Laura Visco
Laura Visco
A view from Laura Visco

Hire female creatives based on talent, not tokenism

We need to frame the gender debate around talent rather than stats.

When I started out in my career as a female creative, I struggled to gain visibility – so I’ve always felt a great sense of responsibility to represent women and help create more opportunities for them, so that the next generation doesn’t have to go through what I experienced.

I was fortunate to meet Maddy Kramer, associate creative director at Anomaly New York, at a Cannes party last year. She was behind "It’s a Tide ad", but I’d never heard of her. That helped me realise that there’s so much award-winning work out there that has been created by women, but you rarely hear from them about it.

Last year, Maddy and I shared a spreadsheet with open editing rights to start gathering data about female creatives and their work. The spreadsheet got shared in the industry and it was open for everyone to fill out until someone changed the name of the document to "Handmaids"  as if that was an insult.

That was when we realised it was a much bigger issue and something needed to be done for real. Not just a spreadsheet, but a proper platform for female talent that would be taken seriously.

We really felt that there was a sense of urgency to start addressing this problem. Enough panels, talks and stats. It was time to create a true, tangible tool to make female creatives more visible. So we created inVisible Creatives, an initiative to help fix the gender ratio within the advertising industry once and for all, via the largest female creative database featuring work from all women around the world.

The database focuses on junior, mid-level and senior talent; women who get very little visibility in general. We have women from 35 countries on the database and 800 portfolios in total. Plus, we’ve gained 25 pledges from agencies and brands – including Droga5, Saatchi & Saatchi, Anomaly, Lego and Disney – to use our database to find talent.

Part of our reason for creating the database was that we naturally, as women, struggle a bit with self-promotion, tending to keep quiet and get on with the work. So some of it is about providing a platform for women’s voices. But we also felt action was important; to move beyond the industry talk. 

Since then, we’ve launched special editions of portfolios on the database and run a series of profile interviews with creatives – for many, it’s their first exposure of this kind. Such recognition for female talent is important, because we want to see women asked in industry interviews about their work, not just their gender and how they feel about being a female creative. We need more women describing their work and their creativity, because the only way to flip the numbers in creative departments is to be heard in the creative conversation as equals.

We’ve also collected a lot of data, which helps us to understand which countries and markets really need more encouragement, and then we can take action. In Russia, for instance, there’s still work to be done since we have only one female from that country on the database.

To address this, I’m going to give a talk there next month. But it’s about much more than the stats. Our main focus is showcasing the stunning creative contribution of the 800 female creatives on the database. 

We are really hoping to reframe the gender conversation and make it one about talent. Otherwise, I feel we are giving the wrong message to the creative industry. Agencies need more female creatives not because it looks bad in a press release to have all male new hires, but because female creatives are freakin’ good at their jobs.

If the industry keeps ignoring this excellent work, it runs the risk of being accused of tokenism if it starts hiring larger numbers of women creatives. We need to start championing female work and creativity. The revolution needs to be through ideas, not stats.

Laura Visco is deputy executive creative director at 72andSunny Amsterdam