tracy and grace at 3 percent

Against the Odds

March 14, 2019

Becoming a (Female) Creative Director

When I was a child, I knew when I grew up, I wanted to be a horse.

Yes. A horse.

My mom explained this wasn’t possible, but I would still throw pennies in the wishing well hoping to join the ranks of the equine every chance I’d get. It seemed like a pretty good gig to gallop around with such freedom and willfulness all day.

Clearly, I didn’t fully understand the limitations the world had put on me for what I could eventually become.

I wanted a way “out” as early as I can remember; a way to channel the unbridled ambition inside me. Always bored out of my mind, I was an only child searching for ways to be creative, reading often and drawing as much as I could…wherever I could. (I may have made a colored pencil mural on the underneath side of the coffee table while laying on my back when my parents weren’t in the room.)

Thankfully, around adolescence I stopped being weird (mostly) and hung the horse dream up in the stables and set my sights on something else with nearly the same odds of becoming: Miss America. She was symbolic of what the world really seemed to push young girls to aspire to being—beautiful, only semi-smart and respectful to men who ran the show (no offense to any Miss Americas out there).

So, I got into makeup. And hair. And Cosmo quizzes. And worrying about clothes. And by my teens, I was getting up at 5 am so I could “get ready” for school every day.

I was the only female mathlete in 6th grade, I won the school-wide spelling bee in 7th grade (well, second place…but I promise I’ll never forget how to spell ‘bayou’ ever again) and by high school, I was working my way to a full schedule of AP classes. I was a straight A student (okay, I got a C in gym) and I knew I wanted to be something bigger than my small town could offer. But what mattered too much to me was that the cool girls in the grade above voted me as having the “best hair” in the school on their own list of superlatives. Queue the music: “Here she iiiiiiis….Miss Americaaaaaa!”

In trots Mr. Ball, my eleventh-grade art teacher, who thankfully snatched that imaginary tiara right off my high-prized mane and got me on the right track.

I was only in his class because I needed an elective but after our first drawing assignment, he told me I had skills he hadn’t seen in other students. He showed my work to another art teacher, Mrs. Foraci, who agreed, and it wasn’t long before they were entering my work in local contests. (I wonder how they would’ve graded my coffee table homage to Michelangelo.)

It was because of these two teachers that I saw I had real skills I could use in life, more than just a way to beat my boredom. With their support and reference letters, I pursued a Bachelor of Fine Art degree at James Madison University and graduated with top honors in my major: graphic design.

Fast forward to 2012. Seven years into my career, I’m sitting in traffic, listening to Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants and I learn that out of all Creative Directors, only three percent are women. I was only a Senior Art Director. Game on.

When I got to work that morning, I Googled the unbelievable, yet terrifyingly true stat and discovered the 3% Movement, founded by Kat Gordon—an ad industry boss lady who was determined to change the ratio of women in creative leadership. Her mantra: “Diversity = Creativity = Profitability.”

In 2016, I attended the annual 3% Conference and it changed my life. I met courageous people working to advance D&I in their own ways. I was inspired by agency icons and their campaigns to stop women from being objectified in advertising and media. And I was taught to be myself, unapologetically, to get the job I wanted.

In 2017, I attended the conference as a Creative Director. Today, 11 percent of Creative Directors are women. Better…but women, particularly women of color, have a long way to go.

I’m thankful that my hard work, creativity and leadership was recognized by the men and women in my life. And now that I’m in this role, it’s my obligation to champion others to reach their goals, even if they’re seemingly unattainable.

Oh, and to the women reading this: if you’re into makeup, I’m also happy to help you pick the perfect lipstick for that next pitch.

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