S.04: E.01

The Emperor's New Clothes

with Kat Gordon

October 8, 2019 • 20:57 min


  | The Emperor's New Clothes (w. Kat Gordon )


After a course-altering realization that the consumer segment with the most influence and buying power in America was largely underestimated by and underrepresented in advertising, Kat Gordon pivoted her focus from a successful career in advertising to a successful career diversifying advertising. Since starting the 3% Conference in 2012, she's branched those efforts into a multi-layered approach aptly dubbed the 3% Movement. Kat and I discuss her work with the 3% Movement, how intersectional diversity impacts the bottom line, and why success in one problem space shifts the vista to another.

To hear more from Kat, find her on:
Twitter: @katgordon
Instagram: @katch_phrases and @3percentconf
Facebook: Kat Gordon and 3 Percent Conference

Written, produced, and hosted by Kenzie Haynes.

Kenzie: Welcome back to It's Worth Doing Right. A collection of conversations about the creative side of strategy. I'm your host Kenzie Haynes.

Kenzie: Today on the show we're talking to Kat Gordon. Industry innovator and founder of The 3% Movement. Last year, LinkedIn named her one of the top voices for marketing and media, and she was Ad Age's 2018 Visionary of the Year. Kat brought a nuanced and informed view of the industry landscape to our conversation and we talked about everything from why diversity impacts the bottom line, to changes she's seen since starting the movement 7 years ago. Let's dive in.

Kenzie: Hey Kat, welcome to the show.

Kat: Oh, thanks for inviting me.

Kenzie: You have a fascinating background and I wonder if we can start by getting a glimpse of what you've been up to?

Kat: Sure. So, my background is as an advertising creative director. And I've been doing that job since shortly after college. And, um, really, over the years, I've thought about it, I've worked in every permutation of agency life imaginable. I've worked on the client side, I've worked in-house, I've worked at a big agency, I've worked at a small agency, I've been a freelancer and I've owned my own agency.

Kat: So, in all of those years and all of that, um, experience, one of the things I noticed was that there very few women in creative leadership. And when I did open my own agency it specialized in marketing to women. And so, I was keenly aware of how much consumer power women have and yet are usually spoken to through a male lens and how that was a real missed opportunity.

Kat: So, I started something called The 3% Movement in 2012, which was, I thought, just convening a one-day conversation around this issue in San Francisco. And since then, we've had 26 events all over the world. And 3% also does research around issues of how diversity and creativity are linked, and we so a certification program around the gender friendliness of creative companies.

Kenzie: So, you've been in the industry for a while and you've had the opportunity to see it from many different, uh, roles and facets. But I wonder, was there a specific moment for you when you took a step back and thought, "You know, this isn't just the way that things are. It's, uh, an issue that needs to be addressed. Or, or a problem that needs to be solved?"

Kat: I actually describe that as my Emperor's New Clothes moment. And it happened, actually, quite a long time ago. But I didn't act on it right away, which I think, often, can be true of people that are creative. That they, kind of, have to metabolize things before they know how they wanna act.

Kat: Um, and it was probably when I was in my early 30s, I was working at Hal Riney & Partners, um, as a copywriter and the agency was involved in a car pitch. And had 16 men and 1 woman on the pitch team. And I just remember thinking, "Why are there not more women involved in this new business pitch?" And, um, you know, th- the agency did not win the business and no one seemed to connect the dots that maybe that was a contributing factor. But, I was, kind of, sitting there with my jaw open, thinking, "I cannot believe the lack of perspective here about who buys cars."

Kenzie: How did that moment translate into a conference for you? How did that solution come to the fore when you were thinking about ways to address this issue?

Kat: You know, I have tried to recall the moment when I decided that a conference was the answer and I cannot remember why that was my choice. I, I guess somehow I knew that community was missing from this issue. That there were a lot of people who shared my observations around it but we didn't have a way to, kind of, create critical mass. And so, somehow I decided that it was a live event and that people needed to come together and have conversation around it and build community. And so that's why the very first action I took was to organize a conference. I announced it in 2010 and the first conference was in 2012.

