Your Subconscious is a Real Don Draper
Early last fall, Felix wrote an editorial about creative directors. Specifically, he wrote about female creative directors. Or the lack of them. A discussion arose in the comments section regarding the likelihood of females to be promoted in the advertising industry – which is to say, people discussed it not being very likely at all.
Noted in both the editorial and the comments were male admissions of female colleagues who were smarter or more talented than their Y-chromosomed counterparts, but bore lesser titles. Several explanations were offered for this imbalance, including blatant misogyny and family or lifestyle priorities. One commenter even suggested a trickle-over effect of female stereotypes in ads infiltrating the agencies that created them.
Across most industries, women still hold fewer C or VP-level positions than men – about one to every five, statistically. In advertising – whose more general ranks are actually dominated by females – that same ratio is closer to one to fifteen. Families, lifestyle preferences, misogyny; whatever you want to call it, none of those explanations are a good reason for that level of discrepancy. It’s just an embarrassingly ugly flaw on the face of our industry.
By the rulebook, we call this stuff sexism, but the symptoms of that sexism have clearly evolved beyond the textbook definition. Unanimously, we agree that grabbing random, unsolicited ass in the workplace is wrong, and its occurrence today is rare (and fiercely punishable). But as other industries head towards balance in leadership, the advertising industry still seems to be patting itself on the back for adopting the most surface-level tenants of workplace equality. We adopted an equal-opportunity employment clause. We said no-no to sexual objectification, at least its blatant or non-branded version. We became comfortable with our male employees wearing girls’ pants. But did we ever ask ourselves what the actual roots of those behaviors were? And then work to tackle those? If we haven’t, we might as well come out and call ourselves misogynists – cause that’s kinda what those numbers are saying.
Roots aren’t easy to get at, allegorically or otherwise, but a discussion with a female friend made me think I’d surfaced at least one. This girl, a high performing twenty-something in a mid-level position, was discussing the double-edged sword of outperforming people’s expectations of her in the workplace. On the one hand, she enjoyed the sensation of catching her male co-workers off guard with her high aptitude for awesomeness. On the other hand, she felt uncomfortable that the accolades always seemed to come with a side of shock, like her ability to excel was unexpected – an emotion that never seemed to be reproduced when the men in her office experienced similar success. She wondered out loud whether the bar for her had been subconsciously set lower than that of her male coworkers – with whom she shared a job title.
This idea was fascinating to me, and even more so when two other smart women confirmed similar experiences in their own work environments. While the “shock” reactions of their co-working counterparts were effectively harmless, they did hint at an odder phenomenon (and potentially one of those roots we’re talking about).
In jobs and in life, we typically perform to the level of expectations set for us by a variety of cultural factors. This is why you often see correlations between education and income levels, geographic location and age of marriage, etc. In this same way, a company’s employees perform to the level of the bar set in front of them. Those three high-performing gals really didn’t care where the bar had been set for them, because they were in the habit of setting their own – which a small portion of the population excels at. But if they had been using the bar set for them, they may very well have landed under the boys. The boys sharing the same job title.
It’s a tough question, but one begging the asking: Do you honestly have the same expectations of the females you work with as you do the males?
I can’t say that I do. I have no idea why. God knows it’s unintentional, but to deny that sentiment is hovering there – and that it may have influenced my actions – would be ignorant.
If I don’t have expectations for women to perform on the same level as men in advertising – and don’t express those expectations aggressively through workplace culture and communication – science suggests I could literally be holding them back. No, I’m not looking at women and seeing babies and aprons – that would be sexist. But I’m also not seeing a CD. So what’s the word for that?
I think it’s something like, “one in fifteen higher ups in advertising are women.”
Think about it. Hack some roots. Let’s fix this.