Having balls in the creative department when you don't have any

Tara Ford
By Tara Ford | 23 July 2014
Whybin\TBWA creative director, Tara Ford

Being a woman in the creative department of an advertising agency comes with its complications. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first.

Women have a uterus, and most of them want to put it to use sooner or later. When a woman has a baby, quite a few things can happen. Things that may get in the way of getting ahead.

Spending most of your days wiping various body parts and crawling around on all fours retrieving stuff, is not great for self-esteem. It seems that just to operate efficiently in the relentless routine of things means your sense of self has to recede. You lose your personal momentum and focus (and sometimes even your marbles, briefly).

This is not great when you are faced with re-entering the workforce. Especially a creative department where confidence and self-belief are important. It can be an intimidating prospect. And the longer you wait to return to work, the more daunting it feels.

Then once you’re happily ensconced back at work, life will be so relentlessly busy you better either have that wonderful trait that allows chaos to swirl around you without making you giddy, or not be too bothered about never sitting down again.
And that thing you used to do called ‘contemplation’ is harder to fit in. Actually it’s impossible. See above. There’s just not enough time, oxygen, or headspace. Not ideal as a creative person, because the job isn’t just 9am-9pm. That time spent away from your desk is often the most creatively fertile. Oh well, you could always get yourself a ‘wife’ - that would help.

Also after having children, many women want to actually be with them more than 2 days a week. This means working part time. Advertising creatives usually work in teams of two, so this makes it tricky. You see, as a passionate creative you become invested in your ideas and want to see them through without relinquishing control. And because advertising waits for no one, man or woman, if you’re not there, someone else will step in and make decisions for you. This is fine for some, and I have seen it work, but if you’re competitively ambitious it will be untenable.

In truth, you’re the one who needs to be flexible, because the job most likely won’t be. You have to be driven enough to choose time at work over time with your children. And this will be a decision you’ll have to make time after time. It’s not an easy one, and for a lot of women there will be no contest.

Of course not every woman wants to have a child. Don’t relax though, that’s not the only complication with being a woman in a creative department. You also need to be pretty thick skinned. You need to be okay with the aroma of testosterone and you need to be okay with sometimes not being part of the ‘club’. In this heavily male environment you can disappear if you’re not strong, independent, confident or able to speak loudly with eloquence.

Sounds all a bit like hard work doesn’t it? Well, it is. You’ve got to love the job to keep at it. But before you run to the toilet crying (never do it publicly), here’s some good news.

Let’s look at the business we’re in as a member of a creative department, and our product. You’re in the business of thinking differently and bringing something unique. Ideas that are innovative and fresh.

As a lonely woman in a male dominated department you’ve got that covered just by virtue of the experiences your sex demands. You’ve been in a girl gang. Had your period. Know what it feels like to be judged on your physical appearance. Perhaps pushed out a child. Sat in a mothers’ group. Had that ‘buck stops with you’ feeling that comes with being responsible for children.

Now, I’m not saying that makes you good at thinking up ideas for tampons or pureed food (although you probably are). I’m saying those experiences give you different insights, understandings and empathies that you can bring to every brief you do.

You will think differently by virtue of your sex. You have to. This makes you unique in a creative department. This makes you valuable.

So, it is harder for a woman to be an advertising creative. But, it can also be to your advantage. After all, anatomically women actually do have balls. They’re just on the inside, which is smarter don’t you think?

Tara Ford
Whybin TBWA Melbourne

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