Does your agency Have Her Back?

Golin's chief creative officer Caroline Dettman on why she has a passion for changing agency culture on the heels of #MeToo and Time's Up.

Caroline Dettman
Caroline Dettman

If you employ a female creative director, the answer to "Do you have her back?" is likely a resounding no.

I should know, as I happen to be one. While I’m one of the few female chief creative officers in the agency world, don’t let that fool you that I’ve made it this far unscathed. Far from it.

I’ve been belittled. I’ve been told to stand down. I’ve been touched without consent. I’ve been passed over for the award-worthy assignment. I’ve been put on an assignment and been the only woman in the room. And I’ve been paid unfairly. This is not an exhaustive list.

Did I mention I am also the problem? Throughout my career, I’ve seen women who work alongside me – or for me – deal with all of those same behaviors from men. And for many years I didn’t do anything. This is maybe my biggest regret.

But now, like many, I’m angry. So now it’s time to turn anger into action.  

In the wake of #MeToo and Time’s Up, we have seen some of our industry’s biggest monsters shown the door. But if we think that is enough and our problems are solved, then we are missing the point.

For each monster gone there is a question that has me – and should have all of us – lying awake at night: Just how many women’s career trajectories and wellbeing lie in their wake? 

For too long, we have said that only 11% of creative directors are women because many opt out of their careers when they become mothers. While motherhood is certainly a factor in many of these decisions, it has never been the sole reason.

Now that the ugly side of openly hostile creative departments is being exposed, we can admit that we are also losing talented women because of how poorly they are treated. Female creatives leave career paths at agencies not just because of a serious assault, but because of systemic harassment and habitual gender bias. Some are even forced out. And those who soldier on are still not given the best assignments, the promotions, or the leadership positions.

Let’s call this what it is: bullshit.

It’s way past time to right this wrong by changing the culture from one of male entitlement to a culture of shared empowerment. And while my company, Golin, has taken steps toward tackling this issue, we can’t do it alone. We all need to be in this together – to take action and make commitments to have women’s backs.

Firms need to hire back and train women creative directors who have left agencies due to inequality; ensure that those women get an equal shot at success and pay; and commit to the hires necessary to achieve balanced leadership; create cultures in which all can thrive.

If agencies can do all this, then we have her back. 

Do you?

Read about Golin’s Have Her Back initiative here.


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