Saturday, 27 August 2011
Female creatives. Do we really need 'em?
There are two questions that get perennially asked in advertising:
Why aren’t there many women working in creative departments.
And, how can we redress the balance?
At RKCR we seem to have an unfair share of the female advertising workforce, 11 women. But that’s still nowhere near 50/50.
Whilst the, mostly male, creative community bemoans the dearth of female creatives, in truth they’re not doing much to change the situation.
This may be because, in their heart of hearts, they believe you don’t need to be a woman to ‘get’ women?
And it’s true, there are men who are intuitively ‘in touch with their feminine side’ and know women better than they know themselves. The fashion business is stuffed with them.
Less so the ad business.
Conventional wisdom, and the research companies, would have us believe that focus groups can tell us all what we need to know to make us experts in what women want.
If only it really were as simple as just chucking money at the problem.
Personally I love women.
I spent 15 years working with one.
Mary Wear is one of the best writers in the business. And one of the smartest women I’ve met. And she helped me create work I wouldn’t have made had I been working with another man.
We once worked on a campaign for Tampax aimed at teenage girls.
Never having been a teenage girl myself I found this a fascinating learning experience. (I’m afraid my prior knowledge of the target audience had sod all to do with worrying about their ‘emotional needs, wants and desires’.)
Having lived through that maelstrom of a life-stage herself however Mary was the best depth research group you could ask for, there in the room. And at no extra cost to the client. Added value!
During our extensive ‘insight mining’ - chatting - I’d ask her whether a sixteen year old girl would think something-or-other.
Her reply would often be: “Would they bollocks.”
Mary would always say women could tell an ad aimed at them that had been written by men. As an example of what not to do she’d quote the copy of an old Tampax ad she once saw which started: “If you’re a woman or a girl who has periods…”
You don’t need girls to do work aimed at girls. You don’t need to be a woman to get inside the mind of a woman.
But the truth is that work done by the target audience offers a powerful mixture of insight linked to creativity.
And you don’t get that from research groups.
Because of those 15 years working with Mary I have a lot of time for mixed-sex teams.
They add balance.
They prevent blokes from being too blokey. And mitigate against girls being too girly.
But what about the numbers of women wanting to enter the business? Why aren’t they greater?
Though not as tough or sexist as it may have been in the past, the advertising business doesn’t take any prisoners.
And creative departments especially are high-pressure environments: It’s painful having your beautiful ideas smashed to shreds by clients and creative directors.
Then there’s having to deal with competitive colleagues, playing mind games, desperate to out-do each other.
In Dave Trott’s book Creative Mischief, he talks about why women steer clear of creative jobs. He rightly describes creative departments as playgrounds, full of boisterous piss taking and gags.
Playgrounds are fun, but they’re also where bullying happens.
We not only need to entice smart women into the business, it’s imperative we give them a reason to come back from maternity leave when they start a family.
If we’re to do that perhaps we need to look to ourselves to change rather than asking them to.
The answer, soppy though some hardened practitioners may think, is providing a nurturing and caring working environment.
A support culture rather than a blame culture.
Offering encouragement and positive feedback rather than sarcastic sniping.
Baking into the culture the freedom to fail.
I’m not saying treat women differently to men. Why not treat everyone decently?
Yes, it takes more effort. And that might be a stumbling block for some.
But it’s a simple equation:
85% of purchasing decisions are made by women.
We need clever women to help us do our jobs well.
If we don’t treat them with respect they’ll just sod off and go and do something else.
And, gentlemen, that certainly won’t help the end-of-year numbers.