(!) – so at the moment we are very much not it when it comes to creative advertising roles. So wanted to know: what can we do to make the difference that future-proofs our industry?

A somewhat newbie to the advertising scene – the majority of my 15 year career has been in editorial and fashion-focused e-commerce – I crossed the client/agency divide two years ago to join independent creative agency Sunshine as editorial director. Just as the industry is evolving in the face of digital innovation, decoupling of services and real-time content, we’re all working it out on an individual basis too; this seemed an ideal moment to take stock of the opportunities and challenges ahead, and consider the actions we can take to push careers to the next level, support women at the top and forge a path for those who follow. Because it doesn’t hurt to have grandiose ambitions, as Kat Gordon emphasised; “I started 3 Percent not because I think I’m special, but because I’m ordinary. And one person can disrupt.” We learnt that to make change, it’s one step at a time ? the term microactions was arguably one of the buzzwords of the day.

Here’s what I learnt and, crucially, what we can all do – women and men – to shape a new future for advertising:

“Diversity makes it better for everyone”

“This shouldn’t be an echo chamber of female voices.” Explained Kat Gordon. “You have to have men and women working shoulder to shoulder.” And there’s an unequivocal truth that brilliant leaders see diversity as key to unlocking commercial success; “We need to focus on results as it makes it easier to be gender and background neutral.” emphasises Roisin Donnelly, a member of Shaking the Tree panel, continuing “In a meritocracy it is easier to be equal, you get better business results if you have diversity.”

It is something that industry representatives on the Manbassadors panel, moderated by Saatchi & Saatchi creative partner Kate Stanners, expressed clearly. “It’s embarrassing how few men are in the room; we need men to engage in the conversation.” Said Nick Bailey, CEO and ECD at Isobar UK. “Creative departments are a somewhat lawless world that resists penetration of process. There’s no lack of [female] talent but our processes are failing us.”

“We can’t have this conversation in an echo chamber”

Men are a critical partner in driving change, so we need to bring men into the conversation; 3 Percent hosted a handful of male delegates and we needed more! Creative Social founder Daniele Fiandaca was struck by how unusual it was for him to feel in a minority at a dinner with 13 senior female creative and was inspired to set up Token Man, a platform which invites senior men in the creative industry to see the challenges from a woman?s perspective.

Working with Lowe Open ECD Emma Perkins, he’s recruiting Token Men to be interviewed by a female co-worker. Mullen Lowe Group CEO Richard Warren, their first interview, shares this insight; “As a female creative you have the highest value of anyone in this industry. A female creative director is priceless. Recognise that.”

“We need to educate the educators”

While more women than ever before are training in advertising – Falmouth reports a 70:30 ratio for example – there is a stumbling block at entry level to the industry. And we need to support initiatives to ensure diversity. “Improving the future of the advertising business is everyone’s business” Kat stated in her opening speech. “We can’t build the world we want without women in that future.”

There were anecdotal stories of university tutors and school teachers being unable to share up-to-date information with their students, and instances of women being told they wouldn’t make it. The Advertising Association encouraging us all to participate in Speakers for Schools a programme inviting practitioners to speak in classrooms about their work and career. At a grassroots level, agencies reported successful relationships with local schools, giving talks and initiating real-world projects.

“Create spaces where everyone can be heard”

Leila El_Kayem, the forthright Berlin-based creative director at The Adventures Of, is a passionate advocate of creating environments conducive to creative collaboration, a principle on which the panel on The Female Leadership State of the Union concurred. Their reasoning? It makes creative outcomes better. Shouty, jocular environments are just a bit, well, boring for everyone; and it’s to escape this tired chauvinistic attitude that many more women (and men) turn to the more insecure but flexible freelance route, while parenthood can often become the permission women in particular need to back away from the table. What this means, however, is that there are less and less women in the room and then where are our potential heroes?

“Within a couple of years women are leaving agencies, either to leave the industry altogether or freelance.” explained Christina Knight, creative director at Ingo and author of Mad Women. “A major challenge is that women rarely get to meet their own image. You are not the norm and it is tiring being different.”

Support at that awkward in-between stage – not wet behind the years but not yet board level – can make the difference at that should I stay or should I go moment. “We need to remember women at every step of their journey.” Highlighted Mr President founder Laura Jordan Bambach during Shaking the Tree. “Women need more support to make the step from mid- to senior-weight, and when returning to work.” It’s heartening that the UK has several active mentoring networks such as the aforementioned Bloom and She Says which are doing just that.

“You cannot be what you cannot see.”

Exhorts the singular Cindy Gallop in her closing keynote speech. “One woman on a board can’t effect change ? it’s tokenism. Two can’t have enough impact. Three or more are proven to make better board discussions and better outcomes.”

Karen Fraser, strategy director at the Advertising Association, chair of the Shaking the Tree panel, highlighted the WACL network’s Future Leaders Award to ensure that women with the potential to reach senior level do have the tools, language and experience to do so, and women-only Gatherings events to share knowledge from the top down, which is open to delegates at any stage of their career.

Attending 3 Percent gave me greater clarity on the challenges we face individually and as an industry, but more importantly gave us all a language, knowledge and tools to stand up to them. I know I’ll be taking microactions to change the ratio, will you?

Let me know what you think via Twitter
This post was also published on the 3 Percent blog

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