AAF Seattle:Women in Creativity (Event)

The panelists are up front. I wish they invested in a platform so I could see them talk.
The panelists are up front. I wish they invested in a platform so I could see them talk. (blurry photograph, I know…)



Hillary Miller – VP, Global Strategic Services Director, Wunderman

6:00-6:30 – Cocktail hour
6:30-7:45 – Host-led panel discussion
8:00-9:00 – Networking and socializing

(Blogger’s note: For this post, I am going to summarize and paraphrase all over the place. I am just a student, but I was also a Communications Major at UW and loved to draw. After graduating, I knew I needed something more to get a job I loved, so I wanted to back to school. I found the graphic design program at Seattle Central Creative Academy and knew it was for me. Ever since, I have been working towards learning more about all the different careers designers can have and I am waffling between Advertising and Interactive at the moment. After hearing the panel talk about the industry of Advertising, I realize how realistic What Women Want and its representation of life at an ad agency.)

Last night, I went to Hotel 1000 and attended an amazing event that’s a part of AAF Seattle‘s speaker series called “Women in Creativity.” After a lovely cocktail hour, where I devoured bruschetta, a lamb skewer and some kind of sweet fig pouch, I am still not quite sure, we had a lively panel-led discussion.

The “show” started with breaking the ice first with a snippet from Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants (a book). It went:

“This is what I tell young women who ask me for career advice. People are going to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another. “You’re up for a promotion. If they go for a woman, it’ll be between you and Barbara.” Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.”

Hillary Miller started the discussion by saying “It’s not a time to be politically correct.” It was surreal being in a room with at least, what seemed to be 200 women (there were about 4 guys) and that feeling like we could shout the word “tampon” and no one would bat an eyelash. We were all here to, at least in part, discuss why such a small percentage of women have made it to roles like Creative Director and above.

Question: How did you get started in this business?

One woman said she was an art major and then went to advertising school and then became a copywriter. Another said she was a Communications Major at UW turned Radio DJ, dated an ARt Director who encouraged her to get into Advertising. One said she loved to draw. One was an English major who wanted to be playwright and down the line because a secretary of  a creative director (a woman) who liked her emails so much that led to writing headlines.

What do you think is keeping women down in this industry?

A variety of answers: Children. Women feel emotionally drawn to their families more then men. You need “balls” to work your way to the top. Confidence. Don’t play by the rules you think exist. Men are hesitant to hire women because of “family commitments.” Men directors connecting over sports with their young guy employees. Us women are “chipping away at a legacy” of men in power. The business is a very social business and it takes a certain type of personality to get into that.

Is there a certain personality type?

A kind of person that can get along with the guys, decisive, focused, you must earn respect. Enjoy the fact you’re the only women with all the guys. Embrace the power of Woman. There are advantages. Just remember to be someone that people want to be around.

Getting to be that age, 30, what were the sacrifices that you make as a woman?

Some women answered that they were childless. One said she was just having too much fun just thinking about herself at the time that people think about having families and that opportunity passed. It really depends. You must answer the question “What makes you happy in life?” for yourself. A male creative director was quoted for saying “You can’t be a great director and take time off every time your kids get ill.” Some people who multitask a family and career emphasized that you make a series of choices. Sometimes, the consequences are having all-nighters and then having to go into work or getting a full-time nanny or leaving the job and coming back years later.

Do you think there is a double standard regarding the family situation?

The answer was a yes. There seems to be that the is that for women family is perceived as an obligation and when there’s a Mr.Mom it seems closer to philanthropy. They talked about how it’s true that men are stay-at-home, sometimes, but when they are it seems almost endearing because there’s less expectations, at least on a cultural level. What happens also is that parents take off time to spend with their growing family and when they come back years later, their competition for those jobs are younger.

One of the guys (called Scott) bravely addressed the room: Do you think that it’s not sexism in that “coming back from hiatus” but Ageism?

It’s about being current. Especially in this industry, it’s going to get exponentially harder. How can we create an environment to keep curent with trends and new eras of the industry brought on by new things. The jumps from Myspace to Facebook to Twitter are crucial things that really change some of the advertising game.

When you are looking at candidates, you to take age into consideration?

It’s skill set. Sometimes, it’s favorable towards “seasoned” professionals.

What about European-style work weeks? (regarding the 35 hour work weeks that are unheard of in the states.)

Advertising is competitive. 35 hours a week won’t help you break the glass ceiling. The option is to do freelancing or part-time, but you won’t be a creative director. At least no yet. Keep yourself abreast of trends. Someone shared her experience of winning over the client, make them love what you do and then start adding the “but’s” or your list of demands regarding scheduling. “It’s a family issue not a women’s issue.” Blaze a trail for family men with setting new standards.

