International Women’s Day (March 8th) is all about celebrating the accomplishments of women in all areas, including professional life. At Creatopy, we’ve made a tradition of doing this every year, and 2022 is no exception.
So let’s kick off Women’s History Month by shining a light on the amazing women that work in the advertising industry.
The creative forces, the trailblazers, the role models.
Whether they’re executives or creatives, their experiences are equally valuable and can inspire other women to come into their own at the workplace or become advertisers themselves.
Stick with me to find out how the twelve advertising and marketing professionals we reached out to navigate the tumultuous waters of adland.
But before getting into their answers, let’s take a look at the industry as it is now. If you’d rather skip straight to that part, simply use the summary below.
Although the advertising industry has come a long way since Don Draper’s Mad Men world, diversity and gender equality issues are still present to this day.
Moreover, the industry’s slow-paced progress towards an inclusive culture has been stalled and even regressed in light of the recent wave of resignations in the last year.
Whether it was the pandemic that caused what became known as the Great Resignation, or it was a cumulus of factors is yet to be settled, but one thing is certain:
Progress in the advertising industry took a hit.
She Runs It’s 2021 #Inclusive100 report revealed that women occupy only 46.4% of the advertising, media, and tech jobs across their 50 member companies, down roughly 10% from the previous year. This marks the first time in four years when women’s representation has dropped below 50%.
Statista’s 2020 distribution of employees in the US advertising and PR industry confirms that prior to the Great Resignation, women comprised 52.5% of the entire advertising workforce in the US, highlighting the impact this mass resignation had on advertising.
Despite not even making half of the overall number of employees, the report from She Runs It showed that women occupy 52% of the positions at an executive level, rising from 46% the previous year.
Having women in leadership positions within the advertising industry leads to more accurate portrayals of women in ads and the dissolution of stereotypical gender roles. This does not only increase sales, as women have the majority of purchasing power, but it can also drive change in our society.
According to a recent paper on women’s portrayal in ads, three in four people think advertising can influence how people see one another and even shift social norms. So positive representation in the media can bring forth a positive attitude towards women in society.
It all comes full circle.
We can’t help but applaud the women who have remained in advertising despite the rising number of resignations and invite some of them to voice their experiences in hopes they might inspire future women advertisers to join the industry.
Advertising is an ever-evolving environment, and anyone who wants to make a career in this industry needs to be prepared to welcome change at any time.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my advertising career has been watching the shifts in the industry. It’s constantly changing, which means you need to stay nimble and adaptable, and ready to change your plan at the drop of a dime.
Relationship Marketing Brand Manager at NOW Marketing Group
Still, sometimes it is not the environment that poses the most significant challenges, but our inner convictions. Unfortunately, women are taught humility from a young age, and while it is a must-have quality for a leader, it is not exactly helpful when starting out as an advertiser.
Ironically I’ve struggled to adequately market myself and my abilities. I grew up being told to prioritize humility and not to brag. But I’ve learned that downplaying my achievements or skills or not sharing them can limit my career growth and the opportunities that come my way. In the same way, I help brands position themselves for success, I try to approach strategy for my personal brand.
Marketing Consultant at chantellemarcelle.com
However intimidating it may be to leave the comfort zone, it is required in order to become a fully-fledged advertising professional. The yellow brick road awaits.
The biggest challenges you’ll ever face are your own fears and self-limitations. Life throws at you all kinds of challenges, but they are a chance to push yourself to grow, learn, and become a better professional and a better person. When the egg cracks from the outside, it means death. When it cracks from the inside, the baby bird starts to live. Only by overcoming challenges through your own force and willpower will you become a better professional. So invest in your skills and knowledge, and life will smile at you.
Managing Director & Online Marketing Consultant/Google Trainer at adLemonade
Perhaps you’ll reach a point when you feel confident enough to open your own business. Whether you dream about making an impact or simply want to be your own boss, this decision comes with a whole new set of responsibilities.
