A Time for Man-trospection at the 3% Conference

Digitas

A Time for Man-trospection at the 3% Conference

Casey Hudetz

“Men, this conference is for you,” declared the opening speaker Wade Davis at this year’s 3% Conference.

What the? That was not the first thing I expected to hear at an annual gathering focused on gender disparity in the field of advertising. I assumed it was primarily for women and I was there to listen from a seat in the back. However, as I looked around the grand ballroom, I saw knowing nods and affirming applause. This conference was for me and I better listen up.

When I was asked to write this article I hesitated. This! I thought. This is what the world needs in 2019. A mansplanation of a women’s conference. But here we are.

This year’s event, which was founded eight years ago by Kat Gordon to shine a light on the fact that only 3% of creative directors were women, was hosted at Navy Pier in Chicago. The venue was built a century ago to support commerce and the exchange of goods. Over the two-day conference, it was a place to support discussion and the exchange of ideas. A man-made structure which evolved to suit the needs of the time made for an appropriate setting.

This year’s theme was “the 29%”, meant to symbolize the conference’s goal of having 29% of their attendees be men. Latest research shows that’s the representation of women creative directors, and they wanted men to experience the exact ratio of their female peers for a couple of days. There was a lot of thought put into this theme, from the diversity of speakers to the 29% of yellow pages in the printed program.

Image Credit: @3PercentConf Twitter

I was honored to be one of the few men chosen from Digitas to go. I saw my attendance as an opportunity to ask certain questions. I wanted to be man-tentional™ (last one, I promise) about my time and find insight into different ideas I wonder about. How can I support the work of my female colleagues but not seem patronizing? How can I see my female colleagues as equals but also empathize with the unique challenges they face? Is “female colleagues” even the right terminology to use? I had a lot on my mind.

There were many moments at the conference that will stay with me. I was proud to cheer on my colleague Ronnie Dickerson Stewart when she received the much-deserved Nancy Hill award. When two students shared their experience of starting a feminist group at their all-boys high school, I was inspired by their compassion and resolve (plus a little embarrassed to think of how little I was doing at their age). I felt the conference message in a new way when Clark Street Bridge performed a particularly relevant and powerful rendition of Stand by Me.

As a designer interested in emerging tech that can actually help people, two talks stood out to me. Representatives from both Google and The Geena Davis Institute spoke about how they used machine learning to review 2.7 million ads on Youtube and identify the frequency of negative stereotypes (spoiler: a lot). Those insights helped them figure out how to realign their work to reflect their values. 

Another innovative example came from Myra Laldin, the CEO of Vectre. She discussed how her team conducted gender-bias training with virtual reality. Placing trainees into fully immersive scenarios to elicit empathy proved more impactful than a company mandate to simply “be more inclusive.” It was inspiring to witness these tools being used in ways that made an impact.

Digitas representation at the 2019 3% Conference

My time at the conference also led to self-reflection. As much as I like to consider myself a supportive member of a gender-inclusive work environment, I know there are times when I fall short. 

I reconsidered groups I had started or belonged to that were definitely boys’ clubs. Were they meant to be exclusionary? Of course not. But it happened. One speaker talked about pattern matching: how the exclusionary status quo can perpetuate the exclusionary status quo. Expanding my understanding and vocabulary around this will help me reframe and improve my professional (and personal) decisions moving forward.

Another concept that stuck with me was the “Qualified Quiet”. The author Meredith Fineman discussed the professionals (predominantly women) who have stellar work but don’t know how to showcase it. I wondered how I might champion my talented colleagues at Digitas who are perhaps too modest to fully shine. It feels like a personal challenge.

Through the personal stories and professional struggles, the problematic stats and powerful statements, there was always an underlying message of hope, strength and inclusion. The organizers balanced speakers from all walks of life and their goal to engage the men in attendance, I believe, paid off.

I left the conference with a head full of ideas and was greeted by a chilly Chicago evening. I saw passengers deboard the iconic Ferris Wheel. They were returning from a place of unexpected heights where they saw the landscape in a whole new way. They came back to reality with new stories to tell and a new appreciation for a place they perhaps took for granted. 

This, I thought. This is a feeling I can relate to.

Credit: @3PercentConference on Facebook

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