Why I'm no longer looking for female role models

The industry has benefited from strong female leadership. The creative director at Possible is looking for more women peers

Cindy Gallop wasn’t the only one who noticed the garish male dominance of the Publicis Groupe restructure. I’m sure the brilliant and powerful women at those agencies also winced at the glaring absence of themselves or any of their female peers. And while blatant, this is just one of the latest examples of culture-blindness that leads to a disproportionate representation of male leadership in the ad industry.

We often talk about the 3% problem not being one of recruitment, but one of retention: Women leave the workplace. They leave because of unconscious bias; undertones (and overtones) of male dominance; because they lack opportunity, mentors or drive; or they simply choose something else. And while it’s true that this leaves a lack of female role models for the next generation — it also leaves a lack of compatriots for this one.

Over the years, many of my female friends have slowly removed themselves from the workplace. They’ve chosen to mother, to find schedules that work for their families. They do amazing things to make the world work for them — and staying at a corporate day job often isn’t one of them. Choosing to fight a corporate structure whose success depends on an outmoded 'Leave It To Beaver' family dynamic doesn’t make sense for a lot of women. They opt out of navigating the corporate politics that comes with a desire for achievement and, instead, choose to pioneer a new model of success.

These are women I can look up to, who inspire me every day. We talk about tireless effort and the definitions of happiness. We love and support one another in the different kinds of choices we make. We know what it means to be women in this world, and empathize implicitly.

So why is it, then, that when I talk about achievement and ambition, I talk most often to my male peers. If I want to talk about making waves, fucking shit up, getting my due and changing the game, almost every person I turn to is male? To be sure, this is, at least in part, due to my own uncovered bias. Myself, buying in to the old standards that women are inherently softer, more community oriented, less prone to bouts of ambition and self-promotion. When I’m inspired to take over the world, I assume that the notion is something a man is way more familiar with. But it’s more than bias — it’s opportunity.

Which is why I’m no longer looking for female role models.

Thanks to the strong voices of women that have helped pave the way — people like Cindy Gallop and Kat Gordon; and women like Kerry Lynch, the first female creative director I ever knew and female leadership at my agency — I have that model. People say, "You cannot be what you cannot see," and I can see them. They are out there.

But there’s something inherently distancing in the power differential. Role models and mentors are, by the nature of the relationship, a step removed — arm's distance away. I want someone in the day-to-day with me. I need women who will take a meeting or a power lunch and live life in the corporate trenches with me.

What I’m looking for now are female peers.

I experienced the uncommon gift of female leadership early in my career and now that I’m a creative director, I'm sure to make myself visible to as many young people as I can: visiting ad school classes, attending portfolio reviews, and taking part in speed mentoring at the 3% Conference

I'm encouraged by the bravado and self-confidence I see in the younger generation. They will surely be faced with challenges, but theirs will be different than mine. The conversation about inclusion is getting broader. It’s not just about women and men; it’s about gender, racial and experiential diversity. And I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas that come out of a more inclusive generation that expects nothing less than everything.

Carrie Ingoglia is creative director with Possible.

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