Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

Where are All the Female Creative Directors? A Conversation.

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In a very thoughtful 2016 piece about agencies and diversity, Fast Company writer Brandon Burns shared that Wieden+Kennedy’s creative floor featured a large sign that read “Girl Wanted.”

First of all, I would highly recommend reading the whole piece. It shares some frank wisdom on bias and why agencies applaud diversity and movements like Black Lives Matter, but don’t always do anything to change the status quo. But aside from his larger point, the image of the sign has always hung out in the back of my mind. Why does it have to exist?

I’ve definitely been spoiled in my agency career. I’ve worked in environments that have included at least 50% women, including creative departments. I’ve had men and women alike mentor me and take chances on me, and it’s gotten me to where I am today. But I also want to be aware of how I can help others without pulling up the ladder behind me.

Recently, I discovered that my co-worker, Director of Strategy Meredith Engelen, actually did her master’s research on how we can pave the way for more female Creative Directors. We sat down and talked about her academic findings, and how they match up with my own experiences.

Becky: Why did you decide to research female Creative Directors?

Meredith: I had worked with a lot of awesome female talent in traditional creative roles: writers, art directors and so forth. But I also noticed that they were often in the minority in many agency creative departments. I started asking questions and wasn’t getting answers as to why. So, that’s why I dedicated my master’s research to understanding why there weren’t more women in creative departments or in creative leadership roles.

Becky: What did your study involve?

Meredith: First, I looked at existing research. I read think pieces and books like Lean In and The Athena Doctrine.

But when it came to actual female creatives, no one had gone in and talked to these women and asked them, “How do YOU define success?” So I did.

I conducted a small survey of women in creative roles around the country. I did a number of in-depth interviews with women who worked in creative roles at different levels, and did a content audit of agency job posts. How are they talking about their agency culture? How are they positioning these jobs?

In my study, I asked them, “What do you need out of your company culture to be successful and thrive?” Overwhelmingly, they wanted an environment that was respectful, supportive and positive. That sounds obvious, but it deviates from a typical awards and recognition-driven agency environment.

Women in my study also lamented about the fact that creative departments are not flexible in terms of work-life balance. They advertise ping-pong tables over livable hours. It’s not creativity that turns them off—it’s the environment we’re told it comes from.

Becky: I’m curious, since you’re a Director of Strategy, do these problems exist in that department, too?

Meredith: This is anecdotal, but I have worked with more women in strategy than I have in creative roles. In the three traditional agencies I’ve worked in, I estimate about 70-80% of the strategists were women. And Heather LeFevre’s Strategist Survey shows about a 50/50 split. The situation is much more dire in the creative department, where, as the Three Percent Conference cites, only 11% of creative directors are women.

Becky: That’s interesting. What is it about the creative department that alienates women?

Meredith: It’s not for a lack of interest. If you look at ad, journalism and design schools, there are usually an equal number of men and women coming out of them.

Historically, creative departments have been about selling—both ideas and egos. Many are also driven by awards, as I said earlier. Those things are not what women, at least those in my research, were motivated by. They’re much more collaborative. They want to work in teams and solve problems. I don’t think that’s true of the stereotypical creative department.

Awards in particular have been stacked against women, with predominantly male juries up until recently. Over the last five years, Cannes has doubled the number of female jurors. Still, only 43.5% of jurors and only 8 of 23 jury presidents were women in 2017.

Also, there is this point of view that the best creative work comes when you’re working doctor’s hours and you’re staying up all night in the office. But research shows us that family burdens are more often placed on women than they are on men. Not just kids, but family members and friends, caring for elderly parents and such. That’s another reason women turn away.

Becky: What about mentorship?

Meredith: There is a lack of mentorship for young women and female artists, whether you’re an artist or creative in an ad agency. One thing my research showed was that the more women you work with, the more likely you were to consider yourself successful. Same thing with more women in leadership.

Also, the women in my study attributed their own success to their talent and mentor networks equally. We need formal or informal networks to support women. I don’t think they’ve been around, and if they have been they’ve been really small. It’s been great to see MPLS MadWomen and The Coven really come to life. Hopefully they’ll bear fruit in the next few years.

