In an Industry Dominated by Men, How Can Women Navigate the Ad Biz

In an Industry Dominated by Men

How Can Women Navigate the Ad Biz

Over the last year, I’ve been asked a lot about how it feels to be a female in the predominantly male advertising industry. More often than not I respond with a puzzled look because truth be told, I have never really faced adversity in my career. So, I have to wonder why? Why has my experience been different than so many others?  After all, it’s true – I’m a female Creative Director, and when I started climbing the career ladder I was one of the 3%.  I have worked for men in almost all of my jobs, sat in many conference rooms where I was the only female, and yet I still didn’t feel like this was any kind of “predicament.”

I needed to understand WHY.

What I discovered was a commonality among the people I surrounded myself with and worked for. As I moved along my career path, and interviewed and accepted positions, I ended up working for men who naturally empower women. These men were expressive, kind mentors who challenged me and wanted to give me the floor when I was ready.   No different than the way people have habits in romantic relationships, being drawn to people who may treat them in a certain way (good or bad!) –  I believe I had a natural inclination towards bosses who would give me responsibility, let me shine, mentor me with respect, value my opinion, but most importantly allow me to challenge them. 

Challenging myself and those around me is part of my DNA, and something that I am realizing comes from my Jewish upbringing. Growing up, I attended private yeshivahs where it was common to juggle nine Hebrew subjects, many of which were devoted to “probing ancient Jewish texts” to seek deeper meaning and truth.

These were deep commentaries where one could spend hours agonizing about the meanings behind a single word or examining multiple viewpoints.

This habit of questioning everything was prized growing up, and “thinking for oneself” was a quality I was encouraged to embody.

At the time, I probably complained about staying in school for 12 hours, but now I am thankful I have the rigor to volley with the best strategists, argue the merits of a headline, question the briefs, or our goals and objectives.  At the heart of this learning style is also the ability to walk around and see things empathetically from various points of view.

As I envision the environments in which women don’t succeed – it is where their opinion is not equal, or valued or if they aren’t being HEARD or given the credit nor credence of their point of view. It’s not like I haven’t encountered the industry clichés.

I have had to shut down unwelcome advances, and have shouted above the fray of male colleagues with a booming voice, but I now realize that I am lucky it wasn’t worse. I was fortunate to be spared a lot of what has plagued my industry –  women who have been shamed, coerced and made to feel uncomfortable.  Sadly, it is becoming clear that my situation is unique.

So, my advice to women of all ages, ethnicities, level of seniority and even industry: Be careful where you spend your time – don’t just size up the work opportunities when deciding on your next move – consider the ecosystem.

Think about the way you felt in an interview, ask to meet the people you will be working with directly – make sure the environment is hospitable towards not just you, but women as a whole. Even after you have accepted a position – always continue asking yourself if you feel heard, supported and equal. If the answer is no, move on and find your tribe – because it’s out there, I promise you.

We are living in exciting times – with a seismic shift upon us – #metoo and #timesup are not just moments- but movements that are defining our here and now and also creating a BEFORE and an AFTER.  They are allowing our shared voices to have power, and conversations to be had out loud.

I hope this movement makes it easier for any woman to walk away from a situation that doesn’t serve her – and to find support. Women are lifting others up in a way that I didn’t see when I was moving through the ranks- and it’s thrilling to witness.

I know that as a female leader in my field, the most important role I have is possibly as a shelter – where other women can come to talk or seek advice, but it is also my job to create a safe, welcoming environment for anyone who hasn’t had a voice in the past.

Sandi Harari

Sandi Harari joined BARKER in 2006, making the agency one of only 3 percent in the business to boast a female Creative Director at the time. With over 20 years of experience in advertising and branding, she has experience in health and beauty, fashion, film, and lifestyle marketing. Sandi has been recognized in industry publications including Ad Age, Adweek, and Forbes. A champion advocate for women in the workplace, she was also recently named a 2017 Working Mother of the Year by She Runs It.

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