Leading by example: the importance of role models in adland

Seeing women in leadership roles is imperative for the future female workforce

Kate Allsop

Creative Director The&Partnership


International Women’s Day is upon us. Every year it makes me consider the brilliant women that have paved the way for me to do my job. I’m a Creative Director at The&Partnership. As a woman I never take that job title for granted. Research by the organisation Creative Equals shows that females account for just 17% of UK creative directors. So, on off days when I think “F*** this for a game of soldiers”, out of sheer stubbornness I’m staying. This party needs more people like me.

It's not all bad. If you look around agencies there are women at the top. Although they’re not necessarily represented in creative departments. They’re in Account Management, Production and Planning. But creative companies need female leaders in positions of power in creative departments too. The creative output is more well-rounded when it doesn’t just speak from one POV. And we need the power to hire.

It’s tricky to be what you can’t see. That’s why having visible female creative leaders as positive role models in our industry is so important.

Kate Allsop, Creative Director at The&Partnership

When I was starting out in the industry men were the gatekeepers to creative departments, and unconscious bias meant that they were hiring carbon copies of themselves. I was only ‘let in’ as a result of positive discrimination by a Creative Director at BMP DDB, Joanna Wenley. She was actively helping more females break into advertising. 20 years on, and advertising has changed dramatically, but the low numbers of female creative directors hasn’t shifted enough.

It’s tricky to be what you can’t see. That’s why having visible female creative leaders as positive role models in our industry is so important. Back in 2018 I co-launched an industry-wide initiative – ‘Girls On Tour.’ It was a response to a data gap that McCann Bristol’s Head of Planning, Kathryn Ellis, had spotted. Whilst there were more women on creative advertising courses (up to 60%), the number of females in creative departments was around just 30%. Many of the female graduates that did make it into creative departments were migrating to other disciplines where it was less male dominated.

Another reason cited in the study was that women on creative courses weren’t exposed to enough female creative role models. Myself and a group of creatives at The&Partnership realised there was a way we could help solve this, by touring advertising courses and making ourselves visible.

But it’s not just women that need role models – all under-represented creatives do. So we have evolved Girls On Tour into ‘High Vis Creatives’ - The&Partnership’s role model programme. We’re a diverse group of creative colleagues. What we do is very simple - we make ourselves visible to anyone considering a career in advertising.

Our collective sits across all levels from The&Partnership’s creative department from CD to boxfresh noobs. We want to show that it takes all sorts, all personality types, all neuro types, all ages, all genders, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds to make it as a creative. We talk about our experiences, advising would-be creative people on their next career steps and giving book crits. We also visit schools and are hosting an open morning of female inspiration this International Women’s Day for students from Brixton Finishing School - opening our doors at The&Partnership, making the job roles transparent, and putting a spotlight on all of our talent.

Often, under-represented folk in creative departments shrink themselves and blend in to fit in. By doing that, they’re not being their true authentic selves. They never feel truly welcome, and eventually they’re more likely to leave. As a woman who’s spent years in predominantly male creative departments, I’ve learned how to fit in in a man’s world. I’ve made a career of blending into the boys’ club. I’ve certainly consciously dressed ‘like a bloke’ to fit in. I even hid my engagement so that my male bosses at the time wouldn’t ‘write me off’. So, part of High Vis Creative’s mission is to make sure our people are seen and heard, encouraging people to put themselves out there when they wouldn’t naturally want to shout.

We all have our own reasons for getting involved in the initiative. Briony Hey is leading the charge for older creatives to feel more wanted by our notoriously youth-obsessed industry. Armna Khan and Eszter Boldov, an international team from Pakistan and Hungary, want to see hirings based on talent and drive, and nothing else. James Fernandes wants to inspire young creative minds who may feel lost in the system. My reason is that I’m passionate about flying the flag for female creatives and working parents. 

Showing up as role models isn’t just a nice thing or the right thing to do. What started out as an initiative to inspire creatives beyond our agency has brought us closer together as a department. I’m inspired by the team’s personal stories. They are all role models to me. They remind me I don’t need to change who I am to belong.

I remember back to my first day at The&Partnership - there was a sign in reception saying ‘A good idea doesn’t mind who had it’. And that’s still true. Good ideas can come from everyone and it’s a place where everyone’s voice is valued.

If you’d like High Vis Creatives to come and give a talk please get in touch and give us a follow on Instagram @HighVisCreatives

Guest Author

Kate Allsop

Creative Director The&Partnership


Kate Allsop is a Creative Director at The&Partnership and co-founder of High Vis Creatives, The&Partnership’s role model programme.

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