Becky: What about men? How do they play into this?

Meredith: The men who have helped me have been vigilant and aware of the issue—acting on the problem, for example, seeing where a pay disparity could happen and preventing it. We don’t need people who are aware of the issue. We need people to act on it. There’s a need to also give women their space. We need a place to talk about these things.

Becky: What has already changed since you were younger? Has progressed happened?

Meredith: One thing we’re seeing is a movement away from trying to be a boy on the boys’ team. Now, we’re doing things our own way.

Becky: Agreed. For me, it’s less about teaching women to dominate a team than it is about celebrating women making things for the sake of art and creativity itself. When we don’t cultivate that, advertising misses out on a lot of real talent and perspective.

Meredith: Exactly. Most advertising is still aimed at women. We need to bring more women into the creative department to make our work as relevant, empathic and interesting as possible.


Meet Our New Director of Strategy, Meredith Engelen

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We’re so pleased Meredith Engelen has joined us to help shape our approach to strategy. Get to know her more below!

Tell us about your background and why you got into strategy.

I honestly fell into strategy. Fortunately, a mentor of mine recognized that I was a great fit for it and hired me. I couldn’t be more grateful, and I’ve never looked back.

Solving problems has always brought me joy—I love a good challenge. I enjoy tying together seemingly disparate bits of data, insight and perspectives to illuminate an answer or a new way of looking at a brand or industry. Whether it’s helping a new brand find its true purpose or helping an established brand reconnect with people in a new way, I’m always up for the challenge.

My background is in brand strategy and research. I earned my B.A. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) and my M.A. from The University of Minnesota Twin Cities. I cut my teeth at mono and Olson in Minneapolis.

How has your view of brand strategy changed over the course of your career?

I suppose the most substantial shift we’ve witnessed is the movement of brands away from simply communicating what they do and how they are different to actively demonstrating the purpose they serve in people’s lives. This is, in part, driven by evolving forms of media: traditional, digital, social and otherwise. There’s so many more ways for brands to not merely connect with people, but to elevate their experiences. It’s also driven by the sheer volume of new brands and companies: In 2015, 3 startups were launched globally EVERY SECOND.

It’s no wonder the average American sees upwards of 10,000 messages from brands every day. This exponential rise has increased competition for share of mind—thus, pressure is on for brands to do more than broadcast who they are. Instead, they need to serve and provide value to real people. And that’s something I get really excited about!

It’s never been more important to have people at the center of your branding. If you don’t build your brand with the people you serve in mind, it’s merely a navel-gazing exercise. Brand strategy is about defining what you stand for and the value you offer, and then championing it throughout all your efforts. Much easier said than done, of course!

Who have been your mentors and what have they taught you?

I’ve had the great fortune of working for some amazing women (and a few dudes too) throughout my career. Some in strategy, some otherwise. I try to pick the traits I most admire from each of them and emulate those characteristics.

One of my favorite bosses shared a great piece of advice with me. She encouraged me to “eat the frog.” It means to do the hardest, scariest things first. So instead of working from a place of comfort, I get uncomfortable, which forces me to learn new things.

Another boss lady encouraged me to not stop at the first insight. She pushed me to find something that was truly, in her words, “sticky.” I never trust my first guess and knowing that about myself has really changed the way I work.

Finally, my parents are also my mentors. They taught me how to face a challenge with grace, how to be brave and how important it is to help others grow in their careers, too.

What drew you to Superhuman and what do you hope to accomplish?

They all love lunch as much as I do. Just kidding (but only kinda).

It was the gig I always wanted but didn’t know existed. I want to launch and grow brands. I want to work with a small (but mighty!) team of brilliant people. I want to flex some entrepreneurial muscle. I want to work with a team who blurs the lines between strategy, creative, and media roles. Superhuman offers all of that and more. I look forward to working with a group of amazing humans to strengthen the work we’re already doing, expand our offering altogether, and build a whole new kind of agency.