Women are 50% of the world’s population. But only 3% of all creative directors.

3 Percent poster by Bryan Miguel

Women make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, and purchase over 50% of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products and consumer electronics.” And even though women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending in the US – and eventually will control 66% of consumer wealth within the next decade – a 2010 Forbes survey shows that 91% of women believe advertisers don’t understand them.

It’s not to say that women aren’t in advertising. Walk through the halls of Bader Rutter and you’ll see that there are plenty of passionate female advertisers. Dr. Jean Grow, Associate Professor of Strategic Communication at Marquette University, studied gender segregation in the ad industry across the globe. Her findings show that about half of all advertising employees are women, but they generally dominate lower occupational positions across all departments and occupy 19.5% of all upper management positions. Creative, however, was far less.

This is where the 3% Conference comes in.

Kat Gordon, Creative Director with 20+ years of experience, founded the conference to create awareness about the discrepancy. She started by researching why the ratio is so skewed and discovered that female creatives suffer from a, “lack of support for motherhood, lack of mentorship, lack of awareness that femaleness is an asset to connecting to the consumer marketplace today, lack of celebration of female work due to gender bias of award juries, lack of women negotiating their first agency salary and every one thereafter.”

So why is it this way? Dr. Grow said in an interview with the Milwaukee Adworkers, “Men tend to hire men. As the majority of CDs are men, it perpetuates a boys’ club in creative. Mind you, I, and many of the women I interviewed, don’t think men’s biased hiring practices are necessarily conscious.”

Cindy Gallop, former chairman of BBH New York, has noticed the practice in the workplace. “Men feel more comfortable working with, hiring, promoting and co-founding agencies with other men, and they do this unconsciously. Working with/hiring/promoting/co-founding with women is uncomfortable—because we’re ‘other.’”

The 97% agrees. Michael Slade, Partner and HR Director at Eric Mower + Associates, in an article with AdAge states, “The advertising industry is an incestuous one; agencies overwhelmingly hire from each other.” He goes on to mention that ad agencies generally fail at generating basic awareness with college students about jobs and internships. And among the general public, there’s a minimal understanding of what advertising careers are like. This low awareness keeps the talent pool relatively limited from the beginning and the effect snowballs into more senior roles. For an industry that’s expected to generate $603.1 billion in 2015 through communication for organizations of all sizes, we don’t know how to talk about ourselves.

Since it’s inception in 2012, the conference has gained significant traction throughout the industry and has earned significant support and sponsorships from big name sponsors such as Adobe, Communication Arts, The Advertising Club of New York, DDB, Wells Fargo, the 4A’s, McCann Worldgroup and many more.

So why would a young professional from the 97% take interest in this? Diversity.

Advertising is a reflection of our understanding of culture. It’s not a numbers game. It’s not just about gender. Or race. Or creed. Or age. Or disciplines. Or interests. Or socioeconomics. There’s so much more to people than what demographics say about us. What we’ve seen and experienced in life are major influences and inspirations to our creative vision. And though we can research and sympathize with different perspectives, we’re still seeing everyone else’s view of the world through our own lens. Gender, race, creed and so on only present an opportunity for different lifestyles.

Jeff Goodby, industry legend and founder of Goodby Silverstein + Partners, when Adweek asked about the importance of diversity replied, “Obviously, one of the things we do is advertise to a wide range of people, and our clients want us to do that. And the only way to really do that is to actually have those people present and have them contribute to the solution of advertising problems.”

We need diversity in advertising. New ideas are the result of mixing old ideas together. But if we have people from completely different backgrounds, you have a lot more old ideas to play with. So the more diverse our perspectives, the more ways we can look to solve a problem.

So where do we go from here?

Hiring to meet quotas isn’t the answer. Talent and accomplished portfolios will remain the best measures of a good creative. Cindy Gallop suggests, “Actively search out the talent overlooked in your agency because it doesn’t fit pattern matching. Tell recruiters you want to see an equal number of brilliant male and female candidates for every brief. Demonstrate publicly that you’re part of the New Creativity. You’ll attract the best women—and the best men.”

And to address the future as well as the issues Michael Slade has raised, we need to spark interest in College students about our field and fan the flames to ignite a whole new generation of creativity. After years of mentoring and fostering great talent, we can pass the torch to a generation that’s as diverse as they are talented.

The 3% conference is focused on the underrepresentation of women. But it’s a catalyst for the larger issue of a lack of perspective through homogeneity. As advertisers, we ask our clients and partners to support ideas that stand out from the rest. Let’s embrace the same philosophy and harvest ideas that aren’t business as usual.

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