On the other hand, children change a person, give them motivation. Women have been reported to be more focused. One of the women reported about some of her childless employees “They work a lot but they don’t get a lot done.” When you ask a person who has to do a lot, they have a focus to achieve more.

What are some of the reasons for why women don’t make it? 

“Clients expect men.” Sometimes, men are the ones presenting because of the rapport they are perceived to have with the clients or the confidence in selling the pitch. And sometimes guys like to look at “guy” work. Is there a difference? Especially when you are coming right out of school, your portfolio might give away your gender. But after getting out and working real ads, it is hard to tell. Cover up the name and it’s a wash if you are looking at a “girl” or “boy” art.
Young men are agressive/driven. Women cry when they get upset. Their advice: learn not to cry. Men can be abusive and get away with it, but when women do it, the response is often being called a “bitch.” Their advice: be invested and confident in your career. Asking for what you want may be generational (and on the way out!). But, also be yourself. Don’t try to write a beer ad like a guy is trying to write one. It shows. Find another way to sell it. If you are a good presenter, the expectation of a guy presenting goes away pretty quickly.

What are women doing that helps pull women into the industry? Mentors?

“We have a responsibility to help the next generation.” What we can do is hire the book and the personality. It’s not about gender.

Why do you feel there’s a sense of being held back?

Especially in creative industries, there’s are sometimes this “Guy’s Club” mentality that makes women feel less a part of the group. Creatives are clique-y. It can be a very tight-knit group. In the 90s there were signs of women coming in and then Digital happened, technology and a surge of men, coders, programmers came into the picture and so there’s still that imbalance. Advertising is a relationship business, managing accounts, looking at book is subjective. Creative is about being uncomfortable. Sometimes, it doesn’t fit with those feminine ideals of being polite and proper.

Sam (samotango) from Legsmart stood up and introduced himself in the sea of women and asked how he, as a man, can help women rise up?

After we all swooned, it was said that it has to be intentional. Make an effort. Sometimes resumes aren’t the best way to show who a candidate really is. As an employer or a business person being sold to, be that person to give feedback saying that you want to see more diversity, more women.

As a woman, do you feel responsibility to protect the public from sexist advertising and try to nix the ideas in the concepting sessions so we don’t get those like “Go Daddy” commercials?

Potty humor. It’s important, not just as a woman, but as anyone in that session, to say “Let’s try to push it further. Raise the bar.” Someone said that she doesn’t think its her job to push her personal agenda on the world. It’s about that big idea. Someone else said don’t forget, that Go Daddy (superbowl ad) was conceived by a woman. The Woman(!) Behind GoDaddy’s Tasteless, Effective Super Bowl Ads – Forbes

Last Words

Agency life as we know it is dying and that’s exiting. Social media is a world dominated by women (See: Pinterest). Women are great story tellers and conversationalists and students. 60% of students are women. Women have an ability to reach out more readily and relate to each other.

Some advice: Wear sunscreen. Don’t forget your neck. Be there for each other. Abolish Gossip. Work on something that isn’t a “girl account.” Rise above gender and go for the great big ideas. Know your audience, put yourself in their shoes and learn to sell. If you are a great presenter of your ideas (and your ideas are good) you are unstoppable.

Take this conversation, she said, and have it with women you know and friends. The following conversations of the talk were inspiring. I met a graphic designer in publishing and she was giving me advice on how to get a job, ask employers for informational meetings and be a personality that they want to have in the office. I was part of another conversation where we lamented that childcare is an unresolved thing when you decide to have children and a career. A mother was telling us her struggle of being up all night with her child and then going to work just feeling a little defeated she had to leave her little one. “At that age they are always doing something. I took off five weeks to spend with him, and then I had to go back to work and when I would come back, I would look at him and he’d be different.”

As a student, I had a very different outlook on this discussion than most of the women around me. I don’t have that job or that choice to make yet and it’s not very imminent, but knowing that it’s a thing that we have to face and realizing how many different solutions there are, whether it’s getting a nanny or au pair or cutting back hours. I sometimes think about my mother and the choices she made being a “career woman.” At the time, when I was little, I sometimes felt abandoned or that I had less than other kids. As a mother, you have to understand the reality of the job you want and the life you want and whether that it’s compatible or negotiable. I had some nannies, some afterschool programs and what we called “Saturday” adventures. I think I am lucky to have a working mom as a role-model.


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