In this episode of Uprising, Scott Goodson is joined by Nancy Hill, the head of the 4As, to discuss the strengthening movement for moms and women in leadership positions within advertising, marketing and media industries. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Scott Goodson: If you work in the marketing, advertising, and media sectors there’s a growing movement underway here in the United States and perhaps elsewhere. Some would say there’s a structural shift that both women and men are talking about. I’m Scott Goodson and this is Uprising. Recently, there’s been a lot of scrutiny being given to the lack of women in leadership positions in the marketing media and advertising sector. For years, groups like the 3% conference which champions creative female talent and leadership in the advertising sector and other organizations have been pushing for change. But now, it seems finally something is happening. Nancy Hill is the head of the 4A’s, the organization that represents the interests and policies that guide American advertising agencies. I asked her to help us understand what’s going on. One of the challenges of our industry is that women have had to choose, in the past, to be moms or be professionals within the ad sector. Nancy, why can’t they be both?
Nancy Hill: I think the issue is bigger than that. I think that many women think that they cant be both and many agencies don’t necessarily provide a culture or an environment that allows them to be both. But that’s not the only reason we have for women opting out of the agency life. There are many, many reasons and having children and families is just one of them. I think the bigger issue is, up until recently I just don’t think we had an environment that was friendly to women in general, let alone whether they were mothers. I just had this conversation over lunch today with somebody. About as recently as ten years ago in an agency, when you walked into a creative department it was a lot like walking into a locker room after a football game. There was a lot of male on male humor. There was a lot of humor that wasn’t necessarily gender friendly. I think that some of that still prevails, although I’m happy to say I believe that it’s less so. But it’s that environment that just has not been friendly to women in general.
Scott: 50% of the population is women. 70-80% of all consumer spending is being done by women. Women control 20 trillion in annual spending globally and that’s keeps rising. With so few women in leadership positions in marketing and advertising, is mom a bad word?
Nancy: I think it was for a long time Scott. I can remember myself having a conversation with a creative director about a strategic brief that was going to be targeted at moms and he said ‘yea- no I don’t do moms’. I think part of that was because for a long time the way the industry celebrated the work through the award shows wasn’t necessarily going to happen if mom was the target. And consequently, we got into this vicious cycle of just kind of the same humor over and over and over again that was not targeted to moms or parents for that matter. So I think that for a long time ‘mom’ was a dirty word, but I think you’re seeing it embraced more and more now.
Scott: Is this change happening overnight?
Nancy: I don’t think it was quite overnight, but I think that there’s now a collective of both men and women, but primarily women, who are really pushing this and making sure that people are mindful of the 50/50 ratio, at least, to have gender balance when things don’t seem right. You see new hires being made that are the same old- excuse me- but you keep seeing white males over and over and over again. People are calling it out now, and not allowing that to just continue without a discussion.
Scott: Is there something specifically that’s happened that’s sort of put that on the spotlight or is it just that its just the accumulation of a lot of effort by a lot of different people who’ve been pushing it, or is there something that’s really broken the camels back? Why is this happening now?
Nancy: I think there’s, as I said, a huge groundswell of people who just have said I’m not going to take it anymore, I’m going to call it out when I see it. That’s number one, number two you have phenomenon like the 3% conference that have really put the notion of women creative directors and the lack of them on the map and people are discussing it way more openly than they used to. And then certainly- and I won’t comment on the lawsuit itself- but the lawsuit that was filed in federal court by an employee of Jay Walter Thompson against the agency and some individuals really heightened this to a place where people felt compelled to talk about it. I personally felt compelled to talk about it at our conference just around a month ago, because I think there was an awful lot of talk that this was an isolated incident and that this didn’t really go on as much as people think that it does- and it does. And I wanted to make sure I did not let that just go hide in a corner somewhere. I said openly that it happens way more often than you think, whether it happened at JWT or not I don’t know, but what I can tell you is the kind of behavior that was outlined in that lawsuit happens more often than you think.
Scott: Is this good for clients and their businesses?
