Top 5 takeaways from the 3% Conference

(Photo courtesy rubixcom via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy rubixcom via Flickr)

Steps women (and everybody in a position of leadership) must take to change the industry's gender equation

Most of the successful women I know in the advertising industry have traits that make them particularly well suited for our creative, fast-paced business: self-awareness, spirit, collaboration, communication and team-mindedness. So why is it, then, that our business is so heavily skewed towards men?

I recently attended the 3% Conference in San Francisco and was completely blown away by the inspiring women (and men) there who want so desperately to change the ratio. I came back thinking about several of our statistics. I am proud of the fact that 48 percent of our department heads are women and that, of our executive management team, both our chief operating officer and chief financial officer are women. But from a creative standpoint, we (like other agencies) are trying to get our number higher. Currently, 16 percent of our creative leaders are women. Better than the industry? Sure. Good enough? Not even close.

Now, I won’t take this time to do a deep dive into why the stats are the way they are, but I can’t help but think some of this is a marketing problem women are facing. As women, we need to determine how to market ourselves. We are our own CMOs. But more than that, companies need to recognize and promote the ways women contribute their creativity, intellect and leadership to make them stronger. So, with that in mind, here are five key takeaways from the conference:

  1. Accepting the credit vs. sharing. When praised, women more often want to share the credit. "Thanks, but," "It wasn’t just me," "I couldn’t have done it without," etc. It goes against our nature to do otherwise and, to me, it feels downright awkward at times. But if women don’t accept the credit for what they’ve done, no one will know the truth about what they accomplished. To take it a step further, history will be rewritten. For men, realize that this is an inherent trait that a majority of women share. Encourage female employees to keep you apprised of what they have accomplished. It doesn’t have to be boastful, just honest.
  2. "Cover bands don’t change the world." I love this quote that Todd Henry of Accidental Creative presented. It celebrates the importance of authenticity. Women (and men) need for women to be true to who they really are. Your authentic self = the same person in your work life that you are in your personal life. If you’re unsure of who you really are, think about why people come to you. When someone asks – "how do you do that?" – what is the that?
  3. Apologizing. "Actually," "Honestly," "I’m sorry." Women — let’s remove these from our vocabulary once and for all. We need to stop discrediting ourselves before our thoughts even leave our mouths. Say what you think in a confident, unapologetic way and I think you’ll be surprised by the results.
  4. Women need ‘manbassadors.’ Enlisting men to help in advancing women is mission critical. When gender partnership is 50/50, teams are at their peak performance. They are more efficient, innovative, productive, safe and truly are humming on all cylinders. The problem is that many men don’t understand there’s an issue and aren’t focused on it. That’s why women need ‘Manbassadors.’ These are men who understand and celebrate the differences in genders. They believe in our contributions as women and are eager to help make a difference in gender equality.
  5. Sponsors vs. mentors. While mentors are important for career development, it’s absolutely critical for women to have sponsors. Mentors listen, coach and give advice. Sponsors take action. They make it happen. Mike Hughes was my sponsor. He went to bat for me throughout my career, pushing me into positions and giving me responsibility. He took action.

I left the conference thinking, "We can do this." In 2015, we’re going to push to be a company led by an equal percentage of men and women. Now, that certainly doesn’t mean we would ever hire a less-qualified woman over a more-qualified man. I believe the best candidate should get the job, regardless of gender (a point Claire Beale touched on in her article last month). But that does mean we will be more cognizant of bringing more female candidates to the table.

All of us in leadership — men and women — will need to work together to make it happen, to put all the proper resources and support systems in place to allow women to thrive. Our IPG CEO, Michael Roth, is taking big steps to make this happen, and I know we can too. So let's stop asking women to take on so much of this responsibility and start asking what companies can be doing to change the ratio.

Beth Rilee-Kelley is the chief operating officer of The Martin Agency.

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