BABES IN BOYLAND: IT'S THE POSTFEMINIST ERA, AND ADVERTISING WAS HARDLY A CONSERVATIVE PROFESSION EVEN IN PREFEMINIST DAYS. SO WHERE ARE ALL THE FEMALE CREATIVES?: PERCENT OF A WOMAN: INDUCTIVE REASONING
The judges for the '97 Andy Awards gathered in a hotel in Dublin last fall. Seventeen of the industry's best and brightest creative leaders donned white powdered wigs to do a little comic riff on the British court system. They all laughed and cut up as the shutter snapped. There was Jeff Goodby and Rick Boyko and Paul Cappelli and Joe O'Neill and Ted Bell and John Staffen and Ted Littleford and David Baldwin, all looking like half-baked drag queens.
And speaking of queens, there wasn't an Elizabeth or Victoria in the bunch.
In the program handed out at the One Show last spring, the jury posed romping in the surf while taking a break from their judging duties in Maui. Again, here was a dozen or so top creatives in the business. Only three had to cover their tops: Janet Champ of Wieden & Kennedy, Kara Goodrich of Leonard Monahan and art director Ellen Steinberg of Fallon McElligott, the latter being the senior-ranking creative woman at FM. She's not yet 30.
If women's creative talents match men's-and who would argue the point?-you wouldn't know it from looking at the
aforementioned Andy jury. And the male-to-female ratio there is no mere exception (although, in fairness, the Andys did have one woman on the panel, who apparently canceled at the last moment). The '94 One Show had a single woman judge. The '95 Beldings had just one. Last year's Cannes festival could boast of only two.
Oh, and did you happen to catch Adweek's annual agency report issue? Helayne Spivak did. "I looked at all the agencies and all the all-stars," says the forty-something chief CD at J. Walter Thompson, "and there wasn't a single woman anywhere. I said to myself, 'Whoa-did something change? When did this happen?' "
A Curious Phenomenon
It's a good question. A curious phenomenon seems to have occurred in the agency business. Judging from the stats (see sidebar on page 20), there are just as many young women entering the creative side of the business as there used to be, but the number of senior creative women appears to have stagnated-or, by some accounts, shrunk.
Tom Nelson, a creative director at Ammirati Puris Lintas/New York, started in the business in Detroit in 1978, and recalls "a fair number of women" around back then, in a town that, given its umbilical to the automotive industry, was never a particularly easy place for women. After moving to Chicago in 1980, Nelson competed with women for accounts, and was partnered with one, Beverly Martin, for six years. "There were talented women in major creative positions at all the big agencies there," he recalls, citing Burnett's Cheryl Berman and Mara Fizdale and Needham's now-retired Susan Gillette. He doesn't know why, but he says things just don't seem that way now. "These days I see lots of smart, talented women in all aspects of the business except creative."
Of course, women are hardly a rare sight in the ad business. A good number of them are even in senior creative jobs. But very few break through to what you could call power positions. Helayne Spivak, Susan Hoffman, Nina DiSesa, Cheryl Berman, Nancy Rice and a few others are the exceptions to the rule.
"I don't know of any [female creative stars]," says Nic (short for Nicole) York, 27, an art director at Team One in El Segundo, Calif. York claims to feel no connection with the few female creative power brokers out there, once apprised of their existence. Being so scarce and, thus, enveloped by a degree of hype, they are more like disembodied icons, York feels, than influential, inspirational leaders.
It's not as if a woman with superstar potential is persona non grata in the creative department. But how to find her, or grow and keep her, seems to confound just about everyone, even at agencies that have no trouble attracting some of the best talent in the country. "I see very few senior books from women," says Fallon McElligott president and creative director Bill Westbrook. "So few, in fact, as to be invisible." He ought to know-he's been looking for months.
Where'd They Go?
A quick Creativity survey of advertising agencies across the U.S. confirms the anecdotal evidence (see sidebar). One agency claimed a whopping 75 percent women on its creative staff, but most had fewer than 35 percent female staffers. Many had less than a handful. One agency had none. Some refused to provide information. The average agency ratio of men to women, according to our survey, is almost exactly three to one (in the creative departments). Agencies' representatives we contacted were often surprised that their creative departments are so imbalanced. Some, we found out by doublechecking, gave an exaggerated (invariably too high) head count of the agency's number of women-which suggests they may have been embarrassed by the real total.
The diminutive proportion of women in the creative ranks is puzzling, but just as perplexing is that the farther up the ladder you look, the fewer they get. The academic advertising programs from which many young creatives are chosen present much more gender balance in their enrollee statistics. Students are 39 percent women (sidebar). Where so many female students go after a few years in the business is a bit of a mystery. Are they raising children? Perhaps; but other industries, by and large, don't show such a dramatic occurrence of female dropouts.
Spivak doesn't believe big opportunities are out of reach for women on the creative side of the business, but "many women are making the choice not to pursue them," she says. "There are a lot of brilliant woman freelancers out there. A lot of female talent has gone outside of the agency structure."
The decision to become a 'maternalancer' is often driven by a desire to balance family time and work time. The ideal equilibrium can be difficult to achieve within the traditional agency structure, although advertising is probably better than most industries at providing elastic work hours. Spivak thinks agencies are still "pretty traditional" in their approach to family matters, although the most forward-thinking are now providing flexibility in employees' schedules. Westbrook predicts that increasingly, agencies will be growing their own female talent, and keeping it by offering incentives for loyalty. That would involve such financial encouragements as generous investment plans, in addition to, of course, childcare programs.
On the other hand, a Texas-based freelance copywriter suggests that the parenting issue is not that compelling a reason for the women deficit after all. "Advertising is so competitive and so tough," she ventures, "maybe the women just don't want to put up with the bullshit. Maybe they're more well-balanced. Maybe they're not willing to drop everything to get up there to the power positions."
There is also some theorizing that women may choose-or are forced into-the traditional role of the facilitator. "It's a good producer's job to create the circumstances for creatives to work unencumbered," says a high-level manager at a prestigious West Coast production house. "Sometimes, creatives seem to want mommies who simply take care of their every need."
Most agencies not only have men's names on the shingles, but wall-to-wall men inside. Maybe, then, advertising is more of an Old Boys' Club-or a guys-only Brat Pack-than most of us had assumed. Among the descriptions of the trade we heard during some 30 interviews on the subject were "a boys' club where women have to adapt," and "a big boy gangbang." Sally Hogshead, 27, a writer at Martin Creative, Los Angeles, sarcastically refers to women creatives as "all two of us."
In fairness, we heard about the benefits of being a woman, too. "When a woman speaks," a female art director at The Richards Group in Dallas claims, "men are going to listen. They get caught up in the feminine energy."
A few women, such as Diane Cook-Tench, president at the Virginia Commonwealth University AdCenter and a former creative at The Martin Agency, actually attribute much of their success to being a minority in the ad world. "I think you can get ahead in the business as a woman because you are a woman," says Cook-Tench, "because your work will stand out, and you'll have an opportunity to get more national recognition."
Margaret Ellman, a freelance copywriter in New York who has been on staff at O&M and Messner Vetere McNamee Berger Schmetterer in her 10 years in the business, is inclined to agree. She muses that when she got started, "being naive was probably an advantage. I didn't think about the gender thing, and that was the only way I succeeded. But if you think about it, it can snag you and become an issue."
Many women feel that creative departments dominated by guys are limiting. Men's locker room humor is "pervasive," says Millie Olson of San Francisco-based agency Amazon. Olson, the former Ketchum executive CD, started the all-women shop last year with partner Linda Pearson, after growing frustrated with more traditional agency structures. "We just gave up and moved on," Olson explains, adding that male humor can be so pronounced and one-dimensional that it "devalues what women can bring to the party." Olson and Pearson applaud Nike for the "If You Let Me Play" spot, which was not only for women, but by women as well. "Most of us learn to write like guys because we learn from guys," says Olson. Under male superiors, "The only way to make it in advertising is to play the guys' game."
What's wise or appropriate behavior for a professional woman is the subject of debate. "Creative advertising takes a strength of character and a willingness to do battle," explains the freelancer from Texas. "If you're a girlie-girl with your curly locks and makeup, you won't get as much respect. A lot of women I know downplay their femininity. There's a toughness about the women who are successful in this business." Says a female copywriter from the Midwest: "This is a guyish kind of job. It's queer to be into something so much. It takes that guy sort of mentality to be that obsessive, that competitive."