Nancy: Absolutely, absolutely and I think that the way that consumers respond to advertising now in terms of, you immediately know whether you hit the right note or didn’t hit the right note- and they’ll let you know on social if they think you created a big faux pas- I think it’s going to force us to make sure that we’re always looking at the work through the eyes they want to be viewed in.
Scott: What is wrong with the structures of the past? What has to change for a mom to feel she can be both a respected professional as well as a happy mother?
Nancy: I think for many years- and certainly I fell into this category- we as an industry believed that there’s always going to be late nights and weekends and if you were working on a new business pitch there’d probably be an overnighter. And we accepted that behavior as the norm for this industry. If you looked to the person on your left and the person on your right and they weren’t doing that, then they weren’t working hard enough. And that was the culture that we created that you didn’t feel like you could leave to go home and kiss your kids goodnight, or tuck them in, or God forbid go to their baseball game. And at the same time, as somebody who never had children, I always was made to feel like I was one who was going to stick around because I didn’t have kids to go home to. So I think we just have to create a more humanistic environment for us all to live in- no matter whether we’re male, female, mom, or not mom- so that it isn’t the pressure to work 24/7, 365 days a year.
Scott: Will the human environment improve performance, better ideas and better output?
Nancy: People perform better when they feel like they are valued, when they feel like they can be a whole person and not have to compartmentalize themselves just based on a 9-5 schedule. With that said, I will say it has to start from the top. Because if that behavior isn’t modeled from the very top of an organization then people aren’t going to believe that it’s actually acceptable.
Scott: The moment a women knows that she’s going to be a mother, there must be a lot of anxiety when she goes into her agency to let them know. Will this movement move the bias from the workplace?
Nancy: I think that as we increase the number of females in leadership positions- and we are starting to see that happen- that you will have a much different approach to the entire work environment then what we’ve had in the past. Not just advertising agencies but the entire work structure and the way people worked at work was built around it was going to be a man who was going to come in and do this job and his wife would stay home and take care of the family. That was just the way our society was structured. And I think as we’ve broken those norms apart and we’ve started to be more inclusive-by the way, men who want to be home with their kids too- you’re starting to see more and more of the movement in that direction and its less and less frightening for a woman to go in and talk to their boss and say ‘hey, I’m going to go out on maternity leave’. That said, one of the scariest parts about that from all my friends who have had kids is, okay so we have rules in this country and many agencies have rules that say when you come back their will be a job for you, but if I was an account person running the biggest piece of business in the agency and I went out on maternity leave for 3-6 months, somebody had to cover that while I was gone. Chances are that person has taken over and done admirably and I may end up on a smaller piece of business that doesn’t get as much attention when I come back. So I think we all have to figure out what do these career paths look like that allow somebody to go out either on maternity or paternity leave and come back and still feel like their a valued member of the organization.
Scott: Is it possible that this is going to be easier to see through now that we’re living in this kind of gig economy where a lot of senior people prefer to be independent contractors so people actually don’t mind stepping in for six months while a woman becomes a mother and has a child and decides to wait six months and raise the child and then decide to come back. Now there should be more flexibility because we’re living in a time when there’s just so many different ways of working than there was maybe ten years ago.
Nancy: Absolutely, no question. Again, I think it depends a lot on whether the culture of the agency or the work environment supports that. And I also think you’re starting to see, as clients are moving to many more project based assignments, that that’s really going to be the staffing of the future anyway. Because you’re going to have to staff up or staff down based on what the project is that you’re getting from each client.
Scott: The advertising industry for many years lead culture and lead society in many ways. Do you think now the advertising industry is actually falling behind and is actually catching up to how society has changed and in fact, maybe even clients?
Nancy: That’s a generalization that I wouldn’t want to paint the entire industry with. I think that as members we have many different kinds and sizes and types of agencies and I think some have had a harder time adjusting to this new way of working than others, but others embraced it and really jumped on it. And when you see places where they have embraced this, what you’ll find is there’s a woman at the top of that organization and I think that women drive change differently, and they drive different kinds of change than men do. Now again, I don’t want to make a generalization about a gender either, but I do think that as the generation that we’re bringing on board now starts to move into leadership positions, they’re going to look at the way we work very differently.
