Find Work Find Talent

The Donna Drapers – An Interview with Leading Ladies in Austin Advertising

Written By Page Jensen-Slattengren | Feb 6, 2015

Before I even knew how to write a headline, I knew about “the 3% statistic.” This ominous figure, akin to “boys rule girls drool,” states that regardless of the plethora of talented women in portfolio schools and junior positions, only 3% of executive creative positions are filled by women.

Fueled in part by famed adverting executive Neil French’s bombastic comment in 2005 that “women don’t make it to the top because they don’t deserve to,” the advertising industry has focused renewed energy on closing the gender gap. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg started a nation-wide discussion in 2013 with her manicured creed “Lean In,” scolding the absence of advocacy and implicating women’s lack of being “active at the table” for their invisibility in the boardroom.

The female share of creative executives has grown 319%, to 11.5% of the total.

In 2012, Kat Gordon, with her battle cry of “Where are all the Donna Drapers?” established the 3% Conference, a two-day event created to foster community amongst female executives and examine solutions to the gap. Panels and workshops revolve around correcting the ideas that this gap is present due to the lack of support for motherhood, diversity awareness and celebration of female work in agencies.

We’re seeing more and more women get recognized, not because they are women, but because they are strong creatives. During the 3% Conference’s last gathering, they happily reported that the female share of creative executives has grown 319%, to 11.5% of the total.

We sat down with four leading creative professionals in Austin to discuss their careers and the shifting status quo for women in advertising. Each of these women are not only exemplary in their field, but have taken on a leadership role within their agency in an effort to raise the bar from 11.5% to 50%. Cue the Beyonce music.

Aimee Roberge is Lead Designer at McGarrah Jesse
Shannon Hollsten is a Senior Writer at GSD&M
Megan Coffey is Lead Creative Officer at Springbox
Heather Apple is a Senior Writer at GSD&M

Women are still only making up 3% of executive creative directors. What can we do as an industry to shift that paradigm?

Aimee Roberge: This is sort of a larger issue across all professions these days. We are potentially looking at a woman president and there are some very powerful female CEOs making the news right now, and yet, it’s common for women to be called “bitches” where men are considered “assertive.” I think there’s a lot of residual thought out there from previous generations, but it’s time to be vocal about it and bring it to the table.

Shannon Hollsten: I don’t think it’s up to the industry or society, it’s up to women to have stronger voices. Make sure you have a strong voice as a creative but also make sure as an employee that your voice is heard, and never be scared to stand up and ask for a promotion.

Megan Coffey: The majority of my team is female currently, and I’ve never really run into any instance in my career where I was looked over or not given an opportunity because I was female vs. male. Other women have had other experiences. I think a lot of women have the perception that they shouldn’t be valued as much or have the same opportunities as men.

What can we, as women, do to close the gender gap?

Heather Apple: I feel like it’s very taboo to ask a woman executive how she “has it all,” but as women we need to be honest and talk about it. We need to support each other and discuss what we have been through.

Shannon: One of the biggest lessons I have learned is don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. I asked for a promotion and they said “okay” and I was so frustrated at myself for having waited for so long. I think women wait for validation but you need to be your own validating source. I think men are a lot more comfortable asking for what they want.

Some blame a lack of mentorship as a reason for the lack of female executives. Did you have a mentor that worked with you and helped you during your career?

Megan: My professor at Texas State, Holly Sterling. She taught art direction classes, and never made us second guess if this was something that a female could do. Also Matt Manroe, my executive Creative Director at nFusion. The day Matt hired me, he told me “I’ll tell you when it’s time to go.” I’ve always really appreciated that and have tried to take that into account as a manager. You need to know what you need to get from someplace and then realize when it’s time to leave.

Aimee: At Creative Circus I had an amazing teacher who flat out told me that I was a designer at heart and to get out of campaign work. I’ve never had a harder teacher, but I’ve also never had such a smart, intuitive and wise instructor. She pushed everyone so hard. We went through incredible stress and minimal sleep, but there is no doubt that she taught me the reward of passion and doing work that you don’t mind losing sleep over. I owe her a lot for my design successes, but also for the life lessons that I learned. My second mentor was my current boss, David Kampa. He’s someone who can look at something you did, recommend one little change and it becomes infinitely better. He’s created a design community at McGarrah Jesse that stresses collaboration and a positive environment. It’s not about competition to get your design chosen, but bringing out the best designer in everyone on the team.

In her article “What Can We Do about the Dearth of Female Creatives,” Tiffany Rolfe asks women to “pay it forward” and mentor young creatives. As a leader at your agency how do you pay it forward?

Megan: I definitely consider one of my biggest jobs to create career paths for the individuals on the team. Getting them where they want instead of just where I need them to be. [At Springbox] I’ve led the initiative internally to make a better review structure and create goals and career plans for the employees.

Heather: It’s really important to mentor [young creatives] and help people out. We have the opportunity to reach back and help someone by looking at their book or giving advice.

Women have 79% of the purchasing power yet most accounts do not have female creatives working on them. Do you think clients would benefit from more female voices?

Heather: We do bring in a different perspective, but as a writer we are supposed to take on the voice of the brand. Your voice shouldn’t be all female or all male, you need to be diverse and represent the brand.

What have you learned that you wish someone had told you when you first started in advertising?

Megan: You set your own expectations. The more work and the harder you work–those are the standards that you set and others will assume that is the norm. It is so easy to get burned out in our industry. Especially when you’re younger, you’re working your butt off and sometimes that gets overlooked because that is what is expected of you. It’s okay to have that balance between work and life, and to find an environment that encourages that balance.

Shannon: Be more confident in your voice and never stop learning. You should always be learning more about yourself and the industry. Writing and art direction is all very subjective and you really need to go with your gut a lot of the time. Learn to trust your gut, do what makes you happy, and go with your strengths.

Aimee: It’s easy to fall into your comfort zone from time to time. Everyone does it, but do the hard work and it’ll always make you better and more fulfilled.

What advice do you have for young creatives (men or women) that are trying to get into the business?

Megan: Do great work. Be passionate about what you do. And never let your gender determine your worth or opportunities.

Page Jensen-Slattengren is a Producer and Studio Manager for music and sound design house Tequila Mockingbird in Austin, as well as an aspiring copywriter finishing up her portfolio. In her spare time, she enjoys reading feminist literature, rescuing animals from dumpsters and listening to 3LW on repeat.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.