Kenzie: What kind of person attends this conference? Like, is it more of a training course for people to improve their approach to diversity or is it more like a think tank for like-minds to converge on the issue?

Kat: Kind of both. I mean we're... when we're putting together our agenda there are different filters I apply as I'm looking at who's coming to speak and what we're doing. We definitely want there to be some kind of professional development or learning. So, we have a How To Track where people can literally learn things, like negotiating salary, um, uh, being a good bystander, other true skills.

Kat: But then, we also have just incredibly inspiring speakers. Um, you know, we've had authors, we've had social activists, we've had architects. I mean, we've had all kinds of speakers come and talk about things that relate to creativity and its fullest expression.

Kat: Um, and then, there's just the community building that literally being in together with other kindred spirits that are also dedicated to diversity. The longer that 3% is putting on our events, the most I realize I think the real beauty of what we do is what Cindy Gallop calls, "Communication through demonstration," which is we just show the world the way we think it should look.

Kat: Meaning, we have over 100 speakers and half of them are people of color and most of them are women. We try really progressive things on the stage. And the atmosphere and the vibe at the events are so positive and so creative, and people feel a sense of aliveness that often they don't feel in their workplaces. And they leave our events thinking, "I wanna feel like that again." And so we show them that it can be done and that it's [inaudible 00:06:14].

Kenzie: So, I know you have a bit of a left brain background in market research and I know you're putting some kind of success metrics on this. So how are you measuring the success of the conference?

Kat: You know, it's not so much the conference 'cause the conference always sells out. We get great rating on our exit survey. We continue to raise sponsor money. Uh, the metrics we watch are the industry itself. Like, how is what we're teaching and what we're advocating for being incorporated in the industry as a whole? So, the metrics we watch are about female leadership, representation of women in, um, senior positions and creative companies.

Kat: Um, our certification program is a real deep dive into agencies around their programs and policies. We even look at the work that the agency produces on behalf of their clients and sa- You know, what are you signaling to the world that you value by virtue of the ideas you come up with and who you cast? So those are the things I keep my eye on, are, how are agencies actually adapting to the things we're telling them make for truly inclusive cultures?

Kat: We're really keen right now on learning more about how to support creatives of color, because so many agencies are figuring out how to advance women but it's mostly white women that are prospering. And so, we, we decide what we wanna know more about and we do our research and publish it. And often it will get picked up in the news because we try to stay a beat ahead of what's happening, so that when things happen in the market place we have research to, kind of, explain what's going on.

Kenzie: So there's a big number out there and it actually pertains to the name of the conference. 3% was the statistic around female representation in creative leadership. And that's since changed to around 11%, I believe. Are you considering changing the name of the conference?

Kat: The answer is no for a variety of reasons. One of which is just that's an SEO nightmare imagining, like, changing your brand every few years. Um, but more importantly, I think it's a really good marker to remind people how bad it will be if we're not vigilant. Um, you know, 3% is embarrassing.

Kat: It's... I, I, met somebody at a cocktail party once and they said, "Oh, I know who are. You're the woman that runs that 0% conference." (laughs) And I laughed and I said, "It's not quite that bad, but it's not that much better than 0%."

Kat: I mean, women were really just almost entirely absent from creative leadership. So I think it's important that we remember that because if we don't keep up these efforts, I do think we will slide backwards.

Kenzie: And you've also said that recently you've been focusing on women of color and people of color in these roles. And I wonder what feedback were you getting or what statistics were you looking at that inspired you to move in this direction?

Kat: We convened, uh, a listening tour. We went to multiple cities in the US to... with no press and no photography. Just a safe space to learn how we could better apply our muscle on behalf of insuring their success. And what we heard was to keep doing what we're doing, which is normalizing, um, their presence, their, their achievements, uh, showcasing them in ways that it's not about... they don't have to sit on panels, where they're just talking about diversity efforts. You know, they can be true thought leaders and talk about their work and the teams they run. And so, this is the next wave, I believe, of insuring that diversity is intersectional.