Scott: Millennials are asking, why are all these gaps still there? How does our industry have to change ahead of the avalanche of Millennials that are seeking jobs?
Nancy: First off you have to talk to them because this is the first generation that will not conform to our way of working. You know when we came into the workforce, we looked at the people who were more senior than we were and we modeled their behavior, because that’s what we were taught we were supposed to do when you go into the workforce. But this generation refuses to conform and they’re going to have their own way of working that’s not going to look like ours and we need to find a way to accept that. And I think the agencies who are embracing that are the ones who are having the most success with not only attracting talent but retaining talent. It’s a new way of thinking about this. We were taught you don’t leave until your boss leaves. Well, these kids when you talk to them its ‘oh no, I’ve got to get out of here I’m teaching a photography class tonight’, because this is not their whole life. They talk about themselves very differently than the way we talked about ourselves. If somebody would have asked me in my twenties what I did for a living, my answer would’ve been ‘I’m an account person at an ad agency’. You ask that generation and they’ll say ‘well I’m an account person at an ad agency, and I write a fashion blog and I do photography on the weekends’ because that’s how they define themselves. So us thinking that we’re going to impose our 9-5 way of working on their life isn’t going to work for them and we have to adjust to that.
Scott: Do you have any advice to students out there who are sitting there thinking about whether they should get in this industry or not?
Nancy: Its one of the most fabulous industries you can get into. Every single day you’re presented with a new problem and a different problem. Every single day you get to work with some of the brightest most fun people that you could ever imagine. And really, I think the great thing about it is, with all of the different channels that we have to use to put messages out there, if you’re a creative person at all, this definitely is an industry that you would just fall in love with. I really have always loved the notion that when you work in an agency, you get to work on anything from candy bars to pet stores. And who would think that your brain would be able to go back and forth like that but if that’s the kind of challenge that you love, than this is the perfect business for young people to get into.
Scott: Does technology change things for women?
Nancy: The tools that we have available to us- its very rare for me to be done working at 5 o’clock, even if I leave at 5 o’ clock I’m still working until 7:30 or 8 o’clock at night. I don’t feel oppressed by that, I feel it gives me freedom to live my other life at the same time I’m getting work done that I need to get done. And I think that that also makes it a lot easier for women to be successful because women are great multitaskers and they can do all types of things at the same time. Its part of our nature and its part of our nature, so I think with the environment that we work in now, its another reason why you’re starting to see women rise to the top.
Scott: I appreciate groups that advertise for women, but does this conversation need to happen between men and women?
Nancy: I think this conversation needs to be had between men and women as much as it needs to be had with women locking arms together. I think that we all succeed when everybody looks at each other and says ‘what can I learn from that person’ and not ‘she doesn’t look like me’.
Scott: There seems to be a lot of men who are vocally behind this movement too.
Nancy: I have to tell you after I gave my speech, I’ve had so many men come to me either via email or by phone call saying ‘I want to be a part of this movement, what do I need to do?’ I had another agency CEO, male, who wrote me a long email saying ‘I’ve decided I’m going to make some changes in the way I go about hiring. I’m not going to look at a name on a resume; I will not allow resumes to be out in front of me with a name on it. I just want to see the person’s background and experience, because I know I’m brining some unconscious bias into the way I’m looking at resumes and people.’ I think going beyond the gender issue, we need to get better at checking our biases and thinking differently about who we want to work with and what kind of various viewpoints we want. Just because somebody doesn’t look like you, act like you, or have a background like you doesn’t make them different, it makes them valuable.
Scott: You must represent the future because of your views and you make a great role model, I think, for a lot of young women that come into the industry and see that this whole industry is represented by Nancy who’s the head of the 4A’s so that is a great starting point. The speeches that you’ve made recently and the movement that you’re helping to escalate is really great, for all of us.
Nancy: Well thank you, I appreciate it.
Scott: Well, we appreciate you spending some time with us. These are great insights and Nancy Hill thank you so much for your time.
Nancy: Alright, thank you Scott.
Scott: Alright, take care.