It’s not often you get told at a conference that you should masturbate more. And generally if this happens, someone makes a hasty complaint to Points of View (that’s still a thing, right?).
Not so at the 3% Conference. Last week I was lucky enough to attend the London event and this was among some of the advice issued by Cindy Gallop in her brilliant keynote.
Another highlight was the "Manbassadors" panel. Yes, there’s nothing new about seeing four middle-aged white men on a stage (the phrase "male, stale and pale" was used a number of times throughout the day) at an advertising conference – but hearing them talk so animatedly about issues that affect women on a daily basis was somewhat refreshing.
And this made me think really honestly about my experience as a woman working in a male-dominated industry. There is always the implication that it’s terribly tough – that you have to battle for every brief you get, and be hideously underpaid for your efforts.
While it’s true that in the past I have indeed been hideously underpaid, it’s never been because I’m a woman (I’ve always had male creative partners and happily, we’ve always been hideously underpaid together).
So without wanting to go against anything anyone said at the conference, my feelings about working in a male-dominated environment is that I bloody love it, actually.
When I said that to someone at the conference, she asked me if I thought I only got on so well in a male industry because I’m "a bit of a lad"?
So I started thinking about what was meant by being a lad. Urban Dictionary helpfully informed me that a lad "is a male who specialises in creating and distributing exquisite banter".
Specialist subjects seem to include "binning pints" and "exposing one’s genitalia". Given the context of the conversation, I can only hope that this was not the reason she was referring to.
Clearly I had to find my own definition.
When I think of laddish behaviour in a work context I think, Incredibly confident, always up for a laugh, and someone who gets what they want (whether we’re talking a cheeky Nandos or a pay rise).
So I wondered if I met these criteria. I’d hate to think I come across as a cocky little shit, but I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. if I need to do something absolutely terrifying I can usually cajole myself into manning up (if you’ll excuse the term).
So confidence, check.
And as someone who’s read a few Tinder profiles in their time, I can say with a certain amount of authority that no one describes themselves as NOT up for a laugh. So we’ll leave that one there.
Then it comes to going out and getting what I want (something that’s very, very much a work in progress).
So by my own terms then, I am kind of a lad. And that’s when I realised that currently there’s nothing in my circumstances that separate me from a 23 year old male entering the industry:
If I get pitch-slapped at the last minute and I need to work late, I can.
If I need to fly off at a moment’s notice around the world, I will.
If I’m invited to a spontaneous after work drink (that ends up at Soho arts club at 3am), I’ll go.
Because I have nothing to stop me.
I haven’t decamped to Zone 6 and need to get the last train home.
I don’t have a husband with dinner on the table.
I haven’t missed bath time.
And that’s the other connotation with the term "lad", the young, carefree and single aspect.
Lads aren’t responsible for anyone except themselves. They’re ready to grab any opportunity without even the slightest hesitation. And at the moment, for me, those opportunities are coming thick and fast because I’m a woman. Because there aren’t many of us. And more and more clients are asking for a female creative when the product is aimed at women.
Therefore I’m being pimped out around the world as a creative for hire while my poor work husband has to stay at home and look after our metaphorical children.
Which brings me to the point that would stop me being a lad.
Because typically women still do most of the childcare, it’s something that will naturally fall on my shoulders rather than my partner’s.
The word partner here encompassing both the man I choose to have children with and my creative partner (just for the record they’re different people but they do have something in common.)
It’s a given that their careers will stay on track after they have families. Whereas for me to propel myself forward through promotions, it will be harder.
Not only do you juggle work and family (something women are doing impressively across the board) but you also have a third dependent – your creative partner.
Given that we work in twos, maternity becomes more difficult and unless by some incredible planning or divine intervention you have children at the same time, your individual priorities are somehow out of kilter with the way you’ve always worked.
The responsibilities that come with being a woman in a creative department it seems, are far greater than being a lad.
I’ve managed to start my career in advertising relatively unscathed by sexism. I don’t know whether this is luck, a string of awesome bosses or the fact that as one half of a mixed team, I’ve always come as a package of at least 50 per cent testosterone.
But I just hope that if the time comes that I do want to start a family, I can dish up enough "exquisite banter" to remain one of the lads, despite also being a woman.
Kat Thomas is a creative at J Walter Thompson