Does the creative industry need to woman up? Why my sex matters.
Over the past few months I’ve had the privilege of visiting and connecting with a number of creative agencies and art directors. There’s always a common theme: I’m the minority: I’m a woman. There’s nothing wrong about that in itself, of course, if the men are just generally better at what they do - let’s not get all politically correct and employ a woman over a man just for equality’s sake when her portfolio is crap. But why is it such a common theme that, especially when creativity is often linked to femininity, there are so many men in the industry compared to females? In fact, the percentage of females working in the creative industry in 2014 was 36.7%. Last year the percentage of female art directors I connected with compared to male was 32%.
Okay, so there’s an inequality. Do we want to change it just for equality’s sake? Just so people like me stop writing blog posts about it and get on with their day jobs? What difference does does my sex make to the creative industry anyway? Isn’t it just about good ideas and good communication? Isn’t it just about creating good work and upholding professionalism?
No, actually. Here’s why my sex matters, as does yours.
The point is that employing more women has to benefit the industry or there’s no point. I’m encouraged to seek inspiration from other women in business and go to women’s networking events but, as much as I’m sure a lot of women are inspired by these, I don’t particularly want to go to them. Why? Because I consider it on a par with putting my shoes on with one hand. And no doubt I would meet some amazing women, but when it comes to my work I do not solely want to work with them, in the same way I do not solely want to work with men. I do not want to let successful women be my only inspiration, though I desire to be one. Women and men are no better than one another, we need one another. You need women in your design agencies as much as men.
For years I tried to hide the femininity in my designs, I thought this only appealed to one side of the market. I felt I shouldn’t put too much emotion into my work, or show any vulnerability in the way I sought out help or admitted mistakes. But the trouble was that I was trying to be something I wasn’t. What if masculinity is no better than femininity? What if confidence and authority are no more important than careful consideration and emotional connection? And that’s not to put each sex into a box, but there’s also no reason why typically feminine traits can’t be a benefit to the industry. In fact, emotional connection will probably sell far more than anything else.
And what of the actual design work? What about creating impactful designs? In recent years there has been a trend for 'feminine’ design; hand lettering, victorian floral pattern and delicate pastel colours. Do these designs just appeal to women? No. Nor are these designs to every woman’s taste either. For me the best designs are where femininity and masculinity work hand in hand. So why cut out one half of your capabilities? Why limit your team to just one sex?
The problem is that we try to be the same. We try to produce the same sort of work, even though each of us has something unique to offer. If I embrace my femininity should I expect everyone else to work in the same way? If I owned a design agency would it be full of people just like me? I hope not. Why would I limit the capabilities of the work by insisting that everyone worked the same way I do? Surely I want some diversity in order to appeal to wider markets and both sexes. Surely I’m not stupid enough to think I can do everything without collaboration.
There are, of course, other difficulties that arise from employing more women. What if they have children? What if they have to work part time in order to facilitate childcare? Yes, what if? The problem with inequality is that women are still paid less than men and often rely on their male partners to bring in the income. Would this change if women were paid more equally? If men took more shared parental leave? If women were felt more valued in their workplace? I can’t speak for all women, but for me having children has made me work harder than I had ever done before. They drove me to do something for myself; they taught me to embrace creativity; they made me want to raise boys who see women as equal (not the same, just equal). For me my role as a mother has enhanced my creativity and made me better at what I do (at least, that’s what people have told me). It has given me a greater understanding about the need for storytelling and connection; experimentation and a good sense of humour.
So, this post is an encouragement to females who have been told in the past that they can’t do as good a job as their male equivalents or that they can’t be leaders in their field of work. This post is an encouragement to creative directors to value your female employees and bring out the best in them, as well as the men. I challenge you to embrace their differences, not to belittle their feminine traits as secondary.