Profile in Disruption: Saying Good-Bye to Mad Men—on TV and in Real Life

May 18, 2015The TV show Mad Men has come to an end. But the Mad Men culture lives on in real-world advertising agencies. As founder of The 3% Conference, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in leadership roles in advertising agencies, Kat Gordon aims to put an end to that. Here’s what inspired her to #DisruptTheDefault in her industry, and how she’s making an impact. 


My Peggy Olson moment: For 20 years as a Copywriter/Creative Director at ad agencies, I saw firsthand how women were routinely left out of pitches and important meetings. I’ll never forget the day when the agency I worked at pitched the Saab car account with 16 men and only one woman (even though women influence the majority of car purchases), and then was mystified when it didn’t land the business. 

Going solo: In 2008, I launched my own agency, specializing in marketing to women, and became aware of the snowballing power of the female consumer. Yet most other agencies were still talking about women’s accounts as “mops and makeup”—even though women’s buying power was growing at an explosive rate and included many big-ticket purchases. The advertising business is a $33 billion industry. Underestimating female consumers, from a business perspective, is sheer lunacy! And it was absolutely astounding to me that at that point women made up only 3% of ad agency creative directors. After years of wondering, “Why isn’t someone addressing this as the huge business issue it is?” I slowly realized that perhaps I should be that someone. In August 2010, during The 140 Conference in San Francisco, where I was speaking, I announced my plans to start The 3% Conference—with a single tweet.  

From mission to impact: I began researching why there were so few women creative directors. Most of the issues started with a two-word phrase: lack of. They included: lack of support for motherhood, lack of mentorship, and lack of awareness that having women on creative leadership teams allows companies to better connect with consumers. I put together an agenda to combat these issues with an equally powerful two-word phrase: how to. From its official debut in September 2012, The 3% Conference has taught men and women in agencies and on the client side how to address these issues in new ways, and offers something that has been sorely lacking for female creatives: a sense of community. The 3% Conference offers international conferences, mentorship, research, and a vibrant online community. Our manifesto? Diversity = Creativity = Profitability. Since we’ve started, the number of women creative directors has risen to 11%. My goal? To reach parity and put The 3% Conference out of business. 

Be a champion for change: Everyone has the power to take action right now! Here are some things individuals and companies can do to #ChangeTheRatio. (You can download the full list here.)

  • If you see women sitting on the edges of a room—when there are seats at the conference room table—invite them to join you at the table.  

  • Revamp your recruitment ads: feature female managers instead of stock photos of men, and send a message of innovation, vision, and enthusiasm.

  • Amend your brand guidelines to include a section about diversity.

  • Men: be open to mentoring young women.

  • Refuse to participate in conference panels composed of white men only. 

  • If you have a women's initiative, include men in every meeting. Otherwise it's an echo chamber.  

Each and every one of us has the power to #DisruptTheDefault. Join Kat Gordon and other “disruptors” in saying “No” to the status quo by taking our pledge today!
Watch Kat Gordon at the 2015 Catalyst Awards Conference. 

Share with us ways that you’re taking action to #DisruptTheDefault at work in the comments section below.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.