Creative Equals expands returners programme into the US

The trailblazing CreativeComeback programme is back ahead of International Women’s Day

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


At a time when ‘DEI’ is under fire in the United States, Creative Equals is expanding its trailblazing CreativeComeback programme.

The programme highlights that career gaps are gifts for the creative industry and is dedicated to challenging the stigma surrounding them to help women, non-binary and gender non-conforming creatives to re-enter the creative industries.

CreativeComeback New York helps women, non-binary and gender non-conforming people who have taken a career break or experienced unemployment for a range of circumstances - such as parental leave, mental and physical health leave, or caring for ageing parents - to return to the creative industry. 2024 marks the second year the programme has run in the United States. 

The 2024 programme also aims to help a number of entry-level creatives overcome the challenges of breaking into the industry, in collaboration with tech sponsor Adobe and gold brand sponsor Diageo, which this year will be championing the programme with its inclusivity-first vodka brand Smirnoff. 

First launched in 2019 and initially backed by the UK Government Equalities Office, CreativeComeback has successfully changed not just the narrative, but the experience of returners in the creative industry.

Since its launch, over 200 people have completed CreativeComeback in the UK, US and India. Testament to the programme’s effectiveness is the fact that 85% of returners have successfully secured full-time or freelance employment in the creative industry.

The creative industry is notorious for its lack of understanding of flexible working requirements.

Ali Hanan, CEO and Founder of Creative Equals

Ali Hanan, CEO and Founder of Creative Equals, explained: “Unemployment and career gaps are still widely stigmatised and riddled with judgement. This not only has a negative impact on the careers and future prospects of women, non-binary and gender non-conforming people who take time out of work, it also leaves the creative industry lacking in the diversity it so desperately needs.” 

She continued: “The creative industry is notorious for its lack of understanding of flexible working requirements. There is also the attitude ‘you’re only as good as your last piece of work’, which means people who have career breaks are quickly seen as ‘outdated’, particularly with the advent of emerging platforms and technologies. It forces many people out of the industry after taking a career break - especially those who start a family - and makes it difficult for so many to return to work, or even break into the industry in the first place. We’re thrilled to be working with Diageo, Adobe and partner agencies to support marginalised creatives by retraining, reframing and re-inventing their skills for today’s creative landscape.”

Despite making up more than half of the U.S. population, and controlling or influencing 85% of consumer spending, women comprise just 35% of the marketing, media and advertising sectors - down from 46% in 2021. 

“Gender representation in adland has not recovered since the Covid-19 pandemic, which had a disproportionate impact on women. It’s no secret that the creative industry lacks diversity in all areas from age and ethnicity, to neurodiversity and disability - we’re working to combat discrimination across the industry as a whole. In order for creativity to thrive, people from all backgrounds need to have a seat at the table,” said Hanan.

22 returners completed the CreativeComeback New York 2024 programme, which ran from Wednesday 31 January to Friday 16 February. Over 13 days, returners completed a number of workshops - run remotely by leading educational organisation and creative curriculum partner, D&AD - which included a curated mix of interactive sessions and self-directed learning designed to sharpen their creative edge and foster collaborative dynamics.

We create our best work when it is a result of a diverse mix of ideas, beliefs and perspectives coming together.

Nicola Heckles, VP of consumer marketing, Global at Smirnoff

Returners were also given the opportunity to tackle a ‘live’ creative brief from Smirnoff, which they worked on individually or as part of a creative team, with the support of an experienced mentor. On the final day, returners exhibited their creative response at an in-person event in Manhattan before an audience comprising creative mentors, industry peers and Diageo representatives.

Nicola Heckles, VP of Consumer Marketing, Global at Smirnoff, said: “As a brand, inclusivity is at the heart of everything Smirnoff does and so supporting this year’s cohort felt a truly authentic opportunity which we are proud to have been a part of. It was a joy to form part of the judging panel on the final day – I was privileged enough to be taken through some excellent ideas by some incredibly talented people, reminding us all of the creative contribution that women+ bring to this industry.”  

She continued: “At Smirnoff, we believe in celebrating everyone’s unique individuality and the magic that sparks when unique individuals come together.  We certainly saw that reflected through the Creative Comeback community and is a reminder to us all that we create our best work when it is a result of a diverse mix of ideas, beliefs and perspectives coming together.”

Lindsay Morris, Sr. Strategic Development Manager, Adobe, said: “Adobe is proud to be the technology sponsor for CreativeComeback NY. We have a shared mission: to inspire everyone with tools to amplify their own creativity and propel their careers forward. The pitch day was an incredible example of how community, technology, and creativity can work together to support meaningful change.”   

Gaps are gifts 

One returner who completed the CreativeComeback New York 2024 programme, said: “I’m incredibly grateful to have connected with such dynamic women... The new tools and additional skills I learned have prepared me to approach job hunting with a new lens and eventually return to work more prepared to contribute than ever before.”

Another said: “In short, it was epic. We bonded, we laughed, we learnt. From Adobe experts teaching us AI, to industry greats coaching us daily… my mind is clear and my ambition re-energized. For me, this course was groundbreaking. It reminded me that not only can I be a kick-arse mum, but also pursue my personal creative ambitions.”

Agencies supporting the programme with mentoring and access to employment opportunities include Arcadia, Avalere Health, Fancy, Fig, Grey, Havas, Oliver, The Brooklyn Brothers and 160/90.

The success of the CreativeComeback programme, revealed in the run-up to International Women’s Day, underlines that it is deeds, not words which will successfully change the experience of women in the creative industries.

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