Claire Salvetti
Apr 16, 2024

Under-appreciated, overlooked and misunderstood: The life of a female creative

Research involving more than 50 female creatives shows there is a long way to go before we realise the full value of female creative talent.

Under-appreciated, overlooked and misunderstood: The life of a female creative

Right now, female creativity is being celebrated like never before, thanks to the powers of kick-ass role models in the entertainment industry such as Taylor Swift, Greta Gerwig and Beyoncé.

But closer to home, recent research I conducted with more than 50 female creatives across the industry has unearthed that we are a long way from realising the full value of the female creative talent that is currently sitting in our agencies.

According to Creative Equals, only 24% of creative directors are female so my curiosity around what might be stopping female creatives from progressing sparked the research.

I found that 76% of respondents believe their gender is currently a disadvantage in their position as a creative.

There appear to be two significant areas that need some work.

The first is that female creatives feel under-appreciated, overlooked and misunderstood.

Some 84% of our respondents said they feel under-appreciated in their role, while 78% feel as though they are overlooked to work on the "glory" briefs in creative agencies – the briefs that tend to result in work that appears in Campaign and lines trophy cabinets. Some 86% wish they got more access to meaningful creative opportunities at work and 88% agree that the only way to get ahead is to do proactive work outside of work hours.

So, if you are reading this and have the power to allocate briefs, track and monitor the distribution of briefs to ensure you’re looking past the usual suspects, give people chances they might not have yet had and make sure briefs are evenly spread. Be mindful and empathetic about female creatives’ care-taking responsibilities outside of work and support them in working on the glory opportunities during work hours.

If you manage female creatives, then remember that different types of appreciation work for different people. Find out what appreciation actually looks like to individual creatives and then apply it. Does it look like more opportunities? Words of affirmation? Specific feedback on their work? A clear career trajectory? Cold, hard cash? And on the topic of money… be aware of and help close the pay gaps that still exist between male and female creatives.

If you’re a female creative then remember that no one cares about your own career quite as much as you do, so be your own biggest advocate. Speak up and be clear about what matters most to you.

Self-belief and confidence

The second area that we must collectively address is that female creatives are experiencing low self-belief and confidence.

Some 92% of respondents agree that if they had more self-belief, they would be more successful at work and 90% wish they were more confident at work.

If we hit an unexpected barrier, it can knock our confidence. Or we might find ourselves in an ongoing and seemingly unbreakable pattern of not backing ourselves enough. The impact of both can be career limiting.

External sources of encouragement can help with feelings of low confidence, but the most effective way to sustainably boost our self-belief is to uncover the deep beliefs, assumptions and needs we have that fuel how we feel, think and behave. If we have this self-awareness then we can work on reducing the impact these beliefs and needs have on our confidence.

Coaching support

It is possible to start this work on your own. But when it feels as though there are not enough hours in the day to tackle all the briefs, let alone try to discover our blind spots, a more effective way to do this inner work is with the support of a coach.

Some of the more progressively thinking businesses are bringing in coaches to support their people. DDB is embarking upon its fourth year of a Female Creative Coaching Circle, specifically for its talented female creatives. The initiative is spearheaded by Glen Lomas, global president and chief operating officer at DDB, and allows female creatives at its EMEA agencies, including Adam & Eve/DDB in London, to work one on one with a coach over the course of a year, focusing on resolving their own individual barriers. They are also connected to a community of other female creatives who are also on the programme.

Role models

If you’re a female creative reading this, you could ask to work with a coach as part of your development plan. Also try to connect yourselves to other more senior female creatives, because the other important factor to keeping confidence high is being able to connect with and observe other female creative who have "made it". Some 100% of the survey respondents agree that “being connected to female role models would be of great value to me.”

If you can’t find female creatives in your workplace, look beyond it. Support and participate in the brilliant work done by organisations such as SheSays, Creative Equals, 3percentmovement and Unstereotype Alliance, which are working hard to increase equality in the creative industry and the representation of female creative leaders.

It is time to take female creatives more seriously. Everyone in the industry can play a part, either in a supporting role or, if you’re a female creative, by choosing to be a main character and backing yourself more. We will see the whole industry benefit from the enhanced value of female creatives.

Claire Salvetti is a leadership coach with 20 years’ experience of working in international agencies.


Campaign UK

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