New York’s 3% Conference Speaks Up For Women In Advertising

Who run the world? We all know the answer to this question: girls.

Unfortunately, the reality of the advertising industry is exactly the opposite. In a male dominated profession, it is hard for us girls to get the respect we deserve. In fact, women only make up 3% of creative directors in the entire advertising industry.

This is a huge problem considering how much influence women have over purchases: “women make up 80% of consumer spending and 60% of social media sharing,” but when ads are created by men, they seemingly appeal towards men. So how does that help either business or consumer? It doesn’t.

As an initiative to encourage female leadership and close the communication gap, Kat Gordon, a creative director and entrepreneur, created the 3% Conference. In 2012, the speaking event emerged to stimulate awareness for this issue and evoke mentorship for female advertisers.

Gordon’s ideas were simple and can be summed up in about three words:

Diversity = Creativity = Profitability

When have we ever been told that one idea is better than many ideas? Never. With more women holding positions as creative directors and maintaining influential roles, diverse and brilliantly creative ideas are produced alongside male counterparts. We don’t want to take males out of the equation because that would only be a step backwards, however, balance is key to a successful workplace.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of female presence in agencies, women are seen as having limited knowledge on areas outside the “home.” Gordon comments:

“There are only three consumer categories where men dominate purchases, yet agencies still talk about ‘women’s accounts’ as mops and makeup. The truth is that women are the superset, not the subset, and the rate at which women are amassing wealth and exerting influence is unprecedented. Yet the work that is supposed to motivate them springs almost entirely from a male perspective. The advertising business is a $33 billion industry. Misunderstanding female consumers, from a business perspective, is sheer lunacy.”

As seen in the 2014 SuperBowl spot, Carl’s Jr. (aka Hardee’s) portrayed Kate Upton as a hyper-sexualized symbol of the male fantasy. How should I advertise a burger? The answer should be: Not at the expense of a women’s reputation. Fueling stereotypes of brainless, provocative women is only hurting progression of our gender. “Sex sells” is a very popular advertising perspective, but maybe it’s just the easy way out. Sexual advertising has been discussed in numerous documentaries such as Miss Representation.

Thankfully, one man is not all men. The 3% Conference integrates scholarship, speakers, social networking and MANBASSADORS. As a new breed of feminist, manbassadors, “champion women.” (Like cheerleaders for gender equality.) Bruce Henderson, Chief Creative Officer at Jack Morton Worldwide, is accredited with merging creative departments of a couple advertising agencies thus resulting in 50% female leadership…damn. That’s what we’re talking about. If that wasn’t a triumph in itself, the new department has won a plethora of awards including 16 Effies and a Gold Clio (That’s a big deal!)

Campaigns produced by women can be some pretty powerful playing cards on behalf of a brand. Take the popularized “Like A Girl” spot by Always. We all fell in love with the young girls destroying negative stereotypes and pursuing their dreams. We were curious if these big dreams carried through the years, so we asked collegiate women in advertising about…


“I want to get lost in my creativity, to design great campaigns, and to bring different ideas to life with a team of like-minded people.” –Kerry, 19


“Even if you don’t make it to the top, stick with it. If you love what you do, then it doesn’t matter where you fall on the spectrum.” –Star, 19


“Aim high, don’t be lazy, and take the initiative at every point you can. You have a lot of competition and a lot of negative voices to silence.” –Kerry, 22

What we can learn from companies like Always and advice from women who have barely even broken into the industry is that women have a lot to offer. Being a woman shouldn’t be something that holds you back from reaching your full potential, it should be a driving force to prove ignorance wrong and to show the world just what your beautiful, creative mind can do.

Women who work as creative directors or high-level ad execs offer their advice too. As part of the 3% Conference, influential advertising women offer up advice for success. Social networking can be daunting, but connections are incredibly valuable. In a speed dating like session, twenty creative directors are paired with twenty “mentees” and talk for six minutes each. The session proves that connections are moving past digital clicks and forming empowering communities.

Gordon may have broken the silence of gender equality in the advertising industry, but she is not alone. Over seventy-five agencies help sponsor her initiative. If you’re about to enter the work world, take note: DDB, OmnicomGroup, J. Walter Thompson, VML, and Ogilvy are merely a couple of the agencies that are already fighting for you to succeed. USA Today, Forbes and the New York Times also haven’t let the 3% Conference go undetected. In the headlines of both traditional and social media, this interactive and progressive initiative is sparking serious inspiration.

Alana Gleason

Contributor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Major: Advertising Her heart belongs to: Strawberries, Fall Out Boy, ice hockey, fall bonfires, crafting, Phi Sigma Sigma, and Disney World. You can find her: Writing, crafting, Pinteresting, at the pool, or driving around town to Kesha.

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