Women in creative leadership bring fresh perspective

By Steven Wong, Cofounder  |  Mar 29, 2021


Photo credit: Lisa Quinn Glaser

It’s Women’s History Month, and we’ve contributed to a little bit of history: our Creative Director, Jodi Wing, is an Asian American woman. And yes, that is notable.

Until very recently, only 3% of Creative Directors were women, and of those, even fewer were people of color. Now that figure is 29%, which is still a far cry from being representative of the make-up of the country.

Here are 5 questions Jodi answers about her experience as a woman leader in the industry.

What do you think makes a good creative director?

This question makes me think about my first creative design job, and my first creative director and mentor, Kathy Davis. She was a high school art teacher before she decided to fully dedicate herself to being an illustrator and an artist, building a successful career over the past three decades with Kathy Davis Studios. I worked for her starting as a senior in high school, and then through my college years while getting my BFA in Graphic Design. I always felt fully supported by her to focus on my own work, while also being pushed to try new challenges in the job. 

She was first and foremost, always full of inspiring references to the art world, and had a mastery of techniques I wanted to learn. She was willing to set aside time to teach me what she knew, in order for me to help grow her business. To this day, I still swoon over hand lettering and calligraphy that was born from my experience working for her. She helped foster my passion for art, design, poetry, nature, and to understand how those things connect with people.  

Of course, I believe that the great creative directors of the world bring big ideas to the table and can sell them with ease to the client or stakeholders. They typically have a track record of proven success, or at least ideas that get noticed, and talked about (good or bad). 

However, I also believe that a good creative director is not an island or a deity, taking all the credit and the glory for a team behind the curtain—she is always self-aware that her ideas alone may not be the winning ones, and that her role is to help foster the curiosity of her team, curate the ideas that stand out strongly to provide forward momentum, and help push those ideas beyond the boundaries of one’s imagination.

Why would you want to work with a female Creative Director?

We see the world through a different lens. 

Historically speaking, creative directors have been predominantly male, and therefore the creative advertising and marketing ideas we’ve experienced have been led from a male point of view. We’re at the point where a title that was once 97% male, is more like 71% today. We’re making progress towards a more balanced roster in creative leadership. And that’s especially important when women influence 80% of consumer spending and 60% of social media sharing.1

Everyone is talking about diversity and inclusion, but how many companies are actually doing the work at the leadership level? When you work with a female creative director, you’re getting the perspective of someone who’s experienced life as part of a minority group, someone who has experienced challenges in life based on gender, and yet she’s managed to hack the system to make it work for her. Don’t you think she’ll do the same for you?

What are you doing to create a more inclusive workplace?

As an agency that is focused on building dedicated teams for our clients, we’ve picked up some great habits from the company cultures we’ve encountered along the way and try to incorporate what makes sense for us. We also like to send out surveys to collect feedback on subjects where inclusivity is a factor. 

I think the most important thing I’ve learned from the feedback we’ve received from our employees and alumni is that we are very open and transparent at the leadership level.  This approach allows us to have open communication about nearly everything, from mental health to politics to the financial health of the agency. And we’re encouraging participation from everyone, even if not everyone is always comfortable taking the mic. We’ve found some folks will actively participate more in Slack vs a video chat, and that’s okay by me as long as I’m hearing from them. 

We’ve also been actively working on our recruitment processes to make sure we’re hiring fairly and seeking out diverse talent. We’re learning more about how our bias can impact hiring decisions. We’re working with recruiters that really focus on inclusivity. 

And then, we’re getting onboard with social justice movements. We were collectively motivated to find a way to be involved as an agency in the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that would live well beyond the moment that captivated the world last summer. We found a way to come together and talk about tough topics and our own personal experiences with racism through a weekly one hour session we call BLM Bookclub. While it is not a typical book club that requires reading a book and then sharing our thoughts, we facilitated topics for discussion and sometimes had reading homework, particularly in the form of a series of posts by our intern, Esha Deokar. We’re still in the process of editing those works and publishing them this year, and it’s incredible how relevant the reading continues to feel today. We will strive to always be learning and listening and standing up for others.

Around the same time last year, we also got the opportunity to partner with Ad Council on the Fight Virus Bias campaign for Love Has No Labels. We again have been able to come together as an agency to discuss our feelings and experiences around anti-Asian sentiment in our communities. It’s been incredibly moving and meaningful to be an Asian-American woman involved in our agency’s work to extend the campaign online to reach and inform more people.

What can we do to support women in the agency?

Ask them. Everyone has different needs, though overall I’d say women need to be heard more—and seen more. Give them opportunities to show their ability to lead.

Listen. Listen. Listen. And really try to hear what they are telling you. Even if it isn’t what you want to hear.

Do you have any advice for women following in your footsteps?

It will sound corny, but still I’ve found it to be useful—believe in yourself. Be direct. Ask for what you want. Bring data to the table that support your needs and desires. You might be surprised to find that others around you are ready and willing to help you on your path to development if they know what you’re aiming for. At least, that’s been my experience so far, and in particular at Ready State.

And if you find that your managers and colleagues aren’t supportive, maybe it’s time to search for a more inclusive environment where you can grow.


1 https://www.3percentmovement.com/whyitworks

Topics: creative direction, Ready State, Inclusivity

Steven Wong, Cofounder

Steven Wong, Cofounder

Steven helps address challenges while bringing big ideas to life. At agencies such as MRM/McCann, Digitas, and Saatchi & Saatchi, he has managed cross-disciplinary teams, developed relationship-building programs, and crafted plans to turn leads into customers. In leading award-winning creative campaigns, he has helped transform business needs into engaging customer experiences. In 2002, Steven co-founded The Natural Tea Company, a retail chain in Hong Kong. He graduated with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from UC Berkeley, by way of a major in materials science and engineering.