"It was basically an episode of Mad Men," says one female creative director of her industry. And while we love that actual ad pros also use the show as a reference point, it doesn't sound like it's changed that much:
It says something when the industry theoretically geared towards reading and determining the collective psyche is, at the creative level, overwhelmingly male-dominated, particularly at the higher (yes, Don Draper) level. According to a piece on AdAge, this was "a hot issue" at the magazine's annual "Women to Watch luncheon," whose very existence in 2009 is somewhat telling. While women are well-represented at the executive level, they're still lagging in "creative," and fewer women go into that end of things. In a video from the event, Tiffany Kosel, creative director and VP at the Crispin Porter & Bogusky agency, paraphrases one woman's explanation: the issue, she says, is the classic "tightrope" : "be confident, speak up, get respect, while still being feminine enough that we're not seen as overly aggressive."
And she ends with an eerie and perhaps unconscious paraphrase of one of Mad Men's more memorable lines, the savvy Bobbie Barrett's sage advice: "(N)o one will tell you this, but you can't be a man. Don't even try. Be a woman. It's powerful business, when done correctly." While in the context of the show, there's the ever-present implication of sexual power and a set of weapons no more at a woman's disposal than a man's overt power to sexually harass his assistant, it's essentially Kosel's message: women bring something different to the table - in fact, the perspective of more than half the population, which would seem to be a valuable commodity in an industry largely geared towards selling to that percentage.
It's interesting that the discrepancies should exist in creative, rather than executive spheres: it seems like the issue is exactly what that one woman elucidated, that of balance. A woman can be business-minded. She can be soft and creative. But the two are still not reconciled in our culture. Take the heroines of most movies: ethereal free spirits and uptight control freaks pretty much cover the waterfront. Advertising is one of the businesses that's always mixed commerce and creativity most overtly, and from the beginning: and the industry, of course, perpetuates and crafts these continuing perceptions. In a sense it would be peculiar if that industry itself didn't cleave to the same standards. There was a really interesting quote on the estimable Media Commons blog dealing with Mad Men: the show, the authors averred, is essentially "about subjectivities in the making: how men construct identities for women and how women struggle for narrative space in and through those representations." I'd go so far as to apply that construct to most creative industries, a lot of life, and certainly the business of selling image.
Creative Directors And Gender: Why The Male Domination? [AdAge]
Why Women Don't Get Ahead In Advertising [Media Commons]