Lead the way


It’s a man’s industry. From Silicon Valley to small design studios in Yorkshire, the creative industries are wondering why they can’t retain female talent. To uncover the answer, we all need to be questioning why there are so few female role models.


Look around you and you’ll find there’s no shortage of smart, confident and talented women. So, you may question why you’d need a role model. Then the moment comes when you work with a female creative director. Realisation sets in that you hardly ever see women deliver pitch presentations. When the only woman on the board of directors resigns. That’s when it hits you. Where are all the female role models?

It’s easy not to notice, but the effect may be greater than you realise. Role models show us what’s possible. They open our minds to more choices and pathways. Without them our outlook can be limited by our own, and other people’s expectations. This doesn’t just apply to job titles. Positive role models can transform our confidence and self-belief. It’s about finding a way to work, that works for you. The notion of ‘what we see, we can be’ is a powerful one. Seeing someone embrace flexible working is better than any company policy.

It’s recognised that there are distinct female and male leadership styles. Women often have a different approach when it comes to management, public speaking and mentoring. A way that doesn’t require being the loudest voice in the room. And one that enables other women to develop their own potential, simply by seeing someone else fulfil theirs. Research has shown the positive impact on innovation and creativity, that comes from having equal male and female representation in leadership teams.

Women aren’t the only issue, there is a call for more diverse role models in general. People with different life experiences, from working class communities, and of BAME backgrounds. People who define success in different ways that show that there is no one-size-fit-all model. Agencies made up of diverse teams, bring different points of view to the table (and ultimately better financial returns).

The reality is that it may be hard to find a role model. Across the creative industries, there’s a lack of women in senior leadership roles. In fact, only 12% of creative directors in the UK are female. Too often you can find that you’re breaking up the old boys’ club. Establishing meaningful leadership role models can transform your path. If you don’t have any within your own workplace, you may have to seek one out elsewhere. Thankfully some motivated women have created initiatives and networks to allow you to do just that.

The W Project celebrates women working across the creative industries. Naturally W stands for women. That means standing for female voices in the creative industries. Founded by Teo Connor and Loren Platt, it brings female role models to the fore through symposiums, workshops and tangible projects. Their (wo)manifesto states “The female stereotype is dead. Long live the role model.” This is about changing attitudes and inspiration for all.

Who’s Yr Momma? That’s the question that SheSays are asking. This global creative network for women, run the aptly named free mentorship scheme. In the UK, the mentorship is available in London and Bournemouth to those in the advertising and marketing industry, at any level. If you want to get together with a talented mentor, or become a mentor yourself you simply have to send an email. Remember, as a mentee, it’s your role to lead the pairing and structure meetings to ensure you get what you need out of it. They also have a presence in Manchester, Brighton and Scotland, as well as cities around the world.

Since it’s often said to be “who you know, not what you know”, lack of a network can be a barrier to achieving your ambitions. The Dots is a platform where you can build your network, follow and connect with others in the creative industries. Their list of 150 women redefining the creative industries, is a great place to start. You may even find your next job.

Stripes is a network of mentors, individuals and organisations, championing ethnic diversity within the creative industries. They are part of ‘One Million Mentors’ London division, with 80% of mentors are from an ethnic diverse background covering all creative sectors. They match each mentor to mentee by hand. From entering the industry to supporting career progression, they offer support at every level. Their Chairwoman, Blackett is one inspirational women and happens to be the UK Country Manager of WPP.

Creative Equals works directly with organisations to improve their gender diversity, and change the ratio so it reflects the world we live in. This starts with assessment, before they help develop and shape the workforce. They’ve created a badge for agencies to show that they are committed to diversity; a kitemark for the creative industries. Their ‘returnships’ support returning to work post-maternity or after a career break. After all an all-female creative team should be as common as an all-male one.