“Sorry, just, I feel, should, maybe…” The list of words women have been instructed to remove from their vocabulary grows by the day. There are even tools to help us keep track of all the things we shouldn’t be saying in our professional exchanges. All these little words are essentially apologies we make for being women in the workforce. We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or risk being wrong, so we wrap our opinions and expertise in contrition.
These apologies manifest in different ways across various industries, but I’ve found advertising has two of its very own undermining phrases. Yes, I hear them from men on occasion, but women use them with more frequency (at least anecdotally speaking). Both are indicative of women believing they should just stay in the box they’ve been put in. And they have to go. Not only for your personal career advancement, but so that others around you can benefit from all you have to offer.
“I’m Not Creative”
In our industry, creativity takes on a life of its own. We name entire departments after it. We bend it, push it and stretch it until we think it’s perfect. We sell it as a commodity. This is all well and fine. It’s how we pay our bills, buy our beer and send our children off to schools that will shape them into something more respectable than advertising professionals. But this sacrosanct way of viewing creative means that anyone outside of the hallowed walls of Creative with a capital “C” has to preface every unique idea they have with “I’m not creative, but.”
Or, they are afraid to even breathe life into the thoughts percolating in their mind. Instead, they say something like “I’ll leave the big ideas to you Creatives.” And while Creatives appreciate the reverence for their occupation, they don’t have exclusive rights over imaginative thinking. Creativity is more than design and copy.
The most productive brainstorms I’ve been involved with have included people who would not be considered part of the Creative team. They bring new perspectives and push concepts outside the bubble it’s so easy to get stuck in as Creatives. You know the bubble. The one where a concept loses all sense of context, so edgy wins out over meaningful. Diversity of experiences leads to diverse ideas. And people with all sorts of skill sets can drive creativity. It’s science.
As long as we’re talking about science, consider the research confirming women have a harder time believing they’re just as creative as men. So, even though the evidence suggesting women are more likely to invoke the phrase “I’m not creative” is purely anecdotal, there is proven gender bias when it comes to creativity. Ergo, women need to remove the phrase “I’m not creative” from their daily lives. And that’s what we call making a strategic connection. Which brings me to my next phrase.
“I’m Not Strategic”
The flip side of “I’m not creative” is “I’m not strategic.” This ubiquitous caveat is a result of the same constraints the advertising industry has put around Creatives. We’ve become so protective of our roles, that we don’t realize we might be closing doors on women who can complement the work by bringing in a new perspective. I believe these silos, compounded with the same stereotypes that say women are bad at math, are responsible for many women believing they aren’t strategic. It’s critical thinking and if we’re not specifically hired to be critical thinkers, who are we to chime in on strategic discussions?
Often when I hear women say “I’m not strategic” I hear them saying “I’m not smart enough.” Which, for lack of a more eloquent word, sucks.
In my experience, most Creatives I’ve worked with are all but required to be strategic. In how they design, write, capture photographs. Maybe that’s only because I’ve worked almost exclusively at smaller agencies where designers had to fulfill the duties of UX strategists, copywriters had to take on stakeholder research and everyone had to pitch in to help out with some light coding. But I doubt it.
I have a sneaking suspicion that, as professionals, we all have it in us to roll up our sleeves and make critical decisions. Strategy itself is a creative exercise. It’s finding new ways to get to the heart of a problem and solve it. And I’ve worked with many brilliant women who are fully capable of solving the unsolvable—regardless of what their title says.
These phrases are just another way we underestimate ourselves. We think that until we get our now-debunked 10,000 hours in, we should just keep our heads down and stay in our lane. Throwing these phrases out is a small act of rebellion. It’s a way of saying you belong in the room. That you have something to offer. Because you do. And because everyone benefits when we’re willing to smudge the titles enough to open up the lines of collaboration.
/written By Eliza Green
/photo by Manan Chhabra