An Advertising Student's Takeaways from the 3% Conference

January 22, 2019

Rachel Long

Rachel Long is a senior advertising major graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in May 2019. She plans to move home to Metro Detroit to find a role in creative strategy at an advertising agency.

Three months ago, the Navy Pier Ballroom became my personal Disneyland.

Striding through that pink and purple vivacious chamber took me back two years to a time when my passion for advertising was on a steep ascent. I was a sophomore and a new member of a close, communal circle of female advertising students. We spoke of a plight facing others like us and shared stories of a mystical “3% Movement”, a movement hosting annual conferences with the mission to increase the percentage of women who were creative directors in advertising. I’m sure you can guess what that number was. 

We were, in fact, members of the first college chapter of 3%. 

Two summers later (this past summer to be exact), the cookies spying on me through my Google search history were probably perplexed as to why I was spending so much time researching a conference hundreds of dollars out of my budget. The reason could’ve come down to research for my senior thesis project about women in advertising, or preparation for my year as president of this before-mentioned chapter. The truth is that I just couldn’t get enough of this movement’s mission. The women behind it. The messages within it. The future it was seeking to build, brick by brick, for everyone in this extraordinary, creative, influential industry.

By the time October came and the 2018 conference was just weeks from its launch, I had completely forgotten I applied to attend the event as an Adobe Student Scholar. Just two weeks before “Bring It” was shouted out from Chicago’s shoreline, I felt the air leave my chest reading Adobe’s response. “Congratulations, you have been selected to attend…”

Rachel and Odochi

Let’s fast forward to the big colorful room again.

As you could have guessed, the conference was everything I dreamed of and more, putting me on a high that has yet to wane. Because of this incessantly surging empowered-females-in-advertising energy within my veins, I’m here to extend the favor and share some of the powerful insights shared with me.

One of the main messages of the 3% conference is how diversity = creativity = profitability. There’s a million different resources that could prove this equation, but because I’m not writing this for my stats class, we’re not going to talk about the whys, but rather the hows – as in, how can my organization specifically turn inclusivity into creativity, and therefore, profitability? Here’s how to get started:

Hire diverse talent

Ways to get better at this range from changing the language in your job postings to posting on job boards specifically for members of underrepresented communities. When a job opens up, see it as an opportunity for growth. See it as an opportunity to better represent the communities you’re serving (and benefiting from). Working for a client that serves senior citizens? Hire someone older than 55. Creating a campaign for people with disabilities? Get a member of that community on your creative team. The same goes for women and people of color. Knowing you don’t have all the answers opens the door for valuable discussion and collaboration.

If you want better ideas (which we all do, even if we have a great deal of good ideas on our own), you need to have more ideas. To get more ideas, you need to have more people. And I mean more not in terms of quantity, but in life-experience. If you’ve got a five-person team, wouldn’t it be incredible if each person on that team had an entirely unique ensemble of background, understanding and insight to contribute to your creative work?

Allow your talent to be their authentic selves

Diversity is all just talk if team members aren’t encouraged to be themselves. This means expressing themselves, dressing themselves, and representing themselves how they see fit, and not basing these expectations off of gender, race, age, sexual orientation or ability. Don’t seek to be inclusive if you’re still trying to force your talent into a box. Start letting women be angry, and please let them be mothers. Allow people of color to make mistakes without feeling like they’re fitting into a negative stereotype. Encourage men to be sensitive. Champion hard-working people of age. Avoid regarding people with disabilities as inspirational when they’ve fulfilled an ordinary task.

When it comes to your talent, you have to trust what they’re made of, and that means embracing the differences that come with each one. Maintaining demeaning perceptions or stereotypes about one employee or another can make them afraid of failure, which we all know is deeply detrimental for successful creatives. Encouraging unfiltered employees is what true inclusivity looks like.

Use your privilege as leverage to make the world a better place

The coat check at the 3% Conference was rebranded as the “privilege check” this year. They passed out cards created by Heat that asked attendees to identify different types of privilege they may benefit from, including categories related to student loans, mental illness, gender bias, feeling nervous in airport security, feeling comfortable using the bathroom, seeing people like them on TV, being able to use the stairs, and more.

Recognizing various forms of privilege is a valuable tool for lifting up others who don’t look like you. For women to get the right to vote in 1920, men had to get on board. For black citizens to gain suffrage, white people had to come through as advocates. Even though I’m underrepresented as a woman, being a straight, cisgendered white woman has, undoubtedly, made things easier for me. It’s important I acknowledge that. When you are a part of a group that has power in your society, you’re able to speak truth back to that power. You’re able to stand up as an ally for those who are underrepresented. You’re able to commit to creating an environment that benefits everyone.

This is the insight from the conference that revved me up the most. I have a responsibility to do my part in making this world a more inclusive, better place. And I can do so out of appreciation for those who have fought to do the same before me. As creatives in advertising, we work in teams. We need each other to exist. Someone held open the door for each of us, and we can crack it open wider. Boost up those who have historically not had access to power. Defend against those who will try to tear progress down. Play your part and leave your mark. If we all improved our corner of the world, the world could improve altogether. The whole planet could be our Disneyland. The whole industry could embody our 3% Conference.

I’m starting now.