Kat: And you know, I'm focusing, in this conversation right now, on women of color. There's also a huge problem in a creativity industry with ageism and older, older creatives being, kind of, deemed not, not relevant or not in touch with culture, which is, you know, just not true. And there's, you know, LGBTQ representation, ableism.

Kat: I posted something to our Facebook page recently. They got a lot of sharing and I realized I touched a nerve where... Um, it was an article about a deaf couple that started a restaurant in Washington, D.C., where everyone that works at the restaurant is deaf. And it, and it was a beautiful article about how, you know, the deaf community is really under-represented in almost every industry.

Kat: And it caused me to, kind of, rewind the tape on my 30 year career. I can only think of one deaf colleague I've had over all those years. And that's, you know, dramatic under-representation. So we're... You know, the longer this crusade goes on, the vistas keep changing because as you get closer to achieving certain levels of equality, you see other pitfalls or other things that have to be addressed. And that is exciting. It keeps the job interesting.

Kenzie: I think that really encapsulates the times well. I think there's a lot of issues on people's minds and, you know, it can almost feel overwhelming at times. Like, i- if I focus on one issue, am I excluding solving other issues? Or if I focus on all of the issues, am I diluting my ability to have impact on any of them? Do you ever have those thoughts?

Kat: Yeah, absolutely. And it also can be very discouraging at how glacial the pace can feel at times. Um, and I heard this amazing conversation on a podcast recently, where someone was talking about how this kind of work is generational. Meaning, you are literally trying to shape a new cultural norm and that it takes a really long time and that you might not live to see the fruits of that labor, but you're doing it in order to be a good ancestor to your children, your grand-children.

Kat: Um, there are days where I just feel like, you know... a- and you can't represent everyone. You know, I, I'm a white woman. I'm straight. I'm married. I'm a mother. I have a lens through which I've seen the world. So a lot of my work is getting out of my own head. And I just think we all, no matter what field we work in, need to be always questioning what we're digesting. You know, how limited is our palette of, of where we travel and what we read and, um, what music we listen to because it can get very narrow.

Kenzie: Well, you say, it's, um, it's a generational issue. It's moving at a glacial pace. I completely identify with that because I feel like so much of the work I do, not on these major social issues, moves at a glacial pace. So I can only imagine the pace of this broad social change that you're talking about. What are the indicators of change? If it's moving so slowly, how do we know we're on the right path? What are the trends we're seeing in the market place or in consumers or in the work? How do we know we're trending in the right direction?

Kat: If you look at how much attention the women's, uh, national soccer team got for pay inequity, and how broadly that discussion was hosted and how fervent people felt about it and were, were posting... And, um, and even, you know, seeing little boys and men wearing jersey's with women's names across the back of them and, and becoming fans for these stars. I think that's one indicator of a movement where people are finally waking up to the inequities in the world.

Kat: Um, you know, there's a quote that Will Smith said about a year or two ago. He said, "Racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed." And I think that's exactly right. That a lot of the mechanisms we have now to share news with one another, social media has made it impossible to look away from the inquities and wealth in this country and education, um, and opportunities in...

Kat: I mean, I don't know if you saw that list that Forbes just put out of the 100 Most Innovative Leaders, 99 of whom were men. Um, yeah, it's, it's insane that they put that list out in 2019. But if you see the... all the people taking them to the mat for that and really... You know, they have egg on their face right now. That's... I'm embarrassed for them. Um, so I think we're all slowly moving along on the spectrum of awareness and then hopefully advocacy.

Kenzie: And I wonder from a professional perspective, how does this impact our effectiveness as an industry?

Kat: Well, I mean, the entire reason I started this movement was on behalf of consumers. I mean, if you have almost all the ideas that are being put into the market place coming through a male lens and largely a white male lens, then you have a huge contingent of consumers that are feeling misunderstood, overlooked, at times, even insulted.

