I’m a big fan of Cindy Gallup. In a business that is still largely dominated by men, she is a force to be reckoned with. A highly creative, relentlessly disruptive, thoroughly feminine force that’s that built an iconic agency, changed the game for microtransactions and challenged the way we perceive human sexuality. She’s managed to be a businessperson, a creative, an entrepreneur and an advertising industry icon without falling into the trap of becoming one of the boys—in short, she’s fearlessly female and unapologetically powerful. In her own words:
“Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Now, if you’re under 40, the whole idea of apologizing for power might seem ridiculously anachronistic. The many talented 20- and 30-something women I work with every day seem to accept their professional equality with men as a birthright and I have to admit I envy them this. Because most women of my generation, born in the 70’s and earlier, were raised first and foremost to be well behaved. We entered the workforce far less certain of our opportunities and abilities than our male contemporaries and hence, the Cindy Gallups are still few and far between. I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately as I hear my four-year old daughter relate wisdom from her day at preschool. “Girls don’t like trains” and “girls can’t be astronauts” (though she did say girls can be policemen) are just a few of the more disconcerting statements that came up in the past week—things she never would have heard at home from me or her dad. Interestingly enough, the word “can’t” is not in her twin brother’s vocabulary and it’s got me wondering—at the end of the day, have things really changed all that much for women? We have more opportunities, a more visible place at the table, yet for every Cindy Gallup or Marissa Mayer, we can name ten or more equally famous men. Mind you, there are countless brilliant and talented women in advertising and I’m lucky enough to know many of them so they’re out there! But I think we can all agree that we hear more about the boys. The men are more visible and vocal. They command more VC money, more media attention and more industry acclaim. So why is that still the case?
It’s question that made me go to my analogue book shelf and dust off this little gem:: “Games Your Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women”. It was a college graduation gift back in 1993 from my sister-in-law, three years my senior and herself an honors graduate in computer science from MIT and read in the context of today, it’s hilariously old-fashioned, with advice like, “understand sports and you’ll understand Corporate America” and, “dress correctly for your job—men aren’t slowed down by high heels, nor do they carry cumbersome handbags”. When you read it now, it seems nuts (and sad) and yet, the book makes a valid point, albeit in a very dated way. Like it or not, we women DO approach business and life in general in a different way from men, even now. But whereas the book encourages us to think and behave like men to compete in “a man’s world” women like Cindy Gallup are roles models in achieving success by thinking and behaving like women. And maybe that’s our mistake; maybe we’re busy trying to be well-behaved and think like men when really, we should be thinking (and misbehaving) like women. But there weren’t any women like this on the scene in any industry when I was starting out, at least none that I encountered and still too few now. I hate to break things down by gender—I’d like to say that all that matters is having good role models and mentors and that it’s immaterial whether they are men or women. But there’s something to be said about being able to get advice from someone who’s been the only woman on a leadership team or who truly knows that it’s like to come back to work after having a baby.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some brilliant women in the advertising world and and over the course of 2013, I’ve decided to take a bit of a detour on this blog and profile as many of them here as I can. There’s plenty of room for mobile posts over at my book blog so that’s where you’ll find most of them for the time being. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get to interview Cindy herself but in the meantime, you’ll have to settle for her POV on the future of advertising in general,