I wrote this piece for The Drum in response to the 3% conference. Thanks to the Drum for kindly inviting me to do so!
Friday 12th June saw the arrival of The 3% Conference train to London – the first event out of the United States for the 3% team since their inaugural San Francisco session on September 2012. The drum they’re banging? Diversity = creativity = profitability.
Women are the main purchase decision makers in every category bar three YET the people coming up with the ideas are predominantly male. In the US in 2012 3% of creative directors were women and as Kat Gordon, founder of 3%, puts perfectly.
“The truth is that women are the superset, not the subset…Yet the work that is supposed to motivate them springs almost entirely from a male perspective. The advertising business is a $33 billion industry. Misunderstanding female consumers, from a business perspective, is sheer lunacy.”
Back to Friday 12th June and how did The 3% Conference translate for the London advertising scene? The drum is undoubtedly a welcome beat here. The UK suffers from the same challenges as the US - female creative directors are less than 15% of the population.
And this is a global issue, a study undertaken by Dr Jean Grow of 50 countries, 2.000 agencies, shows across the globe only 14.6% of creative directors and 20.3% of all creatives are female. At under 15% we’re looking at tokenism – which means women are “an alien organism that has to adopt to the wider body around it.”. Refer back to Kat’s quote – this is a serious business problem.
There were a few differences with the London mini-con and a major one was called out by Kat in her opening address – the majority of the audience were white. In fact, the most white audience the 3% team had experienced at any of their events. And really this is the underlying point of 3% - The 3% Conference is calling for diversity in business. Sure, their main focus is women in creative departments but more fundamentally they’re a rallying cry for difference and against homogeneity.
A wonderful quote from Kat sums this up perfectly “If two people think the same, one is irrelevant”. You need different perspectives on situations to come to a genuinely insightful, resonate and successful idea.
A further London anomaly was the lack of men. In attendance were a mute handful, looking a bit squirmy on their seats. Now, (negatively phrased), quotes like advertising is “A closed group of white guys, talking to white guys, about white guys.” might have scared the men away. But again that would miss the point of The 3% Conference. Refer to the above paragraph – the conference is pro-diversity. They love white guys.
In fact there was a whole panel of white guys, man-bassadors, enlisted to talk about how they have instituted change in their agencies. Without men taking part in the debate the issue can never be resolved. If they’re the ‘ruling class’ we need their buy-in to institute change. Next time men – don’t be scared.
When Cindy Gallop took the stage, a 3% tradition, she moved the conference to a more fundamental place. Of course, she did not neglect the diversity debate proclaiming the “women’s debate is a diversity debate.” and “the new creativity is female informed.”. Rather she went straight to the crux of the matter – how you achieve change - which, at its heart, is the point of 3%.
Cindy believes that the only way to change the world is by doing not talking as demonstrated by her ‘If we ran the world…’ and ‘Make love not porn’ businesses. She has coined the phrase “Communication through demonstration.” and believes we do not need to ‘lean in’, or adapt to a set of institutions created by a male dominated world, rather we need to change them.
And isn’t this what the new world economy should look like – a system where every creative idea, every organisation and every hierarchy is equally female, male, white, black, gay and straight informed?
Photography by Bronac McNeill