5 questions with Greater than 11%’s Renee Vaughan Sutherland
Ad Age’s inaugural Women to Watch Conference & Awards will take place on Sept. 15. Ahead of the virtual event, Ad Age caught up with one of this year’s Women to Watch Europe honorees, Renee Vaughan Sutherland, an artist and creative director.
Vaughan Sutherland left her chief creative officer role at the agency Hub in 2019 to focus on finding ways to increase female representation in the industry. She founded Greater Than 11% after hearing the sobering statistic that “only 11 percent of women held the title of Creative Director in the UK Media & Communications industry.” Greater Than 11% includes a creative agency as well as a podcast hosted by Vaughan Sutherland and Google’s Crystal Eisinger. Vaughan Sutherland also lectures part time at the University of Essex and soon will also lecture at Kingston University.
She spoke with Ad Age about how her role has evolved during the coronavirus pandemic and how she is trying to help people in creative industries navigate a time when much of their work has vanished. In the UK, 409,000 creative jobs—or one in five jobs across various fields—are expected to be lost in a “cultural catastrophe” caused by COVID-19, according to data released by the Creative Industries Federation in June.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s been the biggest change in your role due to the pandemic?
It has given space to think. Greater Than 11% is really focused on looking at the lack of diversity within the creative industries. Because I straddle the visual arts, and media and communications, and I lecture, I see where the gaps are. I lost a couple of accounts, my freelance work kind of dried up, and it just gave me time to focus and think about talent pathways and pipelines, in terms of really thinking about how to get in at the ground level.
What is one lesson you’ve learned about yourself from the last five months?
Self-care is super important. I think when you are focused on change and bringing about change politically and culturally, I think you can forget to look after yourself. And with the pandemic and the sudden cultural and global awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is an inability to deny that these things happen. What I’ve really learned about myself is that it’s super important to keep championing those who haven’t had access to the same privileges as you. We have a lot of power as a creative community. We can see change happen. It just needs a lot more organization.
How are you giving back to the creative community during this time?
Greater Than 11% started out as a podcast featuring interviews with women and people who identify as non-binary about their roles. I made a commitment to do 50 episodes and I thought I’d probably have four subscribers. At the end of the first series, we had just shy of 12,000 downloads. And now, here in the UK there are a lot of creative people who have fallen through the gaps. We decided to try to fundraise cash to award grants to people from underrepresented groups who are struggling financially and really cannot access any kind of financial support or work. We’re about to hit 20,000 downloads of the podcast. Our goal is to raise £1 for each download, or £20,000, to issue in small grants, each up to £1,000.
What should the industry do to encourage more diversity in its ranks?
Hire. We are here. There are women in the industry, there’s amazing Black talent, there’s amazing brown talent, there are amazing people who aren’t fully-abled. We’ve got new talent coming into the industry but because of cuts or because of uncertainty, everyone has put on the brakes. We are going to have people coming into the industry with nowhere to go. We need to think differently about how we’ve done things and think differently about how we structure organizations.
What do you find most surprising about where you are now?
I come from a very working class background. I grew up in a really small country town in Australia called Jimboomba. I have been so fortunate that people have given me their time, expertise, creative knowledge and inspiration to help me carve and shape a career. I get to use my creative talent in so many different ways. I have “Sliding Door” moments. It’s a big reason why I wanted to do the fundraiser. I really understand what it’s like to not have this support network growing up. I believe we can all work together and really help each other.
Hear more from Renee Vaughan Sutherland, Carol H. Williams and others by attending the Women to Watch Conference. Tickets are available here.