Purse Strings

President and Founder of Mpls MadWomen, Alison Beattie, spoke with Maria Reitan on Webmaster Radio's program, Purse Strings. The agency culture is one known for gender equality issues. Mpls MadWomen has been able to create incremental changes within agencies through programs and content that empowers women. Alison Beattie talks Mpls MadWomen roots, moving women forward in their careers and changing the industry game.


MR: Why do you think MPLS MadWomen has been so successful?

AB: The tone of our content has been surprising to people; we pride ourselves on being kind, inclusive, action-oriented and solution focused. We want to empower women to help themselves and help their companies. We receive interest in events from women across industries and the content is not necessarily advertising specific. But, that's definitely the context and lens we’ve put on it. There are nuances that differ by field, but the things we talk about at events such as, confidence and negotiating, affect all women.

MR: Has is been difficult getting agencies involved?

AB: It has not been difficult at all. They've been supportive across the board. We already have more offers of hosting than we have events next year. The community of support has been amazing and we couldn't do it without these agencies. They really become the partner in defining what that event is going to be and it becomes an amazing opportunity for the agency and the women and men themselves to get involved. Through the planning process, they form a committee, refine the topic, find speakers and complete all of the logistics. It helps them put something behind this movement and invest in it.

MR: Nationally or locally, are there agencies rising to the top when it comes to gender equality?

AB: Unfortunately, no agency comes to mind — and that is a bad thing. I wish I could say that this agency either national or local has really changed the game and really made a difference, and I just can't. Everyone recognizes there's a problem here, and are willing to jump in and host events and help women have these conversations, but it's come to a time where it's going to take more than that

[To change] it's going to take actually changing policies and industry culture.

And that's no small beast. We're going to need a few agencies to take a stand. Ensure salaries are equal behind the scenes. Help new parents transition back from leave. Be bold and do something that other agencies aren't.
It might not seem like good business or a good business bottom line upfront, but it will be. It makes sense to keep women in advertising agencies in terms of good business and right now we're throwing that away because we're not supporting women. Even though we say we're trying, there's so much more people can do.
I will give credit to agencies, the theme that I'm hearing is an admission of its not good enough—everybody is realizing it's not good enough. Now is the time to take a step forward into action and really do something different. Whatever agency will take that huge leap, I'm behind them 110% and will do whatever I can to help them support them. I'm excited to see who does that because I think it's a huge opportunity; a huge opportunity for women and a huge opportunity for business. There's risk involved in changing your culture, but the potential benefits are huge. It's a holistic issue facing all industries in this country, not just the creative industry.

MR: What are the fixable issues that keep women from progressing in the agency world?

AB: There are so many. To flip the question just a little bit, the thing that scares me are the small subtle things that are probably the hardest to change. It's not necessarily the big things we can point to. Yes, we need parental leave time for both mothers and fathers. Maternity leave is not a common as it should be and not as long as it should be, and men just don't take it especially in creative field — that immediately shifts the gender dynamic. I've realized more and more that a lot of the men in leadership roles especially in advertising have stay-at-home support or support that's working part-time. If you talk to a woman leader in advertising, she's less likely to have that support. Logistically, balancing family life, in general, men seem to be more able to drop anything at any time and respond to client needs. This puts, women specifically, between a rock and a hard place. Women fail at work when they can't drop everything to be there and they fail at home when they're checking for emails late at night. Part of working in advertising is being there when you're needed to respond and this puts people in a difficult position.
Now, what are some potential solutions to that?
Parenting time, help to transition back from leave, sabbatical options, this is a bit of a crazy one, but what about stipend pay for household needs? All of these things would help in order for the person to support the agency to do whatever they needed to do.
The thing that also scares me that I don't have a solution for is men inviting men for lunch and men feeling more comfortable mentoring other men. I’m always looking for people to help me solve this. How do we start to address unconscious bias?

How do you break through some of those biases to change culture?

It's much broader than advertising, but there are subtle ways we can change the song of the tribe as we're trying to solve for that. We need to start taking smalls steps. Not just leadership, but everybody being aware of these biases and making small incremental changes to themselves to improve that for our next generation of people in the industry.

MR: What are you telling young women to expect when pursuing advertising? Would you recommend it?

AB: We are so lucky to work in the kind of career that advertising offers. If we take a step back, it's fun! In my job I get to create all day. This is a fun career and a lot of people don't have that. So, am I recommending it? Absolutely. You learn so much, it's dynamic and the energy is amazing.
I'm certainly never discouraging people from a field that is going to be tough or an uphill battle. Just be aware of a few things that you're going to have to overcome, but enjoy those challenges. The type of advice I give is jump in. Be highly accountable. Know yourself. Know what you want to learn. Show your work ethic and get involved proactively, both on the actual work you're creating but also creating a better industry for the future. No one is going to give you permission to be a rock star and do all of those things. You have to jump in, have integrity, be accountable and do your thing. And don't let any pre-defined gender expectations hold you back.
Work smarter, not harder.

MR: What do you say to people who want to get behind this effort?

AB: Check out our website mplmadwomen.com and all of our social channels. We're starting to seek out sponsorship for next year, which is a new thing to allow us to do more in-scale. If you're interested in sponsorship connect with me, or my Vice-President, Cortne Younk directly (cortne.younk@mplsmadwomen.com). Put your money where your mouth is. Shoot us an email, get involved and make a difference for more people who end up on the waitlist. Don't just show support for us. Make a difference at your own place of work. Do every small thing that you can and let's solve this together.

written by Kim Miller