See it to Be it: Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Advertising with Women-Owned Businesses

September 28, 2018

Megan Kelly

Megan Kelly is the Executive Producer and Founder of bicoastal production company Honor Society. She brings nearly two decades of experience on both agency and commercial production and was an early adopter to the digital content space. Her hands-on approach has earned a reputation for curating and developing creative talent. She's led production teams for top industry shops like Savage, Shilo, The Sweet Shop, Public Domain and Czar, as well as launching the Live Action division at Click 3X. Her work has garnered prestigious awards, including One Show, AICP and Cannes Lions accolades.

Honor Society has produced spots for top brands including Burger King, American Express, Chase, Visa, AT&T, Honda and GE.

On the heels of the awareness that the vital movements of #MeToo and Time’s Up have sparked, conversation and visibility of gender disparity in the workplace are at an all-time high. But what’s next? Equality and representation for women in the workplace certainly has been given a newfound spotlight, but new solutions and systems must be made in order to fully level the playing field in the production and advertising spaces. As a founder of a production company, I can’t help but notice that there are few females in my role. It’s time to change that. Women-owned shops need to band together to work toward shattering the glass ceiling for women in production and advertising for good. 

The importance of women-owned businesses is unquestionable, especially if we want to inspire young women entering the production space to attain that goal. Not only are women leaders able to create jobs in the industry, but they’re able to help shape the career paths of young women, shaking up entrenched industry paradigms about what are “suitable” roles in production for women. In order for young women to view themselves as leaders in the advertising industry, they need to have exposure to women running companies in the space. 

With the level of visibility inherent in advertising and production, we are in a unique position to shape the future of equality and diversity. This conversation comes with many questions that must be addressed in order to find solutions: What are the women-owned businesses? How can we make it easier for people to know about these women-owned businesses? How do we foster young female talent? Where/who are the next great producers? Why are there a lot of women in production, but not a lot of women production company owners?

"The goal is parity, not preferred treatment."

The lack of exposure to women-run companies in production and advertising perpetuates the dismally small percentage of these companies in the overall space. ‘Free the Bid’ has proved the demand for female talent. In the production space, there is a lack of awareness and visibility to who these companies are and what their value is to the overall marketplace. Agencies and clients can see the value in working with women-run companies, but it should be easier for them to discover and hire these shops. This is not an effort of tokenism—a company’s reel should still be the barometer for its creative capabilities. But, they need to be given a seat at the table to compete. The goal is parity, not preferred treatment. This isn’t an effort to exclude men or discredit their talents and experience, but engage them in the shared resolution of creating a more equal workforce.

We want those who have always championed the growth of women in the industry to continue to support and develop the next generation of women without haste or concern, and with our collective support. While there have been wonderful and necessary initiatives that have focused on women leading the way in directing or crew positions, we also want to put the spotlight on female owners. This enables us to come together, empower each other, and help create the change needed. We compliment all other initiatives and look to work alongside them.

These solutions need to come from a bottom-up approach. Young women are not promoted at the same rate as men with the same level of experience, so in order to have more women at the top, they need to start populating roles leading up to the C-suite at higher, more proportional rates. Lack of promotion creates a lack of women leaders, resulting in a lack of women with the experience to start their own companies or step up as principals in larger companies.

Women in the Workplace 2017, a study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, showed that women remain significantly underrepresented in the corporate pipeline. From the outset, fewer women are hired at entry level, despite women making up for 57% of recent college graduates. At every subsequent step, the representation of women further declines, and women of color face an even steeper drop-off at senior levels. As a result, one in five C-suite leaders is a women, and fewer than one in 30 is a woman of color.

"Visibility leads to inclusion, which leads to normalization, which leads to equality."

The more women we see in leadership and ownership positions, the more it becomes the standard. Visibility leads to inclusion, which leads to normalization, which leads to equality. If industry leaders--both women and men--step up to champion young female producers, the vision of only white men running the companies begins to fade away. Women can then begin to envision themselves as the next generation of leaders. By recognizing talent and ambition and supporting it through guidance and opportunities, a rising generation of female producers in advertising and film will begin to organically have a higher presence in executive roles or have the experience and confidence to take an entrepreneurial approach and launch their own companies.

In the wake of #MeToo, women business owners and leaders in film production must be leading the conversation about what comes next. Many male executives are on guard, weary of saying or doing the wrong thing, and therefore avoiding interaction with female colleagues instead of taking this opportunity to champion them. Our goal should not be to become exclusionary of men, but to all work together toward a common goal of achieving parity and driving the hiring and promotion of more women leaders in our field.

We can and will shatter the glass ceiling in production and all other related fields—if we band together. There is a real movement upon us. Now is the time for real action. 

Stay tuned in November for an announcement of a coalition of women-owned companies in the production and advertising space.