If the culture of business can favor “male” traits, why can’t the same culture adapt to the female creative perspective?
By Alexandra Fuller (Creative Director, Struck)
On the morning of my sister’s college graduation, we woke to rain. The commencement ceremony was moved from a grassy expanse to the cramped gym. Tickets were limited.
Thankfully, my family scored nosebleed seats just in time to hear Sheryl Sandberg give the now famed commencement address that sparked her Lean In movement. The stale gym air stank of pent-up hopes and damp anticipation, but I sat transfixed. I had a young daughter and a demanding advertising career and thought Sheryl was talking directly to me.
Since then, the topic of women leaders in business has gained new traction. In my own industries of filmmaking and advertising, a disturbing stat about the paucity of female creative directors spawned many articles and even its own eponymous conference.
The numbers are pretty bad. Only 3 percent of advertising creative directors are women. But women comprise 80 percent of the people responding to that advertising.
While there is clearly a tremendous disconnect, gender disparity is only part of a larger diversity issue in creative leadership. But what I’ve been wondering about lately is the notion of a female creative perspective.
At Struck, I’m lucky enough to work collaboratively with some brilliant, inventive minds – both men and women. I wonder though, is the work I helm fundamentally different than that of my male colleagues? What exactly is a “female creative perspective”?
I don’t know the answer, and I’m not bringing you a big pile of scientific data. But I can tell you what I’ve found to be true: There are three arguably female principles defining my creative work.
While checking out kindergarten programs for my daughter this spring, I happened upon an elementary school playground at recess. “This is what happens every day,” explained the principal giving the tour. “The girls cluster together and invent narratives and the boys run around and try to bop each other.”
This mirrors my own childhood, as well as the results of a study by a Stanford engineer about how kids play. In the most reductive sense, she found that boys like to build things and girls like to build stories.
Storytelling in Action
When my team and I set out to create a campaign branding Utah’s five national parks as a single, bucket-list experience, we did not present a laundry list of features. Instead, we told a story.
This video story heightened the emotion and anticipation and anchored what has been far and away the most successful tourism campaign in Utah’s history.
Arguably, the desire to build community and foster a sense of belonging is fundamentally female. Whether that community-building stems from nature or nurture, I don’t know. But it’s there.
It’s women who continue to perform our communal rituals (bridal showers and baby showers, book clubs and housewarming parties) and who generally direct the social plans.
Connection in Action
In my own work, this means I spend as much time thinking about how to include my audience and connect them with the story as I think about the story itself. To launch a new multi-generational home product for one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, we made a video and digital experience that foster community and inclusiveness.
Sensing how others feel in a given situation is probably my defining emotional trait. A leadership gift, as much as it is a challenge.
Some recent studies confirm I’m not alone in this. Differences in the male and female brains contribute to women generally having a higher capacity for emotional empathy.
Empathy in Action
In my work, empathy means listening to the audience, trying to see the situation from their point of view, respecting them as intelligent and emotionally mature, then finding a common human experience to share with them.
In building a campaign and website for one of the West’s foremost fine jewelers, we focused on how jewelry makes real people feel, rather than on the actual pieces themselves.
It may be a long time before we gender-balance creative leadership. But our audience isn’t going to wait around. For now, all creative – both men and women – can begin to cultivate a more female creative perspective. We can respect our audiences, dare to be vulnerable in our work, and bring storytelling, connection and empathy to our endeavors.