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.
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.