BITE Focus

She Takes Over Talks: Recognise and represent

The first of adam&eveDDB’s speaker series, #SheTakesOverTalks at BITE LIVE 2020 underlined the need to showcase and amplify the creative work of women in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.


For years, the advertising we consume has been presented through a homogenous, predominantly male lens. The creative minds behind the work have looked, sounded, and thought alike and much of the work produced has been reflective of this.

But to keep creating ground-breaking, culture shifting creative work and advertising, new perspectives need to be invited to stand behind the lens; to sit at the table and have their opinions heard and respected alongside the industry ‘names’.

Perhaps more this year than ever, showcasing and amplifying the creative work of women has never been more vital. As statistics reveal that the coronavirus crisis is disproportionately affecting women’s careers and those of young people trying to break into the industry, it is time for men and allies across the industry to step up and show up to push for equality in front of and behind the lens.

This is where She Takes Over comes in, a campaign that was created by adam&eveDDB in March 2020. Each day during the month the agency took over its social channels to amplify and highlight a brilliant female creative, and they invited partners across the industry to do the same.

In the first  #SheTakesOverTalks, hosted as a partnership between adam&eveDDB, Creativebrief and Clear Channel, Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief, spoke to a panel of creative women raising the creative bar and holding the door open for women coming up behind them.

Laura Rogers, the Founder of She Takes Over and Global Creative Director for Unilever at adam&eveDDB spoke about how She Takes Over was fundamentally created to solve a problem. “It’s so easy to close your eyes and name 10 male directors or photographers. But why is it so difficult to do the same for women,” she explained.

Rogers was joined by the award-winning director Meena Ayittey, Daisy Coole, composer, musician and Co-Founder of Two Twenty Two and Maruska and Donna-Marie Mason, a photography duo who are partners in both life and creativity.

There’s such a demand for diversity and it’s such a loud conversation that you can’t not talk about it.

Meena Ayittey

The power of collective action

Rogers’ hope with She Takes Over is to make it easier for the industry to find brilliant female creative talent, to render the excuse that they couldn’t find diverse talent invalid. “What we wanted to do was elevate those people, increase their visibility so no one has an excuse to say they can’t find anyone,” she says.

It is, as Kemp outlined, a compelling example of the power of collective action, something that has become more crucial than ever. With statistics demonstrating how the crisis is disproportionately affecting women, Ayittey highlights how important it is to acknowledge this reality. Whether that’s the number of young women being furloughed over their more senior colleagues, mothers finding themselves in a double bind as child care services remain in-operational or women of colour finding themselves with “higher levels of economic loss and mental hardship than their white counterparts,” as Ayittey explains.

After acknowledgement comes the step up to help, to offer tangible support where it is needed in targeted ways. Coole emphasises the importance of building up a community around you to create “a support system for each other,” she says. She’s found that in her creative partner Tom Nettleship, but also suggests to people that looking out for one another and for younger composers in the industry is an essential part of amplifying talent.

For Maruskya Mason it comes down to a basic human level of support. “Have a chat, check in with everyone you work with on a personal level. Don’t just treat them as a workhorse,” she says. When the duo pulls together teams for their sets, they make sure they diversify their lists and give those who deserve it opportunities to work. It’s about, she explains, “looking at their talent and making sure it gets acknowledged and not pushed aside.” And then, she says, people need to be honest with themselves about the efforts they as an individual are making to include a diverse selection of talent.

A louder conversation

“Because people are busy, they look to those they already know,” says Maruskya Mason, pointing to the trend to hire creatives that people have worked with before. She explains that in the UK there is a terrible tendency to “very much stay in your comfort zone and just go with someone you’ve worked with for a long time.” This, she says, is not good enough. People need to prioritise hiring outside of their comfort zone.

Rogers adds to this that, “if you’re not thinking about diversity and representation in your agency then you’re in trouble.” Although she is quick to add that she doesn’t believe the industry has reached a tipping point because, she adds, “that suggests we can take our foot off the gas.”

“Conversations are happening. But until we’re actually seeing the numbers, until we’re actually seeing equality, I don’t think it’s safe to say we’re at a tipping point. I think we still need to keep pushing”, she explains.

Ayittey points out that there has been a definite shift this year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the face of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. “We’ve all been forced to stare at our own mortality, and I think that’s made us more compassionate as individuals,” she says. The problem is she believes, particularly with the creative industries, is that there’s an element of “liberal arrogance.” Ayittey feels that the industry struggles discussing race and gender inequality. But, she adds, “there’s such a demand for diversity and it’s such a loud conversation that you can’t not talk about it.”

She recently created a documentary called Black Creative: Race and the Advertising Industry which highlights the challenges faced by people of colour within the industry through a series of interviews with senior figures. In one conversation, she spoke to Trevor Robinson OBE, Founder of Quiet Storm about how many decades he’s spent talking about diversifying the industry. For the first time, believes Ayittey, “it’s not just black and brown people in agencies talking about it. It’s much bigger.”

Don’t lose your creativity in this time. Find your niche and what you're passionate about and stick to it.

Maruskya Mason

Keep creating

For both Maruskya and Lisa Marie Mason, they believe it’s key to simply keep creating, even during the tough times we’re all living through. “Don’t lose your creativity in this time. Find your niche and what you're passionate about and stick to it. That will give you energy and motivation to move forward. Stay true to who you are,” says Maruskya. Lisa Marie echoes her: “Keep being creative and trust in yourself and what you can do. See what you can learn from this situation and then show the world what you’ve learnt.”

