The 3% Conference goes beyond gender in its sixth year

On Day One, speakers tackled race, mentorship, and playground sexism.

After five years challenging the gender disparity in advertising, the latest edition of the 3% Conference—the name refers to the low representation of women among creative directors—faces a very different world.

For one, the statistic from which it takes a name has since doubled. For another, the White House has a different view of women than its predecessors. Always seeking to push the industry, the organizers have widened the scope of the conference to include an intersectional analysis of workplace diversity. 

Mainstage emcee Luvvie Ajayi opened the conference with an exercise to highlight how privilege persists in diverse spaces. With the help of ten onstage volunteers—including 4A’s CEO Marla Kaplowitz, Hill Holliday CEO Karen Kaplan and Pereira & O'Dell Co-Founder PJ Pereira—she ran through a series of questions that instructed the participants to step either forward or backward based on their answers: If you have gone by a different name because people can’t pronounce your real one, step back. If you can find bandages that match your skin tone, step forward. 

Participants had their right hand on a neighbor’s shoulder, so when they drifted too far apart as the questions continued, they had to physically desert colleagues with either more or less privilege.

"In real life, you never feel the break, so you forget there are people who can’t come with you." Ajayi said. "If you’re in the front"—someone with a lot of privilege—"you have to turn around and figure out how to bring those people up with you." 

Breakout sessions followed, with one track dedicated to "manbassadors"—talks on how men should tackle the gender imbalance. First up was DDB Worldwide chairman emeritus Keith Reinhard, who began by noting that some of DDB’s most iconic campaigns, like Levy’s Jewish Rye and the VW Lemon, were created by women. He shared advice to male mentors he’d solicited from successful women colleagues, which he distilled to several key points: listen, engage, encourage, be present (don’t mentor if you don’t have time), and follow up. "Mentors should be givers, not takers, of energy," he explained. "See your mentee as someone bigger than themselves, and stay in touch even after they succeed and seem not to need you as much."

Next, Eleven chief growth officer Michele Sileo and VML director of inclusion and cultural resonance God-Is Rivera talked with Swarthmore behavioral scientist Matt Wallaert, who was inexplicably wearing sunglasses for the duration of his moderating, about how men’s support, or lack thereof, has shaped their careers. Rivera’s husband has stepped into a more domestic role as her career has skyrocketed, and she implored the men in the room to understand that it may be hard for women to accept that level of support.

"We beat ourselves for not being able to be both a mother and fight battles at work," she said. "We have to know there’s no judgment, and that you won’t complain" about traditional gender roles being flipped. 

Sileo emphasized that male supervisors can improve their office gender dynamics by being more open about flexible scheduling, which removes the guilt women often feel for making reasonable requests that they may think of as special treatment.

"Make the conversations you’re having in private, public. Acknowledge the flexibility people have, because when you as a leader talk about it, it becomes okay," Sileo said.

A ballroom over, the leadership track hosted by FCB Worldwide CEO Carter Murray discussed how diversity creates great leadership. He illustrated with a counter-example—the mostly male, almost entirely white Trump administration.

"It’s a total echo chamber," he said, "but there is one truth in America no one can run away from: the distribution of under 18-year-olds is no longer a white majority, and how can we say we’re representing the people we need to market to if our companies are not diverse?"

He implored agencies to implement Free the Bid, which he said has worked well for the agency: In the last 12 months, 30% of FCB’s jobs went to female directors.

Back with the manbassadors, Glenn Singleton led the room in a hyper-condensed version of the training he provides at Courageous Conversations, which focuses on race in the workplace and beyond.

"You can’t deal with gender disparity without dealing with race," he said. "If you don’t, there will be a modicum of change for white women, and women of color will fall behind."

Singleton encouraged the leaders in attendance to set an example for their firms and not shy away from difficult topics and moments.

"People at the highest level have to build the highest capacity for sticking around, because when we run, so does everybody else," he said.

The day finished with a saccharine dose of family bonding at a panel featuring four high-powered ad women and their daughters. The senior execs shared highlights and horror stories of their multi-decade careers, while the young women reflected on years of watching their mothers’ strengths and sacrifices in a demanding industry.

R/GA CCO Chloe Gottlieb said, "I’m 44 and am just coming into the inner confidence to ask for what I deserve, whereas my husband had it all the time. I want to give young girls a toolkit so they can get there faster than I did." 

But the best quote of the panel, and indeed the day, came from fourth grader Vivi McHugh, daughter of Goodby Silverstein & Partners CCO Margaret Jonhson. Asked if she’d ever been told she couldn’t do something because she was a girl, she recounted a story from first grade about a male classmate saying she wasn’t welcome on the basketball court because there was already one girl there, and "we don’t need two." 

"And how did you respond?" asked the moderator, photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield.

"Well," McHugh replied, "I punched him in the stomach."

This story first appeared on campaignlive.com.

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