News & Views

Advertising: Why So Many Men?

by Contagious Team

Last Thursday, Contagious’ Arwa Mahdawi moderated a panel at the New York Festivals that interrogated the problems women still face when it comes to rising to the top in the advertising industry.

Cindy Gallop memorably urged the room to ‘tweet the god-fucking shit’ out of the panel. So, in that vein, here are a few of the tweets….


Standing room only to watch the panel... 


...certain shoes being harder to stand in than others. 



‘Women in advertising’ is often dismissed as a ‘women’s issue’: we need to rebrand the conversation and equate diversity with innovation.




Because diversity stands for innovation, which means owning the future.


But you can’t say everything in 140 characters or less.

So here’s some commentary on the issue from panelist Mat Zucker, and panel organizer Elizabeth Kiehner:


Mat Zucker, Global ECD at Razorfish:

I’m utterly embarrassed by the representation of women in advertising, especially in creative and at the creative director level in 2014. To be honest, I have little patience for the circular theoretical conversation and view it as a pure pragmatic problem to tackle aggressively, that is if we expect any other result in 2015.

Facts help, so I put out an anonymous survey to 30+ creative managers and recruiters inside US creative agencies (big and medium; advertising and digital) and got 21 responses with some bonus texture. Some results aren’t surprising. Most creative departments report that about half or less of their staff are women, and less than a quarter—usually 1-10%—are creative directors or higher. We all expected that, right? The more jarring results to me, however, also led to some possible solutions.

First, there is quite a lack of effort made to include women candidates when hiring, which is stupid if you want to close a gap. Second, more than half of creative managers believed the onus lies on the office ECD/CCO and the recruiter, and nearly a quarter pointed the finger at the office executive like the managing director. As a two-time agency office ECD myself, I agree with the top taking complete responsibility, especially the ECD and recruiter leading the hunt. It’s all about the books you see and the people you meet. At one agency, I was awakened to the issue and asked my creative manager how I could find more women CD portfolios. She handed me a private list of women portfolio sites she had built up over a year. I stayed up all night reviewing them all and found some great candidates I would not have otherwise. Yes, we both had to go out of my way and it was worth it.

Lesson: if you don’t pay attention and ask for more great women, than it’s your own damn fault.


Elizabeth Kiehner, Founding Partner of Thornberg & Forester and organizer of the panel: 

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.  This gave women the right to have a credit card in her own name. Today women account for 85% of all consumer purchases including everything from automobiles to health care. Sometimes it takes a generation for society to reorient around such a massive paradigm shift, but advertising agencies clearly need to catch up. The status quo has been status quo for too long, and brands should start holding agencies accountable for more female, senior leadership. This obviously needs to extend beyond feminine hygiene products, cosmetics, and fashion. 

Here are eight things you and your agency can do today:

1. Join the

2. Support or attend the

3. Demand a 50/50 relationship when it comes to conference panels and award show juries.  

4. End tokenism and take a page from StrawberryFrog’s book where 6 out of 14 creative directors are women. 

5. Understand that a fundamental change must be instigated from the top. It’s not just the responsibility of your agency’s ECD or recruiter to hire more females or elevate from within. 

6. Deal with the confidence gap by establishing and funding leadership training or formalized mentorship programs.

7. Pay attention to who you are promoting. Women are not rising to senior levels. Women need to be promoted from within, and agencies can impose a quota or mandate for that.

8.  Remember that diversity drives innovation (which of course impacts the bottom line). 



Jean Batthany, GCD SVP, DDB Chicago
Cindy Gallop, IfWeRanTheWorld & MakeLoveNotPorn
Karen Gereffi, Senior Art Director. Johannes Leonardo
Kevin McKeon, Partner and ECD, StrawberryFrog
Terri Meyer, Co-founder & Co-president, The Terri & Sandy Solution
Mat Zucker, Global ECD, Razorfish
Alison Gragnano, ECD, Ogilvy
Arwa Mahdawi, Contagious