The day we stopped being special

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BBH New York's executive creative director says women creatives should celebrate the "specialness of non-specialness"

This year at our creative department holiday dinner, one of our copywriters, Mandy, told me how exciting it was for her to be in a department with so many women. 

I took a look around the room and realized it was, indeed, chock full of chicks. Later, I looked at the invite for the dinner and counted up all the guys and then all the girls. We were exactly half and half.

Being a woman in our creative department was now officially nothing special. I nearly burst into tears at the specialness of our non-specialness.

There was a period a couple years ago at BBH when we were keeping an eye out for great female talent. Before everyone gets their boxers in a twist over affirmative ovarian action, we weren’t hiring women over men. Just making sure to keep a special eye for talented women. Then, after a while, a whole lot of the best people who came to us just happened to be women.

Once we got past some point of critical mass of women, it seemed to help bring in new ones. When I interviewed a female creative or team, I could tell them that they wouldn’t have to worry about being the ones pigeonholed onto the chick stuff. There was no girl jail awaiting them here.

And when you’re not worried about ending up in girl jail – being forced to work on the women’s brands because you’re the only women there — something really cool happens. 

You can look at women’s brands as what they are — not punishments, but potential opportunities like any brand. 

Not being special has some wonderful side effects:

Historically, I think it’s been perceived that there’s only room for so many of us in a creative department. And that can translate into the very destructive notion that only so many of us can be successful. When it’s not special being a woman, it also doesn’t matter how many women in your agency are winning. If that chick’s winning, you can, too.

We’re also starting to sort of look like who we make ads for — at least from a gender perspective. That said, we could still be a lot less white. And being an actual American Hispanic or African American is still way too special in our — or most — creative departments.

But I think the best side effect is that it helps promote an environment in the creative department where everyone can find their best self. That there isn’t a mold they need to fit, girl or guy. That’s how we’ll get the most interesting work — the more variety we have going in, the more we’ll get out.

Our numbers will go up and down, and our perfect 50/50 wasn’t long lived — we were very happy to welcome a guy team from Australia last week. But unless we have an estrogen-exodus, we’re probably here to stay in strong numbers.

I’d like to think this is the canary in the coalmine. And that in just a few years, female creatives won’t even be able to imagine that this was ever a big deal. When I was a younger creative, I was partnered with another woman. Everyone just called us "The Ladies." That’s all you had to say, because if you were talking about ladies, we were it. There’s no way I could refer to anyone in our creative department as that now. No one would have any idea who I was talking about.

Laura Fegley is 50% of the executive creative directors at BBH.

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