“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” Gloria Steinham
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we took time out to celebrate and reflect on what it means to be a woman and a creative leader.
I reached out to 5 female creative leaders working in the PR industry, who have inspired me personally in my career as contemporaries, mentors, and friends, to find out more about their experiences. They are:
- Jo Chappel, Creative Director, Fever – Jo was one of the early exponents of my Creative Ninja training when I first set up over 8 years ago and we’ve worked together in one way or another ever since.
- Elise Mitchell, we met at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2014 when we were on the PR jury, and we’ve been firm friends ever since.
- Nik Govier, Founder of Blurred and I worked together in our early agency and PR lives at Ketchum.
- Angie Wiles, Founder, The Difference Collective and I met at Cohn & Wolfe. She was then, as she is now, a formidable leader with an amazing vision.
- Frankie Cory is more ‘in-touch’ with her creativity than almost anyone I’ve ever worked with. My former partner in creative crime at Cohn & Wolfe.
There are many more women professionally and personally who continue to “make me want to be a better person” to quote Jack Nicolson’s character in As Good As It Gets 😉
Do you think being a woman in a creative role makes any difference to the creative work?
Jo: “I believe the best work is built on real-life insights so we need creative teams that include a mixture of ages, gender, ethnicity, and cultural experiences. Yes, men can apply empathy and produce creative that resonates with women (some of the early Dove Campaign for Real Beauty creatives were made by men) – and vice versa.
“But there’s a risk that without greater diversity in creative roles work may reinforce stereotypes or be culturally tone deaf.”
What stereotypes and assumptions of women in business or creative roles would you like to see challenged?
Jo: “As a woman in a role still dominated by men and associated with some pretty unhelpful stereotypes it took a few years to settle into my own style of working. I was once told to ‘be more Don Draper’ – well-meaning advice but words that reinforced my perception that unless I behaved like a peacock or Scotch swigging lone wolf I wasn’t a ‘proper’ Creative Director.
“Equally, just because you are a woman it doesn’t mean you’re immediately going to lean towards nurturing or collaboration – binary notions of gendered behaviour we shouldn’t be hemmed in by. Luckily the new wave of female Creative Directors rising up are helping to smash these stereotypes and show the next generation of women that creative directors come in all shapes and sizes, introverts, extroverts and everything in between.”
Elise: “That we can’t make the tough calls. Some of the most courageous leaders I’ve ever met were women. I’ve seen women put together bold M&A deals with brilliant strategy and painstaking negotiation. I’ve seen women make difficult decisions that required masterful conflict resolution. I’ve seen women lead a dramatic change in organizations that would have stalled without their ability to gain buy-in and support from a broad base of stakeholders. These are tough-call situations.
“The difference is women leaders typically don’t champion themselves the way men do. We need to give each other more permission to share our wins and what we’ve learned. And we need to do a far better job of championing each other.”
- “That they all need to be hard-ass bitches
- That they need to be soft, pushovers!
- That they all need to be office based to make a difference (virtual really can be more productive)
- That just because you may choose to make certain compromises in your working life (reduced hours whilst you gain new qualifications/care for elderly or young families or a geographical move)that you do not in any way have to compromise the quality of the work that you do.” Angie
“All the usual guff about bitchiness and being overly emotional. That’s not been my experience.” Nik
As a creative leader, what advice would you give to women wanting to develop their creative selves?
Jo: “You don’t have to be shouty to be creative. Too often we conflate confidence with creative talent. The old brainstorm model favours those who shout loudest which is why new techniques such as brainwriting (writing down ideas in silence at the start of a creative session) are great levellers for the more introverted. Confidence is an important skill for a Creative Director but so is being collaborative and knowing when to be quiet!
“Secondly, stay culturally connected as the ideas that travel furthest are the ones that tap into cultural conversations. My cultural life might have changed with children but staying on top of what’s going on is still central to my role. Luckily my flexible working pattern allows me to build ways to access culture into my daily routine and our agency-wide Culture Club gives all staff the funds and time to soak up the latest art exhibitions, creative talks and immersive theatre shows – all valuable stimuli for idea generation.
“And push yourself beyond your natural interests as research shows that diverse cultural experiences create a greater awareness of the underlying connections between ideas.”
What piece of advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Nik: “Every knock is just a learning opportunity in disguise. And you’ll always have the cult.”
Jo: “To follow my instinct. I’d studied English rather than art because it seemed more sensible. At 20 I was driven by what I thought I ‘should’ do which led me to seek out a role at an advertising agency as my first job. It didn’t feel right but I stuck it out because on the surface it looked like a good job. After a couple of years I realised I needed to move and even though my first PR job involved wrapping up candles for media mail-outs in a hot cupboard in Soho it felt right for me.”
Angie: “Find your purpose – what makes you happy and brings out the best in you; don’t be afraid to follow the path less trodden – it will work out; believe in yourself – if you don’t, why will anyone else (even if you come from the backstreets of Dudley!); and surround yourself with people that are better than you and let them constantly push you to be better… Be contrary, be curious, be honest, be humble and most of all be you!”
“Enjoy the ride. I was too focused for too long on reaching all the destinations in my career that I missed out on a lot of joy in the journey. My advice: Make the journey matter as much as the destination, because it does!”