It’s Time for Women to Storm the Castle

By Grace Masback ’17

An air of excitement and anticipation fills the cavernous room. Conference attendees sit in the central commons of the newly renovated Pacific Northwest College of Art. A stage, framed by large screens with the word “3%” in flowery, yet bold lettering faces the crowd. The smells of a recently cooked breakfast fill the air, and students late for classes scurry by apprehensively.

Sarah Shapiro, an independent filmmaker who only recently received her big break in Hollywood, takes the stage. She describes the pervasive sexism in her industry, detailing how talented female directors are consistently passed over for men, who sometimes have less vision and talent. She criticizes the fact that when women do achieve success, they are characterized as passive recipients not valid achievers. Her rallying cry centers around a central message: it is time for women to “storm the castle.” “Be brave,” she asserts, “Sometimes people aren’t ready for change and it is up to you to usher it in.”

Last week, Portland, Oregon hosted its inaugural 3% Conference, officially joining a burgeoning phenomenon that has grown from the conference’s birthplace in San Francisco. Staged in association with Wieden & Kennedy, a global advertising agency, and Nike, the day-long conference aimed to call attention to the absence of female creative directors in advertising and the media.


Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 9.31.12 AMIn 2010, the 3% Conference concept was conceived as a tweet by visionary founder and CEO, Kat Gordon. Gordon was also the founder and creative director of her own marketing agency, Maternal Instinct, and over the course of 20 years in the business had seen firsthand how women in creative fields are systematically excluded from pitches, vital meetings and important presentations.

On the 3% Conference website Gordon states, “There are only three consumer categories where men dominate purchases, yet agencies still talk about ‘women’s accounts’ as mops and makeup. The truth is that women are the superset, not the subset, and the rate at which women are amassing wealth and exerting influence is unprecedented.”

Through her work at Maternal Instinct, Kat became aware of the power of the female consumer and of their consistent neglect by media. She asserts that 73% of women feel as though advertisers do not understand them.

According to Gordon, the 3% movement is important, “because it demonstrates how one person who’s paying attention can make a real different to fixing something that’s broken in the world.”

Shocked to find that only 3% of creative directors were female, Gordon became increasingly interested and involved with the issue of fighting for female equality in the creative market. Gordon realized that the dearth of female creative directors centered on “a lack” — a lack of resources, mentorship, and awareness. Gordon’s solution was the 3% Conference, a conference, organization, and movement aimed at providing the “how to” for dealing with this “lack.” Gordon states, “I was not a high-visibility person in advertising when I started this, but I was passionate and dedicated. That’s the magic formula to be a change agent. And, as I said at the Portland event, never, ever underestimate the power of a mobilized community in the age of social media.”

Gordon maintains that the inequities facing women creatives are stifling and pervasive. “They arrive in equal numbers, but don’t ascend in equal numbers. This is largely due to a lack of mentorship, support for motherhood, unequal pay, and lack of understanding of how valuable a female perspective is in reaching an overwhelmingly female consumer marketplace.”

The 3% movement and conferences address the concepts of diversity, creativity, and profitability. The 3% manifesto opines that because women are in the majority when it comes to spending and social media use, women creatives offer unique perspectives to the media industry that men cannot.

The first 3% Conference debuted on September 27, 2012 in San Francisco to a sold-out crowd. It has since grown to an annual two-day event with over 400 attendees, plus various offshoots, that are spurred by a vibrant online community of female creatives and advocates who use social media platforms to maintain a drumbeat for change.

The 3% movement has a seven-tiered approach to instituting the diversity they believe women deserve, consisting of a list of 50 microactions that they believe everyone in creative industry (and beyond) should practice, including recruiting “manbassadors” to promote their cause and mentoring women trying to break into the creative fields.

The power of the 3% movement was demonstrated in January 2014 when the CLIOs (an advertising awards show) announced a jury for that year composed entirely of men. The 3% community took to twitter and social media and called out the CLIOs for the sexist choices. Gordon met with the leaders of the CLIOs and expressed her concerns in person. After this encounter and the social media uproar, the CLIOs and numerous other award shows pledged to make sure that at least 50% of those serving on award show juries would be women.

As a result of this mission, the percentage of female creative directors has grown to 11% since 2012, and continues to climb. All of these efforts aim to support more female leadership in the advertising and creative industries, ensure that marketing to females comes from a place of understanding, and that future generations receive a healthier and more accurate diet of media and advertising.

The lack of creative women in top management positions in the advertising and media industries, and the work the 3% movement is endeavoring to accomplish, is part of a larger movement aiming to fight the injustices facing women in virtually all workplaces. Women make up 46% of the labor force yet they, on average, make only 77.5% of every dollar that men earn. The disparity increases for more educated/accomplished women, with women in executive positions only earning 72.3% of every dollar made by men. Black women make 62% of every dollar men make and Hispanic women make only 52%.  

In creative fields, the number of men and women graduating in relevant majors is approximately equal, but females have a difficult time reaching and retaining high-level positions. A poll conducted by Elle Magazine showed that over 30% of women feel as though they are regularly discriminated against in the workplace and 2/3 of women feel them are more harshly scrutinized than men. Only 20% of the S&P’s 500 companies have women CEOs.

When asked how youth can get involved in the 3% movement Gordon says, “Follow us on Facebook!” She continues, “I say this because I personally write all of our Facebook posts in order to stay close to the community and I look for really valuable things to share. Our followers surface new items of interest to us and otherwise get on my radar through their postings on our page.”

Back at the Portland “mini-con,” the day is coming to a close. The speakers and panels are completed and the last of the activities are about to get underway. Gordon takes the stage for the closing remarks. She talks of the impact of the 3% Conference, highlights the inspiring wisdom conveyed by the day’s speakers, and begs us all to engage in further action in the future.  Gordon leaves the crowd with an assignment to continue the fight, “If something is broken in the world,” she says, “you just might well be the person to fix it.”

Read more about the 3% conference here.