Women hold the purse strings, but don’t control advertising.
By Kat Gordon (Founder, Maternal Instinct)

I have worked the ad agency beat. And here’s what I’ve learned: women hold the purse strings, but surrender that power when it comes to work environments. Can you imagine any other business case study that presents itself this way: “I control 85% of the power – of a multi-trillion dollar market – yet am 97% un-represented in its making.” Lunacy!
Only 3% of advertising creative directors are women. I know because I am one of this elusive 3%. The reasons why women aren’t better represented center largely around the family-unfriendliness of advertising. It’s a punishing field where burning the midnight oil is valued and where clients demand almost-immediate turnaround. Where men tend to mentor those who look like themselves. And where the glory of winning at Cannes or at the Clios is decided by… wait for it: mostly male juries.

STEM may steal headlines, but here’s another place your daughters are sorely needed. You – and your kids – will see 3,000 ads today. They will bombard unabashedly from the TV, the radio, the Internet. They will sneak in from alongside the freeway and from under your car’s windshield wipers – 3,000 messages about how you should eat, drink, drive, look, invest, donate, vacation, and vote.

You simply cannot underestimate the power of advertising to change behavior in our society. Yet women – the ones squarely in power when it comes to the spending of consumer dollars – are grossly underrepresented in what gets marketed… and how. Men stay in the field while women cry uncle and bow out. The marketplace and the marketer look nothing alike and it shows. Clients pay millions of dollars to motivate an overwhelmingly female marketplace with work crafted almost exclusively from a male sensibility.

Advertising can be a force for good. And more women will make it so. More women will not only make for better advertising; they’ll make for a better world. As anyone who has seen Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary “Miss Representation” knows, the depiction of women and girls in the media is deeply troubling. Until more women have a hand in the creation of media, the more stereotypes will persist and unhealthy media diets will be de rigueur.

Advertising is a much-maligned field. I have worked as a copywriter/creative director for over 20 years and have never had to sell my soul peddling fare like cigarettes, fatty foods and, hell, even padded bras.

Instead, here’s what I have had the privilege to affect – donations to HIV research, domestic violence prevention, infant mortality research, pet adoption, and even many well-intentioned for-profit clients, from Hawaiian vacations to 529 college-saving plans to organic wineries.

If you are persuasive with words (and pictures), you can have an enormous impact on the world. Yes, my brother (with the PhD) is the one doing Alzheimer’s Research. But I am the one encouraging others to give to the cause so his very research can happen. Advertising is wildly creative. It’s fun. You don’t need a pricy advanced degree and can be an “artist” without starving.

A final appeal to parents everywhere. Yes, dear readers, please send your daughter into the sciences, technology, engineering and math. And thank you, in advance, for the gifts she promises to deliver on those fronts (I get teary even typing that). Yet… if you have a daughter who is creatively inclined – who journals and doodles and is funny and insightful – introduce her to advertising. The world needs her. Badly.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Kat Gordon is Founder of Maternal Instinct, a marketing-to-moms ad agency in Palo Alto that created The MBA Program (Mom Brand Audit). She lives in a house of men, grew up with three brothers and has worked at testro-fueled work environments like Sports Illustrated, PowerBar, Hal Riney + Partners, as well as advising many startups including Tesla Motors, Tellme, Ooma and others. Kat also founded The 3% Conference, a first-ever event highlighting the business imperative of having more women serve as creative directors.