The advertising industry has made great strides from the early Mad Men days, especially when it comes to gender equality. Even so, some of the challenges that women faced in the 1960s still remain. According to Adweek, only 11% of creative director positions are held by women. Women can experience difficulty in rising to the top, and face unequal pay, discrimination, and harassment along the way.
However, there’s reason to be hopeful. Female leaders like Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference, are making it their mission to create more leadership opportunities for women. Other creatives have been inspired by the 3% Conference to start their own initiatives. Mara Lecocq, encouraged by the movement, created the online database “Where are the boss ladies?” to assemble a list of ad agencies with female executives.
Diane Seimetz, co-founder and owner at Launch Agency, is no stranger to the issues many female executives encounter, but she also knows the joys of a well-crafted pitch and an afternoon brainstorm. And at the end of the day, there’s no other industry where she’d rather flex her creative muscles.
As a child, Diane was always creating things and showed an early interest in writing. She would make cookbooks, write three-act plays, enter poetry contests, and even enlisted the help of her father to send promotional ideas to companies (winning 10 free ice cream cones from Baskin Robbins as a result).
She graduated from college with a Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Theater but knew that her passion for plays wasn’t necessarily a career path. She worked several jobs post-graduation to make ends meet – making eyeglasses in an optical factory, clerking at a dress store, working for a professional babysitting service – before picking up a writing gig at an ad agency.
The advertising industry was a godsend for Diane.
“I felt like an equal in an industry where talent reigned and leveled the playing field,” she says. “I didn’t find out until many years later that I often earned less than my male counterparts. But honestly, I loved what I did so much, I usually couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to do it. My late husband was a CPA, and when we talked about what we did at the end of a long day, I recognized how very fortunate I was to have a creative job, and hugely talented, inspiring, often hilarious people alongside me.”
One of the biggest aids when Diane was first starting out was her mentor, Diane Fannon of The Richards Group.
Diane Fannon of The Richards Group
“She took a flyer on me, and I will always be grateful for her,” says Diane. “She was (and still is) a tireless advocate for great work, an incredible strategic thinker and killer presenter. She also tells a dirty joke like nobody’s business.”
Mentorships like the one Diane experienced early in her career are crucial for preventing women in middle management positions from leaving the ad industry altogether. The Advertising Club of New York (ACNY) created a mentorship program design to explore and combat this drop-off, teaching women how to gain confidence and network more effectively. At the end of the program, participants reported that they felt much more confident in general and more comfortable with networking. An added bonus – they became very close with their fellow mentees. Strong bonds like these can help prevent some of the dissatisfaction that women in the ad industry experience.
That mentorship and the other strong bonds she formed during her career gave Diane the confidence to launch her own ad agency. She was working with her partner Dave Wilgus on a friend’s new grocery delivery service when she got a taste of how exhilarating business ownership could be. Together they created the strategy, marketing campaign, and executed all the creative for Groceryworks.com while holding down full-time jobs at Temerlin-McClain (TM Advertising).
“Even logging 75-80 hours a week, it was one of the most exciting professional experiences of my life,” says Diane. “We both caught the entrepreneurial bug, and subsequently started Launch in 2003.”
Being a female businesswoman can be a challenge all on its own, but add to that the responsibility of motherhood, and things get even trickier. Advertising can sometimes come with long hours and tight deadlines, which can be more difficult for mothers to navigate. Indeed, an IPG study revealed that 49% of women in the ad industry think their family responsibilities prevent them from advancing in their careers.
“I had both of my kids while at TracyLocke; keeping up with all of the mom/wife duties on top of long days, all-nighters, working weekends, and traveling on shoots was crazy and sometimes super stressful,” says Diane.
But it’s not all stress and sleepless nights: being a woman in advertising can come with perks. For Diane, she relishes representing a prime target audience of advertisers, taking the personal aspect of the business to a new level.
“I have also forged some of my strongest, most enduring friendships with women being in this business,” she says. “I think the long hours, client antics – general roller coaster ride we’re all on – bond you in a unique and special way.”
Diane and some of the Launch team trading stories at the 15th Launchiversary dinner.
In order to increase the number of female leaders in advertising, it’s also important that women take stock of their own approach to the job. Diane believes that transferring your innate passions to your work is the most important skill a woman in business can have and that this transfer takes time and practice.
“Most of us have strong emotions that are deeply felt and powerful gut instincts,” she says, “but they can only be used to make great work and transform a client’s business if they are applied and shared.”