At this year’s Advertising Week there were numerous sessions that confronted the question, “How do we talk about women?” It is no small feat to evaluate the advertising industry in this respect. Panelists participating in “Rethinking Marketing to Women,” co-sponsored by Lean In and Getty Images, stressed the consumer demand for authentic storytelling about women. Other seminars more squarely took the industry to task: “Women Aren’t Creative?” and the 4A’s “Proof That We Can Move the Needle Forward.”
The Advertising Week calendar, a robust syllabus, seemed to offer up a heavy course in Gender Equality 101. As a first-time attendee and a young female in the industry, I was wary of the full frontal feminism that such discussions would surely deliver. Were these female-led panel discussions merely saving face for years of not-so-shy-about-it sexism? I was pleasantly surprised that the dialogue was more nuanced, provocative even. At the very least, Advertising Week XI offered a platform that favored action as opposed to aspiration.
As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explained, only 3% of creative directors in the industry are women. Call me crazy, but is it not highly contradictory that a gender which accounts for approximately 80% of consumer spending would be so underrepresented at the creative level?
Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference, suggested that micro-actions enacted at scale can impact retention across agencies. One exemplary micro-action is to put a hard stop to the workday as creatives often have no confident sense of completion. Managers can also refrain from sending late night emails and be less stringent in requirements for job openings -- all of this in support of a “culture of generosity” as coined by Shelley Zalis, CEO of Ipsos OTX and founder of the Ipsos Girls Lounge. Zalis spoke on the balance of work/lifestyling to drive happiness and retention.
I was schooled on the fact that advertising and media meant long hours, late nights, little social life. Thus the recommendations from these women were refreshing.
How we talk about women and their impact both as consumers and creatives is universal across all cultures as argued by Sandberg. “Culture matters,” she remarked before explaining that across all corners of the world it is widely held that men lead and women follow.
Charlotte Beers, former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather and a powerful educator in leadership, said that she might have had it easier being trained exclusively by men. It is harder for today’s women now contending with definitions of both womanhood and leadership. “Keep your own scorecard,” she offered. “Sign up … take responsibility … claim your own victories.” These quotes stand as impressive reminders for breaking the cycle of the men lead, women follow aphorism.
For those with a penchant for longer verbiage, cue New York Times columnist and panelist Maureen Dowd who quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: “Women who are willing to be leaders must stand out and be shot at. More and more they are going to do it, and more and more they should do it … [women need] to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."
The solid, concrete advice garnered at Advertising Week was influential in that it was proactive and achievable. One concern is that in talking about gender diversity the takeaways are more aspirational than anything else. Which also begs the question, did Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer draw the largest crowds because of audience interest in the issues at hand or the women themselves? I bring this up as I attended “Women Aren’t Creative?” for the purpose of hearing Charlotte Beers and Maureen Dowd. Had they not been speaking, I admittedly may have selected another morning session.
The celebrity faces of gender equality were hard to ignore at Advertising Week. Actress Emma Watson, fresh off her He for She speech at the UN, was mentioned several times and Katie Couric, the first female nightly news anchor, made a cameo appearance. (Couric, in attendance at “Rethinking Marketing to Women,” expressed disgust over the objectification of women in ads in Times Square and in Taxi TVs.)
Another speaker was none other than the foremost leader in women’s lib, Gloria Steinem. A movement needs figureheads to get the conversation going. It is the masses that must keep talking and, more importantly, put words into action (which gives a whole new meaning to women’s work).
In response to such campaigns as Verizon’s Inspire Her Mind and #ShineStrongPantene,which call for an empowered stance against female stereotypes,Sandberg asked the panel, “Is this change?” The resolution: Yes. The reason: Because it works.
Andrew Robertson, CEO of BBDO, summed it up rather glibly: Brands that can foster stronger relationships with women sell more stuff. At the end of the day, that’s the endgame.
By virtue of my being a young woman and writing a piece like this, I may be branded a feminist. Above all else, however, I am a pragmatist. Which is why I choose to close with Robertson’s matter-of-fact response. With that and the advice served up at Advertising Week, there is proof that we can move the needle forward -- and are indeed doing so.
As Charlotte Beers advised, “Don’t wait around for a brilliant mentor.” With dozens of hours of panel sessions, Advertising Week may have seemed like all talk, but there was indeed a genuine call to action.
Charlotte Lipman is Member Services Coordinator for MyersBizNet. She works to provideMyersBizNet member companies with the resources to achieve their business goals. Charlotte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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