Climbing the creative ladder: why women should prioritise building their own expertise

Climbing the creative ladder: why women should prioritise building their own expertise

Daniele Fiandaca, co-founder of Creative Social and Token Man, explains how women can get ahead by putting themselves forward.

Only 12% of creative directors in the workplace are women. But why is this? For a start, women have a huge disadvantage – it’s called unconscious bias. Secondly, 88% of young female creatives say they have no role models. This makes it hard to understand who you are aspiring to and it means there is little mentorship. Lastly, the industry is full of outdated thinking – it was disappointing to read John Hegarty claiming in a Campaign interview in 2015 that women who take time off to have children "lose momentum" and become less creative.

While change is happening, it’s not happening fast enough. Agencies do not invest enough in training, with little going into the creative teams. It’s no coincidence clients, who invest more in training, have less attrition rates and consequently better statistics on female leadership than their agency counterparts.

As we enter a new age of creativity, the need to learn, unlearn and relearn has never been more important. While we need to demand more from agencies, I believe there is an opportunity for women to close the gap by taking control of their learning. It’s why Creative Social developed a programme with Creative Equals for female creative directors and assistant creative directors, "CS for She". By working with this group and with creative leaders across the industry, here are ways women can carve out more paths to success.

1. Everything starts with confidence

The more you know, the more confident you get. And confidence was one of the biggest things the CS for She group felt was holding them back. For many, it is "imposter syndrome", where well-qualified women feel they will be "found out". Victoria Buchanan, executive creative director of TribalDDB, found her confidence with the help of a career coach: "I realised I could take control of my career, get networked, start writing articles and speaking at conferences. And people started listening. I started changing my job and got myself a seat at the exec table. I won IPA’s Woman of Tomorrow on International Woman’s Day 2016 and that was the official start of my career. It’s never too early or too late."

2. You’re as good as your network

When I talk about learning, it would be wrong to see it just as work you do in the classroom. It’s just as important to create a powerful network around you – you’re as good as the people you are connected to. It is why we set up Creative Social 13 years ago. At the time, there were a bunch of digital agency leaders and creative directors who were trying to build a new industry. Being able to meet up with like-minded people to discuss this brave, new world was invaluable.

New female creative leaders coming through are shaping their own networks. Jo Wallace, a freelance creative director and a member of CS For She, runs "Good Girls Eat Dinner", exclusive dining events featuring kick-ass women from a variety of creative industries. She tells me: "The best thing about the dinners is the audience of women are as incredible as the speakers, so you can't fail to start building an empowering, supportive network. This network is likely to help any woman accelerate their careers."

3. Start your own personal project

One way to build confidence is to launch a personal project outside the day job. Scarlett Montanaro, creative at AMV BBDO, co-founded Crack + Cider, an initiative to clothe the homeless, comments: "Crack + Cider fast-tracked my confidence. It’s been an incredible journey of personal growth and experience that would have taken years to build in the workplace. I felt like I had the right to be in the room, to sit at the table and have a voice."

4. Make time even when you don’t have time

For those thinking, "great but I don’t have time", find ways to make time. "I’m busy" is the enemy of creativity. And this includes mums.

Emma Perkins, ECD at MullenLowe and co-founder at Token Man, says: "No-one is as efficient with their time as a working mother in a leadership position. To maintain your career as a parent and rise to the top, you and your partner have to request flexible working conditions (this is not a female issue; it’s a parenting issue). The skill you have to develop is setting boundaries and saying "no" more. As a female ECD you’re in a small pool and are called upon as the female voice of creative departments. Increasingly, I give opportunities away to people in my creative team. My advice to someone climbing the ladder is to say yes to things that frighten you – such as sitting on a panel or giving a talk. The more you do it, the better you get."

5. Say goodbye to your comfort zone

Lastly, the advice I’d give any creative comes from my fellow Social Sam Ball, ECD at Large: "If you’re not worried, scared or ever so slightly shitting it, chances are you are not trying hard enough."

Daniele Fiandaca is the co-founder of Creative Social and Token Man

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