Running and growing the business has been my biggest challenge so far. For the first 18 months, I did not pay myself a single cent. Anything I earnt went straight back into the business—my outlays always came first. I’ve also had to quickly learn how to employ and manage staff on a daily basis, as well as keep the business running and moving forward, all while staying creative for my clients.
Founder of Social Media Mama
Even with a flexible schedule, most women in the advertising industry struggle with finding and keeping a healthy work-life balance. To get the best of both worlds, one must master the art of prioritizing.
I like to think of it as work-life “juggle” instead of “balance”—because let’s be real: there are very few days when things are balanced. My number one priority is always my family, and some days that means prioritizing a soccer game or date night over work. And other days, it looks like working long, late and hard to make my family proud and show my daughter women can do anything.
So as long as my priorities are clear, the juggle is much more feasible. And fun.
Chief Creative Officer at Barkley
But let’s be honest, prioritizing doesn’t come easily to all of us, or at least not without a bit of practice. Ideally, you would learn to prioritize before reaching a state of burnout, but if you combine long hours and heavy workloads, chances are you’ll experience at least one burnout.
Maintaining a work-life balance is a constant struggle. There’s so much pressure to prove something, to be professionally competitive, to maximize my productivity. Experiencing burnout helped change my mindset, though. I saw firsthand that I can’t be at my best in any area of my life if I don’t stay in tune with myself. I try not to feel guilty about slowing my pace, establishing firm boundaries, taking a break, or saying no because I know the long-term value of protecting my mental and physical health. Sometimes it’s just about reminding myself what the most valuable assets in life really are—good health, loved ones, and peace.
Marketing Consultant at chantellemarcelle.com
Don’t shy away from sharing the workload if you are lucky enough to work with a team of qualified people. There’s a limit to the tasks one can do alone, and you need to get familiar with yours.
I used to say “Yes” to an obscene amount of requests during the early days of my career in digital marketing. While I was doing great with work, I lost valuable time when it came to trying to fit in other equally important roles in life as a non-profit lead, a friend, a daughter, a cousin, a partner. These days, I work with people to find balance. As a team lead, I set boundaries on my schedule and have casual conversations about who I am outside of work. This encourages employees to set expectations as well, and instead, I rely on them to tell me what they can or can’t do.
Head Of Digital Marketing at iSpot.tv
Work-life balance is even more difficult to achieve when you’re a woman entrepreneur within the industry. It takes a great deal of motivation, perseverance, and commitment to handle the fast-paced rhythm of business management doubled by the caretaking duties of a parent.
Honestly, I’m still trying to figure this one out. Finding that work-life balance that works specifically for me and my family has been, hands down, the most difficult thing I’ve had to do. Every family is different and having a business is a 24-hour, 7-days a week, round-the-clock job. That includes nights, early mornings, public holidays, and weekends.
Founder of Social Media Mama
It’s not unusual to feel vulnerable as a woman in the ad industry, even more so when you’re a junior. Having more experienced women there acting as mentors would provide invaluable insight, but that’s not always the case. That being said:
Don’t be afraid to get your voice heard. Oftentimes we get talked over in meetings, reviews, and brainstorms, and it can be really nerve-wracking to challenge those who interrupt you (sometimes without even realizing because it’s so normalized), but please don’t put up with it. Use phrases like “to finish my point…” and “that’s a good point, but what I was going to say is…” if you do get spoken over. Ground-breaking ideas can bloom from what you have to say, don’t silence your thoughts.
Creative at Grey London
You might even doubt this profession is the right fit for you during your first weeks, which is more common than you think.
Do not feel like an imposter. Too many women feel imposter syndrome in the beginning, and I’m here to tell you that you are equally important to the present and future of whatever company you are with. You have the power today to make your contributions and experience as great or as unnoticed as you like. Take the bull by its horns and tell yourself that you are valuable and are an essential piece of the puzzle that completes the big picture of your company. You’re needed. Now lean in, and go make a difference.
Founder & CEO, All Inclusive Marketing Inc.
Self-doubt can be found even at top management levels. As much as 75% of women executives experience imposter syndrome at one point or another in their careers.
