This past year has been an incredible year for women. Wonderful work has been done by so many different women. But it was Janelle Monáe’s triumphant song “Django Jane,” which proclaimed the exhaustion of having your agency taken away, that finally made me realize I needed to write about my experience in advertising because I feel like it is a very common story of a woman’s path in the industry.
At 36-years-old, I now know I am a worthy person who deserves to take up space in a room, be heard, and share my ideas with the world. But when I started in this industry at 22, I was a shy, scared, eager-to-please girl from Missouri.
Now that I have worked with many young females, I know that this lack of self-confidence and desire to please are common traits among us. It’s also an absolute dumpster fire, just waiting for the lighter fluid of advertising’s patriarchy to be spread over it.
My first day in advertising was like many young women’s. I showed up excited and ready to change the world, but quickly learned my place, regardless of my degrees and accomplishments.
I noticed only men were leading the agency and, thus, the meetings and conversations. I saw women rated on “hotness,” women told to get dinner for creatives, women keeping quiet in meetings and only taking notes. The creative reviews were almost entirely male. The creative directors were all white males. It was a one-sided male view of the world, and it was toxic.
I am now 12 years removed from my first job, and for many years I have tried to convince myself that times have changed completely. With C-suite bright spots and winds of change, females are clearly making moves to the top in advertising. So often I see young women in the industry in need of tips on how to fight some of the same issues that trampled my self-worth in 2004.
So here are a few tips I will share and ask all females in advertising to do in this coming year in order to stop repeating mistakes of the past.
Enforce and reinforce the 50 percent female mantra
Fifty percent of creative staffs should be female. Can you imagine making creative or strategic work with only one eye open, by choice? It’s insanity. The past few years established it should be this way, with firings, whistle blowing and articles aplenty. In 2019, we will exert our power. Go to your leadership and demand that your creative staff be 50 percent female. Say your employment and employer rating depends on it. You are powerful, even if you are 22 and straight out of school.
Don’t be silent if you see a culture of sexism and power abuse
A culture of sexism and power abuse is one that feels a little off: young women going out with older men, older men making all the power moves in client meetings and new business, young women only occupying junior or midlevel positions. It also may be marked by older men doing lots of gaslighting, which is a psychological tactic used to manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity (you may have experienced it if you’ve ever left a meeting thinking, “Am I crazy, or was he wrong?”).
Ask yourself what is going on there. This is a culture of male dominance. Point it out and talk about it with colleagues and HR. The shame of a toxic culture will shrivel in the light of the truth.
Speak up and quadruple support others who do so
Don’t sit quietly in a meeting if work, ideas, and thoughts are not addressing the female perspective. Say it loud and proud. If you have a perspective to share, start the sentence with “I really feel we are missing the mark on the female perspective, and here is what we should consider…” Next—and this is important—if another person stands up for the female perspective, support them in out loud, in the moment, via clapping or using verbal cues like “Amazing perspective”; via a reaffirming emoji or GIF; with a post-meeting hug, fist bump or “Thank you”; or by telling someone about how that person spoke up for the female tribe, making it known.
Do not allow only females to do the cleaning, mail distributing, printing, note-taking or researching. This continues to put us in the seat of inferiority. Invite males to be a part of the housekeeping as well. This type of work keeps us in the mind space of assistants, when in actuality we are the ideas, the work, the everything.
Don’t get drunk with colleagues
In past-life performance reviews and discussions, I’ve heard males get praised for their ability to drink and “hang,” boosting their salaries and titles, while females at the same levels get chastised for “getting too drunk,” thus keeping them from salary raises or title promotions. It’s persistent and insulting, but this year, we won’t supply that ammunition.
The best thing you can do is continue to make great things: Create great insights, great connections, great creative. That will be our biggest triumph.
Finally, let me leave any woman reading at this moment with this: You are deserving of the job you have not because any one person, male or female, gave it to you. It’s because you earned it. You deserve to take up space in a meeting room. Your words and ideas deserve to be heard.
Own your agency. We all have your back.