On International Women’s Day, Lisa Bennett celebrates inspiring creative and the inspiring women behind it.


by Lisa Bennett, Executive Vice President/Creative DDB North America

When I was invited to author Lemon2020 on International Women’s Day, I was embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of “IWD.” Apparently, it’s a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and it has been observed since the early 1900’s. In countries such as China, Russia and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.

Right about now, you’re probably asking how a woman who has been in business for 25 years and in management for 20 of those years could be so clueless. The only logical explanation is that I was in a client meeting every March 8th for the last quarter of a century or, I have been living in a man’s world. The truth is, it was probably a combination of both.

According to a Digiday article from April 11, 2013, “The agency world, like many other areas of business, is dominated by men, especially when it comes to the top-level positions.” The article also stated, “women make up as little as 3 percent of creative directors at agencies.” So, why is this the case? The most commonly cited explanation is the challenge of balancing motherhood and a career. But in reality, there are plenty of other reasons why female creatives don’t make it to the top posts.

Jean Batthany, Group Creative Director at DDB Chicago, says one reason there are so few female advertising Creative Directors is “because there are so many male advertising Creative Directors.” She goes on to say, “it’s human nature to want to hire and work with those most like oneself.” True. But I also know a number of male Chief Creative Officers who have hired and would love to hire more female Creative Directors. Unfortunately, they are few and far between.

So, what’s an agency to do? Especially one with a history of legendary female creative leaders such as Phyllis Robinson, Paula Green and Mary Wells. Today, we have a number of women around the globe in executive positions, but the majority of them are in other disciplines. The question is, how can we ensure that the women in our creative departments are given every opportunity to succeed?

It is in part up to our senior executives to support and encourage female creative employees. I for one have been fortunate to have had a number of great mentors and supporters throughout my career – most of whom have been men. But the onus cannot solely be on the men to increase the number of female CD’s in our offices. Successful senior women in other disciplines can be an enormous influence on young female creative talent. It doesn’t require an expertise in the discipline to provide advice and insight into the challenges of being a woman in business.

Perhaps most importantly, up and coming female creative talent mustn’t be afraid to have a voice. To put herself out there. To give everything and everyone 110%. Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett is someone who did exactly that. As she said in her Chicago Advertising Federation 2013 Woman of the Year speech, “What I lacked in talent, I paid back in showing up early, staying late, being supportive, helping others and asking for help.”

So, in the spirit of helping others, here are a few thoughts for all of the future female Creative Directors out there from someone who’s been in your shoes:
Seize every opportunity. Take risks. Stick with it. Learn from your mistakes and from the mistakes of others. Surround yourself with talented people. Be strong, be relentless and most of all… be brave. And when that behavior results in wonderful, innovative work we all need to do a better job of celebrating it and the women behind it.

To that end, I’d like to dedicate this issue to all of the women that are creating incredible work and rising through the ranks in spite of the challenges they face. Throughout this issue is a collection of ideas, stories and inspiration from the last few years spawned by and/or led by some of the most talented creatives in our industry. And it just so happens that they are all women.