Other interviewees feel more or less the same way. "You can't be overly prudish, straightlaced or mommish," cautions Cook-Tench.
Ellman fit in, she says, "by being one of the guys." She noticed that doing so made her male colleagues comfortable. But de-emphasizing her gender was useful in other ways, too. She believes that if a woman accentuates her feminine side, men will regard her first and foremost as a member of the opposite sex, and they'll be slower to process what she's saying. "So I just tried to wear baggy clothes and be funny," Ellman explains. Being a bit of a "tomboy" was also an insurance policy against being moved over to women's products, which can happen when a woman comes off as being "too feminine." By the time Ellman got to O&M, she says, "I could be myself more." She attributes the greater confidence to her age and increased experience, and to the gender balance at O&M, where she saw women throughout the ranks.
Perceived sexist slights can be compounded when age plays a role too, says Liz Gumbinner, a 29-year-old writer at Deutsch, New York. "Because I look young," she explains, she's less likely to get the same respect from a client as, say, her equally young-looking male colleague. One client's tone was often condescending, and there were times when she asked the client a question and the answer was addressed to her male partner. "[The client] loved my writing," says Gumbinner, "but they didn't like the fact that I'm not a guy."
Never Say Die
Cook-Tench recalls being turned down for an art director's job at an agency she declines to name. "These are masculine accounts we have," she was told.
"I was appalled and relieved at the same time," Cook-Tench says. "It seemed ridiculous to me that women couldn't develop a campaign for a chainsaw." But she doesn't believe advertising has much of a glass ceiling, and many others concur. "I'm hoping that what it all comes down to is your book," says the Richards Group AD.
For most women in advertising, an outstanding portfolio just may be the ticket to the top-that, and a never-say-die mentality. "Mary Wells never had a female role model, and neither did Charlotte Beers," Helayne Spivak points out. "All those years, they went out and did their jobs. It just comes back to that, to doing something and doing it well. It really takes a lot of tenacity."
It seems safe to say that greater numbers of female creative superstars will emerge as attitudes and cultural mores change. So maybe Meg Kannin, an associate creative director at Arian Lowe & Travis, Chicago, will get her wish. "Yeah, it'd be cool if there was a woman Lee Clow or Tom McElligott," she enthuses. "Without the facial hair, of course."
PERCENT OF A WOMAN
Percentage of female students in advertising programs
Miami Ad School 46
VCU AdCenter 42
Portfolio Center 41
Creative Circus 38
School of Visual Arts 34
Art Center at Pasadena 30
Percentage of women in small creative departments
(under 25 employees)
Arian Lowe & Travis,
McConnaughy Stein Schmidt Brown, Chicago 38
Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners,
New York 35
Borders Perrin & Norrander,
Los Angeles 26
Rubin Postaer & Associates,
Santa Monica 15
Cliff Freeman & Partners,
New York 12
Fallon McElligott Berlin,
New York 10
Crispin Porter & Bogusky,
Percentage of women in large creative departments
(more than 25 employees)
Wells BDDP/New York 46
Arnold, Boston 36
Deutsch, Inc., New York 33
Young & Rubicam/New York 32
DDB Needham/Chicago 30
DDB Needham/New York 29
Foote Cone Belding/
San Francisco 28
Campbell Mithun Esty,
TBWA Chiat/Day/Venice 22
Lowe & Partners/SMS,
New York 22
Goodby Silverstein & Partners,
San Francisco 15
Wieden & Kennedy, Portland 14
The Martin Agency, Richmond 13
DDB Needham/Dallas 11
Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis 8
Art Directors Club of New York
Hall of Fame inductees: 102
Female inductees: 6
Cipes Pineles-Butin 1975
Reba Sochis 1990
Bea Feitler 1991
Eiko Ishioka 1992
Rochelle Udell 1994
Sheila Metzner 1997
Hall of Fame inductees: 32
Female inductees: 4
Bernice Fitz-Gibbon 1967
Phyllis K. Robinson 1968
Mary Wells Lawrence 1969