It comes down to everyone taking the time to examine what they truly want and what they believe in. Have that at the core of what you create, say the Masons, and you’ll have a strong foundation to work from. The Masons help other trainees through this by, at the moment at least while set numbers are limited, having phone or Zoom calls. But they also point to the power of making use of the channels at your disposal. Maruskya’s advice? “Know the story behind your work. If you’re just creating for the sake of it looking good, it will never be enough. You need to tell your message and share that.”

Ayittey points out that, “a lot of creativity is born out of constraint.” Creators don’t need a fancy camera when they have a phone in their pocket that does a similar job. “Creating is at our fingertips,” she says, pointing to the number of tools that are at people’s disposal. Because, she adds, “once you’re in the creative headspace to make this, you can.”

Community connections

The power of community is something that has been pervasive across the creative industries as the crisis has only lengthened. It’s something that Coole in particular was pleased to notice because, as she says, “I’m a passionate believer in community and collaboration.” She points to the rise in community connections fostered by platforms like Free the Bid, Equal Lens and the Alliance for Women Film Composers that encourage diverse hiring practices, something Coole says is an essential step in allyship.

She explains: “There’s been a real rise in the sense of community and I see that a lot online where people are really actively sharing each other’s work and I think that’s really beautiful and a really important thing we can do.” She has felt uplifted watching composers working with one another on projects as well as moving to simply lift each other up. “That feels like it’s been a really positive change in such a strange year,” she adds.

Coole wants to remind people that, “you are not on your own. There is always a community. [And] maybe you’re the one to bring that corner of creativity together.”

Rogers agrees with Coole that one of the silver linings to emerge from the crisis has been that, “it’s forced us to completely rethink our way of working… and I think that’s unlocked amazing opportunities for collaboration.” She highlights a recent shoot she coordinated abroad from her kitchen table, allowing the teams to work with different people, bringing them together in new ways. “We thought we had to do it the old way but actually we’ve realised there’s a whole new way of doing things,” Rogers explains. “The possibilities that come from that are infinite,” she adds.

Our role as creative people is to be surprising and different and the best way to get that is about bringing in new voices.

Laura Rogers

Speak up and out for diversity

Lisa Marie Mason wants to see more action backing up the talk that’s taking place whether that’s putting people in the room, inviting them onto set or just looking out for one another. “It’s a time to actually do it, to actually give people the opportunity,” she says.

Kemp points to the power of speaking up, a comment that Ayittey expands on by emphasising the importance of being vocal: “If you want to be an ally and part of the progress it’s about being vocal and taking action and that means often having uncomfortable conversations.” She points out that this is not always an easy position to create as people are afraid to rock the boat. But, she adds, “by not saying anything or being vocal, we’re doing more harm. Standing for diversity and standing for inclusion which means being outspoken.”

Coole points out that her male creative partner is brilliant at opening up the space for her when they are invited into predominantly male rooms. More often than not people turn to him for his opinion. Instead of answering, he’ll offer the space to her instead. “That sounds like such a tiny thing but when you’re so aware of it over and over again, it really means a lot,” she explains. This effort, she points out, can extend to sending just one more email to ensure you have one more face on your shortlist, one more perspective to include.

Alongside being vocal, Ayittey says, it’s essential that we are calling people out: “holding people accountable is going to be part of this wave of change, is going to drive this change.” Because, she adds, “once people start demanding it, you can’t not react to it.” Coole also points out that this is starting to happen within the world of judging, as people call out all white, all male panels. “We’ve been talking about gatekeepers,” she says, “but that’s a classic case of a gatekeeper.”

New voices elevate creativity

For Rogers, while representation and diversity are at the heart of the conversation, it is also about the work. Because, she explains, “if you keep putting the same ingredients in, you get the same work coming out.” She points out that while creative departments in agencies are taking steps to diversify, they are still very male-dominated environments.

“Our role as creative people is to be surprising and different and the best way to get that is about bringing in new voices,” Rogers explains. She adds that, when people are trying to make the case for inclusion to more challenging audiences within the industry, simply, “appeal to their desire to be good.” If people want the best work, they need to diversify the minds behind it. “Take the time to find those new and exciting voices because it absolutely will pay off in the work,” adds Rogers.

Ayittey believes that, “at this time where it feels like so much is beyond our control, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed that this is all happening to us and we have no control over our situation.” She invites people to simply take a few minutes of everyday to remind yourself of what you love doing, to have total control over that moment. “Once you get that sense back it’s easy to start feeding that into different areas of your life,” she adds.

The Mason’s advice is about refocusing yourself on what you want and where your creativity can take you. “Take time to work out where you are and where your head is at,” says Lisa Marie. Maruskya says, “you need to have time to do things that feed your soul no matter how busy we are.” Fundamentally, adds Maruskya, people need to give themselves space to tune back into who they are because, she says, “you will feel better because you tapped into who you are.”

It’s critical advice as uncertainty runs like an undercurrent throughout every industry. Creativity has the power to shift perspective, and different perspectives allow different stories to be told. Diversify the minds behind the lens and you create space for powerful work to be made, advertising that shifts the needle and pushes the cultural conversation forwards.


#SheTakesOverTalks was hosted at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedicated event page, She Takes Over Talks: Recognise and represent

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