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From the Outside: How the Creative Industry Has Changed For Women

Clare Meridew | Chief Creative Officer, North America, GTB

GTB’s very own Chief Creative Officer Clare Meridew had the opportunity to present at the #SeeHer panel at Advertising Week New York this past September. In her talk, Clare gave a firsthand account of how the creative industry has changed for women since the 1980s.

The #SeeHer panel discussed the importance of equal and accurate representation in advertising and included Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, Dr. Knatokie Ford, STEM & Entertainment Engagement Advisor at SeeHer, and Jeff Tetrault, CEO of Dumbstruck.

Combatting Gender Bias with Emotional Analytics

SeeHer’s mission is to eliminate gender bias in advertising and media, increasing visibility for all types of women and girls. The company measures ads and programming for equality and is moving into emotional analytics—data used to understand a person’s mood through verbal and nonverbal communication that can improve customer relationship management (CRM). The Advertising Week panel mentioned that the goal is to produce change in advertising and larger culture by leveraging emotional analytic data insights.

“The challenge of the creative team is to be able to take this learning, to reinterpret it […] to keep moving the needle.” — Clare Meridew

Advertising in the ‘90s

Clare’s presentation, titled “Hello From the Outside,” began with an image of her ten-year-old self to symbolize a happy childhood in which she was encouraged to be anything she wanted. Next, Clare showed a photo of herself in art school, growing into the creative she wanted to be and surrounded by other diverse people.

The presentation shifted as the image changed sharply to depict the “real world” of advertising in the late ’90s. In Clare’s experience, creative directors were hip-dressed men, copywriters were jocks, the clients were business men and any female coworkers were likely secretaries or worked specifically on women’s products. Every person in creative was male, each employee in the agency was white and straight and all the clients were white, straight men.

These patterns directly influenced agency culture and ideas, creating male-skewed output. Clare felt as though she was leading a double life and had no choice but to act like “one of the guys” at work and hide her true self or risk being ignored.

The continuity of male-skewed ideas led to each brief featuring a middle class, married, suburban man, 25–55 years old. Each ad featured white people and each featured men. When women were featured, they fell into one of six stereotypes: hyper domestic, selfless nurturer, sex object, busy working mom, supporting character for the male protagonist(s) or an aspirational, unattainable ideal for women.

Digital Age Helped Change the Game

Later in her talk, Clare shared one of the most remarkable changes to hit the ad industry: digital agencies. They changed the landscape. Smaller shops were able to open digitally, and traditional outcasts—women, LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color — were offered more creative opportunities. Many former outsiders were encouraged to have a voice and fill leadership roles in these start-ups. Clare divulged they were underpaid and mostly making it up as they went along, but they had a level of participation not felt before in the agency world.

The changing landscape provided young women with more career options in the industry than ever before and empowered women to be leaders, making it easier for them to start their own businesses. The digital space provided a forum for community-building, helped activists raise awareness about misogyny online, educated people on women’s rights violations worldwide and supplied tools to combat inequality. It even improved girls’ access to education around the globe!

This change created space for new voices. Ads changed. Women were portrayed as friends rather than enemies vying for male attention. Women featured in media were active and empowered and owned their differences.

Moving Forward

Now, in 2019, about 50% of those working in the advertising industry are women. Even with this growth, only 11% of creative directors are women.

To Clare, it is clear that female empowerment in advertising is here. As we move forward we must encourage genuine diversity, speak to people based on their interests rather than their gender and refrain from defining women as victims.

During the #SeeHer panel, Clare shared that the goal now is looking at the input of each piece of creative work in addition to looking at its outcome to ensure this empowerment continues.

Let Clare walk you through her journey in advertising below.

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