Kat: And that... You know, when I stared 3% it was very much an awareness of how female consumers were being just completely ignored. And they have so much power and I, I almost was... thought that brands should be angrier about how they were getting gypped in their agency partnerships, because they were getting all these men trying to speak to their consumer base, whom they knew to be more female than male, and multi-cultural, multi-ethnic.

Kat: And so, it makes the work less effective. It's makes the work coming more from one view point. And group [inaudible 00:15:44], no matter what group is doing it, I would, I would have the exact same complaint if it were 97% women. It's, that's not the issue. The issue is that diverse perspectives in an ideation session is where truly groundbreaking ideas come from. And they have more nuance and they have more dimension and they're not stereotypical.

Kenzie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kat: I mean, look, look at all the reasons why advertising has been thought to be not trustworthy. What if the work represented more view points? Not that it's gonna all of sudden become trusted at the same level as other sources but it... I just think it'll make people feel they can see themselves in the story lines. They feel like they belong. They feel like they're invited. Uh, that's, doesn't every brand want that, to make their tent larger in which people can gather?

Kenzie: You know, I think there's a lot of confusion and debate right now about the best way to approach diversity and usher in a more diverse workforce. And I wonder, from your experience, do you have any advice for the best way to start tackling this?

Kat: Yeah. I mean, what's hard is that, um, if you make it a head count issue, like, "Oh, we will hire four people of color or four women or whatever the number is." Um, that is actually not going to really help if your culture inside that company is not inclusive, because those people are not gonna wanna stay and they're not gonna feel that they can have the fullest expression of who they are inside that environment.

Kat: And so, the work of true inclusion, um... Like, we have a tagline at our company, which is, "The future belongs to belonging." And so, it, th- really the larger question is, how do the people that work at your company feel in terms of belonging and being celebrated? And do they feel that they have to hide elements of who are they in order to fit in or, um, to be accepted? Because breakthrough work will never come when people are editing their impulses and their instincts and they're natural gifts.

Kat: And so, I think the more important work to do is... and it's messy. And a lot of times leaders get scared away from this work because they think they're doing it wrong because it's messy. If you feel uncertain and it feels like people's feathers are being ruffled, you're doing it correctly. Um, because what you're doing is you're starting conversations around very human, uh, inquiry. Around what does it... what do we need to do to create an environment where people don't feel like there's one group that belongs and everyone else is kind of included? Diversity and inclusion. Like, "Oh, we'll let you belong." No, everyone needs to belong.

Kat: And so that's what's challenging about this work is that it's... there's not a silver bullet approach. There's not a, like, "10 steps to inclusion" because every company's gonna have different realities. And you have to do truly person to person, um, interviewing and, and conversation hosting to get at the crux of what's work and what's not and how can you create more space for everyone? And then you can tackle those hiring needs. But, I wouldn't do it... You don't hire first and then try to shift the culture. You have to always be looking at the culture and how it can be improved and expanded.

Kenzie: Do you think that creative professionals are particularly poised to solve this issue? You know, a creative professional is someone who has been trained in dissecting a problem and looking at it from multiple informed angels and thinking big, and then coming up with a creative solution that maybe no one thought of before. So, do you think that puts us in a position to uniquely tackle this issue?

Kat: Yeah. I fact, I would actually go even broader than that, and I think it's actually creative people, especially introverted creative people that are observers, um, that will solve all of the issues we're up against in society now.

Kat: I mean, there are so many things that are broken in the world right now and I think creative people are definitely poised to make a huge contribution to imagining a different thing. Because the thing that creatives do well, is they see patterns before other people see them. They see different ways beyond the typical algorithm that's been used to solve a riddle. And that's exactly what's being called for right now.

Kat: When things in the world are not working as they've worked in the past or because someone else decided to do it that way 50 years ago, creative people are the one's that say, "What if we only did it this way? Or how about this? Or I see it this way." Um, that's exactly what's being called for at this moment in time.

Kenzie: That's our show. If you'd like to learn more from the Accomplice team, visit us at itsworthdoingright.com or drop us a line at podcast@itsworthdoingright.com. See ya next time.