It’s easy to fall into patterns of self-doubt and insecurity. Building self-confidence is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your career. Always bet on yourself. Regardless of your workplace or what may happen in a job, *you* are a sure thing. The challenge with attaching yourself to someone else’s vision is that you live and die by their definition of success rather than your own. When you start to take calculated risks and bet on yourself, it will change your mindset, and opportunities will abound.
Senior Manager, Social Media & Engagement at Akamai Technologies
Being confident and collaborating with fellow advertisers are not mutually exclusive.
The advice I’d give a woman entering the industry would be to have confidence in her knowledge. Still, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We are collaborators, not competitors—I believe this to be true with anyone in the industry. If you’ve made it in this space, you’ve got something we can learn from, so share it proudly.
Pinterest Strategist & Founder at laurarike.com
I cannot stress enough the importance of networking in advertising. Having the right professionals in your corner can expand your knowledge and provide exciting job opportunities.
My best advice for anyone entering the industry would be to build relationships! Make it a point to bring your full self to the table and aim to connect with people with intention. You never know how these relationships will enrich your life!
Relationship Marketing Brand Manager at NOW Marketing Group
Consume content from within the industry to learn from more experienced people and help your development as an advertising professional.
Follow and read work by key players in your specific area of marketing interest. Read their content and newsletters, listen to their podcasts, and watch their videos. Where appropriate share and comment on their work. Take advantage of webinars, conferences, and educational options where available. Use these opportunities to connect and network.
Chief Marketing Officer at Actionable Marketing Guide
The most important thing is to embark on this professional journey with a deep understanding of oneself, including strong suits and limitations. Only then you can set your own pace and enjoy the ride.
To summarize, here’s what any woman newcomer who joins the industry should seek:
To secure a living based on what she knows best and to become the best at something. To have both, in her professional and personal life, small sources of self-refilled joy, that will keep her cup full even during tough times. For me, the creative trainings, the public speaking talks, but also the writing or exploring different cultures are playing that role. Last, but not least, to have a very clear taste of what and how her best self looks and acts like and to make constant steps towards that individual. The process will be as rewarding as the destination.
Public Speaker, Creativity Ambassador & Founder of Love and Lobby
Based on the experiences of these women, we can identify some pain points, such as not being able to spend enough time with the family or feeling uncomfortable as a result of being in the minority in the workplace.
But things are shifting, slowly but surely, and we want to talk about some organizations, movements, and trends that are bringing a wind of change to adland. They all advocate for inclusion and flexibility, aiming to keep women in advertising longer.
The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which represents the advertising/marketing community in the United States, is committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. Similarly to She Runs It, they release yearly reports that measure gender equality and ethnic diversity across the ANA member companies.
On European territory, more specifically in Germany, a group of activists called the Ad Girls Club is pushing for a 50% women employment rate at management levels, gender-inclusive language, equal pay, work-life balance, and reliable contact persons for the women in the industry.
We’ve seen progress at the company level too. Agencies and businesses alike are starting to be more inclusive in their thinking and support work schedule flexibility, as well as work-life balance.
For instance, Publicis Groupe, owner of many advertising agencies including Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi, introduced Bright Horizons to help their employees with the struggle of balancing work and family obligations. The program offers backup care for children and adults, coaching for college admissions, as well as additional family support.
The lines between work and home have blurred, and most businesses are adopting a hybrid work model that allows women to reconcile the professional with the personal. Such is the case of the digital product and marketing company R/GA which adopted a hybrid work model upon reopening its New York office in 2021.
I’ve briefly mentioned before that how women are portrayed on the other side of the lens can influence how they are treated in society. So I can’t end this shortlist without giving a shout-out to the Unstereotype Alliance—an action platform that fights gender-based stereotypes in media and advertising content.
Empowered women have the power to empower other women. It is true for advertising and any other industry or community out there.
So the goal is to create an environment where women like the professionals featured in this article feel comfortable yet challenged to grow. In turn, they will act as mentors, nurturing future generations of women advertisers.
Creatopy applauds all initiatives meant to drive progress and encourages women to join the advertising industry and help it evolve from the inside.
Check out our Women’s Day articles from previous years: