I’m not sure why it’s harder for women to be perceived as creative superstars. I think it’s tied into humility, which is more often found in women than men. We don’t self-promote as much as men. We don’t posture well. Women are expected to place their own needs second. It’s not just conditioning, it’s part of our genetics. When a woman is pregnant, she places herself in a vulnerable position in order to deliver another life. I think it is a woman’s superpower, to deliver others. However, I also think it’s every person’s right to put themselves first.
In Confessions of a Female Ad Exec, I talked about being one of the guys. About how I smoked cigarettes and hung out in record stores instead of the fashion mall. That helped me see that there was more than the archetype of girlhood that was being served up to me. I could pick and choose from both sides to create an identity for myself. It’s not a straight line that separates male and female. I still care more about records than malls. It’s too bad that the era I grew up in attributed those things to genders. That’s what I wanted none of. [In Confessions of a Female Ad Exec DeCourcy described how she had to work hard to be accepted as a woman in advertising in her twenties and thirties:] “I didn’t sleep my way to the top. I smoked, drank, workaholic’d and off-colorjoked my way there. Talent and a good book weren’t enough. You had to have talent and be one of the boys.”] Now, I’m not “one of the boys” but I’m not “one of the girls” either. I do think I received less sexism because of being “in the club” but it came at a price. I had to disassociate my mind from my gender and I think it was a loss. I’m less of a guy than I used to be.
Ironically, I’m becoming more of a woman as I get older – a time when some can feel less feminine. The strength and calmness I feel now comes from that place, not the guy place in me.
I have seen so much progress in the five years since I wrote Confessions… It’s been a stunning shift to witness. It gives me optimism about the state of the world. I believe that both men and women will be better because of it.
When I was starting out in the industry there were some people who mentored me and others who fought me. They all made me better. Andrew Robertson at BBDO taught me about equal pay and I’ll always be indebted to him for that. [TBWA’s] Lee Clow thought I was smart and spent a lot of time championing my thinking, which I still endeavour to live up to. Mark Kingdon, at Organic, thought he spotted a leader and guided me to find my purpose in being one. Troy Young [former chief experience officer at Organic, now president of Hearst digital media] taught me defence. Dave Luhr [W+K president] taught me that half the job is stamina. The people working beside me and under me taught me the most. People who followed and believed and tried to deliver what I could see. Those people were my real mentors.
In the early days of my career I was questing, exciting, difficult, compelling, fast, too fast, way too fast, chaotic, relentless, never satisfied, full of impossible asks.
I had a lot of original ideas and that made me slightly arrogant. It was a fun time though. I liked to have fun and I created families out of my teams. I believed in us and the power of what we could do. I didn’t care about people’s experience, only their ideas, so I gave a lot of people chances they might not otherwise have gotten. It’s good to think about that. I need to remember that person a little more.