Over the past three months, the feed on Italian ad industry publication YouMark has contained a notable increase in the number of female faces. It’s a focus that YouMark says it has been “thinking about for a long time,” but it took one individual’s push to make something happen. Valentina Amenta, a creative director at FCB Milan, was that individual. Noticing that, like “the shoemaker with broken shoes,” women in advertising were spending all their time creating the work that benefits their clients before thinking about talking about themselves in the industry press, she wanted to create a new platform for still unfortunately scarce women creative directors to get their names, faces and insights about the industry out there. As the introduction to her ‘Women in Adv Direction’ series reads, women “have to team up in the name of a profession and a market that would have much to lose without your gaze.”
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Valentina about the simple but powerful project.
LBB> Why did you start your series of interviews, 'Women in Adv Direction'?
Valentina> It all started from an intuition that I had thanks to Monica Lazzarotto while she was interviewing me for YouMark (and by the way I thank her because she made this project come alive). Because it’s true that we [women] are fewer compared to our male colleagues, and so statistically we have less opportunity to be under the spotlight. Instead, we are here, less in terms of numbers, but still existing and bringing our contribution to the creative industry.
So, 'Women in Adv Direction' is just that opportunity to hear the voice of female Creative Directors that most of the time are left in the shadows.
LBB> In the introductions, you say we have to team up in the name of a profession and a market that would have much to lose without women's input. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?
Valentina> In Italy, the decision-makers about spending in the household are women. But in an industry that should be the mirror of our market, instead creative departments are run by few female creative directors. So there is a big lack of the comprehension of the market. And it's not a coincidence that data says that 70% of women claim that advertising doesn’t understand them. Showing no insight that fits in their, our, life.
And I think that a crucial point to change this situation is to team up, create a network of women in our industry, and increase our numbers in creative leadership positions. That's the next step I want to make, but I don’t want to give you spoilers on this idea yet.
LBB> How did you choose the women you've interviewed so far?
Valentina> As I said, here in Italy, we are not so many, so like in a small village we all know each other more or less. So, at first, I asked the ones that I already knew, my ex-colleagues, then the ones that I’ve met on awards juries, the ones I thought had a story to highlight. And then it spreads through a word of mouth: many creative directors propose themselves to be part of it. And I’ve been so glad to get to know all of them.
LBB> What have been the most memorable things people have said in these interviews?
Valentina> Many memorable things, each interview has hit a nerve. And I hope every interview has been inspiring, for other women that in our industry are at a crossroads: give up or continue? I hope that it has given them the courage to keep on.
If I had to make a top list, I think, to sum up, the most memorable things are the fact that as in every field we have to run an extra mile compared to men, so the thing that speaks better than us is our work. We don’t need a microphone, a stage or a board meeting, our work can stand for us. Do we come up with creative ideas in a certain way because we are women? Yes, and we are proud of that.
I’m not a feminist, and I’m not choosing people to work with based on them being male or female, I just believe in inclusion, the opportunity that can grow from diversity, and that I firmly believe that every woman that becomes a mother is more skilled, and a better time-saver than before, and the best storyteller, patient, or creative person, because they have to fulfill the constant request for stories and play with her kids.
LBB> And are there any themes that have raised their head again and again?
Valentina> Of course, our lack of presence in the decision-making rooms, in award juries, and in top-level careers. So there is the need to make a network to support each other and increase our numbers. It’s not a coincidence that the Gerety Awards or SheSays network have been created!
Another theme is the fear of going on maternity leave and then ‘having to’ take part-time jobs and have less responsibility, and in this way enabling men to take on leading roles and have more power.
Then there’s the challenge to break the chain of men that recruit men. In fact, if they are in power, they also have the primary power of recruiting and people tend to recruit their own mirror image. Just to quote Christina Knight: “To change this we need to change the way we recruit, listen to, include, promote and pay women.”
LBB> What sort of response have you had?
Valentina> The world is full of lovers, but also of haters: a lot of people called me and wrote to me to thank me and to applaud me for this concrete action to undercover our role and share new names, that have been working for such a long time, and who have done a lot of work that nobody knows about.
But some people have also told me that the theme of women’s inclusion is abused too often, and that seeing the numbers of the interviews (just 22) there are a lot of us (what!?), and of course that it was free advertising for myself.
I don't regret it and I'm really happy about all the women who took part in ‘Women in Adv Direction' with such enthusiasm. And if LBB is interested about this story, that means that it might be worth talking about it.
LBB> How has this project impacted the work you do at FCB Milan?
Valentina> For sure it has impacted in a positive way on my working life.
This project amplified my perception of my possibilities as a woman and as part of a growing network of women.
I’ve also gained the awareness that my two male ECDs - Massimo Verrone and Alessandro Antonini - chose me and in that act have broken that chain of men that recruit only men.
FCB is a network really open to inclusion and I'm lucky to be a part of it.
I'm aware of my determination in doing this job, and I want to keep mentoring other people that have just started.
And I think our clients also understood the concrete act of FCB recruiting me eight months ago: many wanted to meet me just to know a bit more about this project and about my point of view as a creative director working on their business.
I’m also aware that we, as women and as creatives, can make an impact every day in our world, so we have to be committed to doing something meaningful every day. My wish for the future is that my daughters Matilde and Ludovica will know the meaning of ‘gender pay gap’ or ‘quotas for women’ as only old expressions, not used anymore.
LBB> Do you have any perspective on how working in advertising direction differs for women in Italy in comparison to other countries? And similarities?
Valentina> For ‘Women in Adv Direction’ I also interviewed women working abroad, and as you can read the themes, fears and problems are quite similar.
Let’s guess who this quote belongs to: “It took me a lot longer than my male counterparts to become a creative leader. Certainly, bias played a role in that, but sadly, so did the birth of my two children. I found my career paid a price each time I took time off for maternity leave. From losing my job when I came back to being passed up for promotions and pay raises because I was seen as less committed to my job as a mom.”
Would you say this belongs to an Italian creative director? Nope, that is Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, CCO at FCB Canada. And Canada is one of the most open-minded, multi-ethnic and inclusive countries on Earth.
So, I think we are in this together.
I have a WhatsApp group with some women creative directors from all around the world who belong to other networks and we are all facing the same challenges, same victories and all have the same commitment to this.
But I think our industry is really aware of this: if the networks organise “woman leadership courses” or create global culture and inclusion offices as we have here at FCB, that highlights the agency’s investment in fueling inclusive culture globally and the will to create an equitable, respectful and inclusive workplace. And that’s great!