As the summer was winding down, I received an email from Brooke Embry, an agent at TidePool Reps sharing that she and Jigisha Bouverat from JigishaBouverat + Collective wanted to host an event in SF to explore women’s issues in our industry. They were interested in my input and asked if I wanted to be a panelist. Brooke and Jigisha are such amazing contributors to our industry and I have known them for years, so they did not have to ask me twice.
I have to admit though, at first I was unsure about the event. Gender was never a negative issue for me, and most of my agency clients have been women. As well, my experience has been that photographers work has always been judged on the merit of the work and not gender so I wasn’t sure I would have much to offer regarding experience. The hardest part for me about my gender was being a working mom, but for me, my job was a positive because it provided the flexibility I needed to do both. So, when they asked me to be a panelist, I declined because I knew I had a lot to learn just like everyone else and because I had more to learn than to offer.
The panel consisted of Photographer Elisabeth Caren, photographer/director Jennifer Davick, art director Aisha Hakim, and freelance art producer Heather Michaels. Moderated by Jigisha, these women led an important conversation reminding us to be grateful for the women who came before us, to be fearless in finding our voices as women in advertising, and to continue building a community where being a woman is part of your brand and a positive part of the reason to hire you.
Here is what I learned and what I heard:
On Advertising and Being a Woman
- Advertising is beginning to see women in a new light. Agencies want to commit to female leadership. In doing so, they need to embrace that female leaders lead differently than male leaders.
- Female attributes are different than male characteristics. When females display masculine traits, they are seen differently than males displaying those same traits. There is an unconscious bias that needs addressing around this. And, along these lines, if you are a woman and fighting for a woman will you get taken seriously?
- We need more male advocates. Many men are supportive (thank you!!) but many more need to take a more active role to support our advancement.
- Brands need to know they aren’t taking a risk when they bring emotion to a brand.
- Art production is very female heavy. The work/life balance is impossible. It is easy to get sucked into that before you realize you missed a lot at home. There is a need for more solutions to help employees to help break away and live life and have other experiences. At the same time, you need to learn how to hone your skill and become efficient to be great at what you do so you can still have your life.
- There are so many invisible creatives; mid-level and junior creative women who are overlooked. They need more opportunity too.
- A mom art producer explained that she got a lot of support, but the expectation was that she gets her work done and, she was ok with that. At the same time, mothers are often overlooked for promotions and pay increase and this is discouraging for many people thinking about having a family. How can we accommodate the best talent?
On Photography and Being a Woman
- Choosing a photographer to work with has typically not been based on gender. As photographers evolve, they need to realize that their work can no longer speak for itself. They need to find their brand and gender is a substantial part of that.
- 50% of photographers in school are women, but a lot less actually end up working. Women make purchasing decisions, but men shoot the ads.
- It is a strange time to be a female photographer. You feel like a commodity. A quote I heard “I want to create great work and not care about my gender. I want people to want me and my work not just because I am a woman.”
- On the other hand, someone added, “I feel an incredible responsibility to hire women on our productions. If I want people to consider my gender when hiring me, I want to do the same for other women.”
On What We Can Do
- We need community if we want to advance.
- Dialog moves us forward. If we don’t talk, we won’t move forward.
- Women need to feel comfortable and courageous and speak to something in which they believe. The more they speak up, the more people will see that we are missing something by not having more women in leadership roles in our industry.
- It is ok to fail; it makes you stronger. Opportunities come because people give you opportunities.
- Places like F-Collective, Free the Bid and AlreadyMade make it so there can no longer be excuses from ad agencies. They can easily effect change and include more women on their consideration lists and ultimately more hires by using these services. Every agency has good intentions, but they can get complacent. The leaders of these agencies mean well but gender isn’t always top of mind. We need to continue to remind them.
- It is up to us, those with the influence, to speak up and say we have to do this. We need to keep pointing out there are different resources that go beyond what they are familiar with and comfortable with. And, when the power of the big name detracts from other equally capable choices, we need to speak up louder.
- It is up to us to put female options in front of our clients. Women need to use their power as women to get other people to pay attention to other women.
- Seeing strong women in leadership positions help the perception that being a working mother with a career is possible. To lead the next generation, we need to know our role, speak up, open people’s minds, be mentors, give someone a hand and access they might not otherwise have.
- We need to remember that someone helped us along the way and now we need to return the favor.
- Hire as many women as you can. Give someone a chance. That means you too male photographers. Hire women crew.
- We need to look beyond our walls, create a community and come together for us all to do better. Don’t be afraid to be fearless. Don’t hold back. Have a voice, use your skills and passion to say what is important to you.
- Make your legacy the community you create and where you co-exist.
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