According to The Upshot, if your name is John or David, you’re already more likely than me—or any woman—to become a CEO. Yes, that’s correct. By virtue of the fact that I happen to be of the lady persuasion, I’ve got a clear disadvantage. We see this in the creative space, too, with an astonishingly low ratio of male to female creative directors.
Why is this? I’ve got some ideas.
My own brother, well intentioned though he was, told me not long ago that to him, a Creative Director is “a 40-something dude with salt-and-pepper hair.”
He was not trying to be a jerk. He meant that, because a different 40-something dude with salt-and-pepper hair is who he has become accustomed to calling “Creative Director” over the course of his career, that’s what he associates the title with. This implies that were he to become accustomed to a younger Creative Director, or a strong, female Creative Director, that’s what he’d associate the title with.
Do we promote men to CD because we associate the title with men, or do we associate the title with men because they’re the ones getting promoted? It’s a case of chicken and egg, and frankly I don’t think it matters. What matters is breaking the cycle, starting with identifying ways to break it.
I could rattle off a list of benefits and conditions that would help put women on more equal footing, but I don’t really think that would matter, either:
Paid maternity leave
Paid paternity leave
More opportunities for women
Sexism and gender stereotype education…
Ah, that last one may be exactly the place to start.
Did you know that women are more likely to be told in reviews to “pay attention to your tone”, or to “let others shine”? This while men are given real constructive feedback.
At one point in my career I sat with a creative director high on the chain of command who told me that while I might be better than everyone else—well, maybe 10 percent better than everyone else—I should step back and let others help sometimes.
I couldn’t help but wonder if, had I been John or David, I’d have gotten a promotion instead of a scolding.
The intentions weren’t to be damaging. They never are. Yet the result is just that: damaged careers for talented young women, while the young men continue to be encouraged and rise.
There’s something horrible about a strong, assertive woman who can compete when she needs to. At least, that’s how it would seem. When we—women—are this way, we tend to be perceived incredibly negatively. Somehow, these traits make us undesirable and unpromotable, while they make men rising stars.
This is where we need to start. The old boys clubs need to be properly infiltrated before we can begin to get anywhere. Only then will the glass ceilings be destroyed. And the next time a male executive reminds a woman that she should be less of a competitor, he should be called out on it: Would you say the same thing if John had handled the meeting/project/account in the way I have?
My point is not to belittle or berate men. My point is to illustrate some of the obstacles women face—obstacles that are often well hidden and aren’t so much there for men. The more we illuminate these obstacles, the more we can begin to break them down together.