How Do Women Climb To The Top Of The Creative Ladder?
Let’s start with a quick test.
I want each of you to think of five great creative directors. Five stellar talents. Quick, you have thirty seconds. Got 'em? Good.
Now, how many of them are women?
I would be very surprised if even 5% of you had listed just one woman. I would be even more surprised if two women had made anyone's list. But why? It's not like women don't have talent, dedication or drive.
As a quick example, if I had the chance to work for Tiger Savage (who just launched Tiger's Eye by the way) then I would crawl across broken glass to do so. She's a living legend.
Unfortunately, she's in a small minority of creative women in advertising who are easily recalled. I wish I could rattle off a list of stunning female creative directors, but the usual suspects always come up first, and they're all men.
I saw a stat recently that had me pondering deeply: "85% of brand purchases are made by women, yet only 3% of advertising agency creative directors are women." I believe they’re talking the major ad agencies here, the Madison Avenue variety, but still.
This all seems more off-balance than a one-legged unicyclist. And while I'm not sure it's completely accurate (85% of brand purchases…really?) it's definitely closer to the truth than saying that the lead creative roles in the ad world are a 50/50 split between men and women.
Watching "Mad Men" on AMC gives you a quick glimpse into the chauvinistic era of advertising, when men were men and women served the coffee. Even though the show does have a female copywriter, she's got about as much chance of filling Don Draper's shoes as I do of, well, partnering with Tiger Savage.
Some will say we have come a long way, and it's true. Women are definitely taking their place alongside men in this business, with female art directors, copywriters and designers filling the agencies in droves. But how many of them make it to the top spot? It’s a small percentage. And it all seems quite unfair.
It’s not easy to point the finger at your own industry and realize that it is behind the times. The corporate business world has promoted women into the top ranks for many years now. Again, it’s not yet equality, and the pay scales are different, but women are holding top positions in some of the biggest corporations in the world.
And yet in advertising, an industry that works hand-in-hand with those businesses, high-ranking creative positions are still dominated by men.
Are we still in a chauvinistic business that hides behind a façade of equal opportunities for all?
Is advertising Neolithic?
Right now, I would have to say yes.
The very fact that I have worked alongside some amazingly talented women who should have been promoted years ago (you know who you are, and I doth my cap to your endless creativity) is evidence to me that something is not quite kosher here. Indeed, if the women I had in mind had been born with hairy gonads, they’d be running their departments right now. They’re not. And that sucks.
Advertising is still something of an old boys network. Just look at the major creative directors currently gracing the top 100 ad agencies around the world. It’s like the cast of The Expendables.
A wise old advertising owl once told me “consumers will buy from men more easily than they will buy from women.” I’m not sure if it’s a trust issue, or something else, but why would this be? I, for one, am a sucker for a good pitch, and I don’t care who delivers it.
Well, except for stand-up comedy.
For some reason, I find men funnier than women, and I am not alone. Stand-up comedy is dominated by guys. With a few notable exceptions, the world of stand-up comedy is a masculine world. And that really made me wonder if there are parallels here that could explain the lack of women at the top of either profession.
Both industries demand originality, creativity and self-confidence. They also require an instant affinity with the audience, whether it’s a cold crowd or a cold boardroom. It takes a rare breed to win over the hearts and minds of an audience drunk on booze or a room drunk on corporate power. Is that something that men have more success with? Are men more likely to sell a great idea or tell a great joke? It seems like that is what the world is telling us.
But even as I write that, I can recount meetings where guys shook like Jello when pitching their creative work, and women owned the room. I myself have almost blown creative meetings and have been saved by my female counterparts, who charmed the client and sold the work I was having trouble selling.
So now I’m back where I started. Why aren’t more women in the top creative ranks of the advertising world?
Bottom line, I think advertising is taking longer to catch up to the rest of the business world. One hundred years from now, when I am a corpse rotting in some dank grave, I hope the biggest ad agencies have the best creative directors at the helm. And that should always be dictated by talent, not gender.
As one final note, I am a guy, obviously. I would like to hear from the women out there in advertising. Do you feel like you could one day be the CD of a major ad agency? Do you believe your ladder is way harder to climb? Have you already experienced some of the prejudices I have touched upon here? And more importantly, what do you think we can do as an industry to help change the tide?
I want our ad agencies to have the best creative people steering the ship. What are the odds that 97% of the best creatives in the world are guys?
Felix Unger is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He's been in the ad game a long time, but he's still young enough to know he doesn't know everything. He'll give his opinion, you can take it or leave it. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He has been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.