What’s it like being a fe­male ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor in New Zealand?

With awards from Cannes, D&AD, the One Show and more, Con­ta­gion’s Brid­get Tay­lor is one of the few women grac­ing the top ranks of the coun­try’s ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try. We ask her for her take on being a fe­male ECD.

New Zealand Marketing - - Shorts / What’s It Like -

How long have you worked in the in­dus­try?

I started as a ju­nior copy­writer at Aim Di­rect as a fresh faced 22-year-old. That was 20 years ago.

Has your gen­der ever been a hin­drance to your ca­reer in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try?

In New Zealand, I don’t think being fe­male has got in the way of my pro­fes­sional pro­gres­sion. Although once you hit your 30s and find your­self in more se­nior roles, there is cer­tainly an un­der­cur­rent of worry that you’ll dis­ap­pear and have chil­dren. The other in­ter­est­ing thing is that looks can be both a help and a hin­drance.

I re­mem­ber the MD of one of the agencies I worked at rush­ing into the cre­ative depart­ment one day and say­ing he needed me in a new busi­ness meet­ing. I was deputy cre­ative di­rec­tor at the time and headed a lot of new busi­ness pitches. So I grabbed my trusty Sharpie and note­book and headed off, ques­tion­ing him all the way about the client and the role of cre­ative. We were al­most at the board­room door when he turned, flus­tered and said: “You’re just here to look good.”

I worked for two years in Sin­ga­pore which was fas­ci­nat­ing. At that time, I be­lieve I was the third or fourth fe­male cre­ative di­rec­tor to be ap­pointed in the coun­try. I was in­ter­viewed ex­ten­sively and many of­fers were made, but ev­ery agency was ter­ri­fied of what their clients would think about hav­ing a fe­male in this se­nior role. I set­tled into BBDO and en­joyed won­der­ful re­la­tion­ships across clients rang­ing from John­son & John­son to Di­a­geo. In­ter­est­ingly, it seemed this old fash­ioned at­ti­tude sat firmly with the agencies, not the clients.

Why do you think there are so few fe­male ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tors in the in­dus­try?

Let’s start by break­ing down the job. Around 85 per­cent of what you cre­ate never sees the light of day. The process of elim­i­na­tion of ideas starts with your­self, then your cre­ative part­ner, CD, ac­count service and fi­nally your client. So there is a lot of re­jec­tion. I al­ways say: “In this job, it’s about how many times you can get punched in the face and get up smil­ing, still de­ter­mined to win.” For some peo­ple, male and fe­male, it’s just too hard.

Then there are the hours. Un­for­tu­nately, cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion doesn’t al­ways strike be­tween 8.30 and 5.30. So when you have chil­dren, it’s hard to think how you’ll fit it all in and un­for­tu­nately we lose a lot of in­cred­i­ble tal­ent at this stage. But it’s this type of life ex­pe­ri­ence that’s so valu­able.

How does gen­der equal­ity in the in­dus­try com­pare now to when you ini­tially en­tered it?

Ev­ery year there seems to be more and more fe­males com­ing through, which is great to see.

Are there any changes you’d like to see in the in­dus­try re­lat­ing to gen­der equal­ity?

We’re dif­fer­ent. Males and fe­males are so­cialised slightly dif­fer­ently and there­fore bring dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences to the table. I think this cre­ates a bal­ance of emo­tion, un­der­stand­ing, hu­mour and ul­ti­mately stronger com­mu­ni­ca­tion. So mixed teams are of­ten stronger.

What’s your ad­vice to other women who want to get to the top?

• First and fore­most, be smart. Use your

brain, per­son­al­ity and at­ti­tude to get ahead. • Don’t fo­cus on you being male or fe­male, just

do your job to the very best of your abil­ity. • If some­thing feels in­ap­pro­pri­ate, it prob­a­bly

is, so don’t put up with it. • Find a men­tor and work on the lead­er­ship

skills you need to be truly ef­fec­tive. • Don’t ever feel you should act like a man. • Sup­port other women. Just be­cause older fe­males may have given you a hard time on the way up, there’s no need to carry that be­hav­iour on.

I had the rare op­por­tu­nity to have worked with two fe­male ECDS on my way up. Be­cause of this, it never en­tered my mind that I wouldn’t get there too. I’ve also had some in­cred­i­ble sup­port from a range of ex­tra­or­di­nary ECDS, plan­ners, in­cred­i­ble ac­count service peo­ple, clients, di­rec­tors, cre­ative part­ners and a very un­der­stand­ing hus­band. You can’t do this alone, your needs will change with your ti­tle and you never stop learn­ing and evolv­ing.

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