Revolutionaries Changing the Face of Advertising and Marketing: Kat Gordon

The life of an “Ad Man” is complex. He’s a maverick. He takes risks and has infinite passion. He is especially perceptive: understanding consumers wants and needs, staying three steps ahead of market trends and patterns. And occasionally he isn’t a he at all, but rather a she.

With risk taking, passion and perception as core concepts in advertising; diversity and inclusion seem like a no-brainer. What better way to have variety in leadership styles, creativity and problem solving? Alas, that’s not yet the case.

This conversation about (the lack of) diversity in the advertising and marketing world is not new. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) started their first program promoting multiculturalism (MAIP) in 1973. Forty-two years later, little has changed and the topics of diversity and inclusion remain to be the elephant in almost every agency’s office.

We can’t ignore this issue any longer. Statisticians suggest that by the year 2050, the concept of an ethnic minority in the U.S. will be a concept of the past. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the birth of boy and girl babies is a pretty even split year after year, as it has been since babies started being born. And media portraying the LGBT community is present, but still seen as subversive.

This blog series is all about celebrating the true mavericks of the industry: the revolutionaries who are working hard to change the landscape of the industry and the truly inspirational work they do. First up is Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference.

Kat spent two decades as a marketing professional before founding her own agency, Maternal Instinct. Somewhere along the way, finding herself as one of the few women climbing the ranks in the industry – she started questioning why the vast lack of women in leadership roles.

This is where the 3% Conference was born. It is called the 3% Conference because only three percent of creative directors are women. That number is both absolutely shocking, and comes as no surprise at all.

It’s absolutely shocking because we like to believe we live in a society where women and men are valued the same, and therefore will be promoted at the same rate. It is no surprise at all because we know that is not true.

Kat pointed out recently, “The research supports that diversity is the best thing to happen to creativity. Our [The 3% Conference] tagline is Diversity = Creativity = Profitability. Actively seeking a more diverse workforce goes beyond common sense, it is good business sense.”


Kat was kind enough to answer some questions about why she started The 3% Conference, and what you can do to further the conversation.

Amanda Cordell: How does the promotion of diversity and gender equality in advertising and marketing compare to other industries? In your opinion, is marketing and advertising more receptive or less receptive to change?

Kat Gordon: I live in Silicon Valley where the tech world is taking a beating right now for its diversity numbers. Here’s the thing though: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) has a recruitment problem with women. Girls aren’t pursuing those fields in equal numbers with men. So their diversity (at least around gender) correlates to something tangible. Advertising’s diversity numbers are more criminal. Portfolio centers are graduating equal numbers of women and men (often more women than men). So talented female creatives are starting out in equal numbers with men but aren’t staying the course. It’s a retention problem. Agencies hemorrhage their women at or around the ACD level. That’s both the bad news and the good news. The bad news because it’s a preventable problem. The good news because it’s a preventable problem – we can fix it.

AC: As you just said, equal numbers of men and women graduate from Portfolio Centers, but those numbers don’t translate into an equal representation in leadership. What do you think are the biggest barriers to a more diverse representation in advertising and marketing leadership?


KG: The 3% Conference has a list called 50 Things. It’s small actions that – done with consistency – reverse this trend. The barriers it addresses include support for motherhood, mentorship, engaging “manbassadors” and giving women more visibility in the industry.

AC: Discussing and promoting diversity can be an uncomfortable subject for some people. What have you found to be the most effective way of initiating the conversation? Have you heard any especially surprising responses or feedback?

KG: Make it about business and people will listen. The research supports that diversity is the best thing to happen to creativity. Our tagline is Diversity = Creativity = Profitability. In terms of promoting diversity, it has to be an all-hands-on-deck crusade. It’s not an HR issue or a ‘women’s issue’ or a ‘non-white person’s issue.’ The entire organization needs to be versed in the imperative of diversity. One of my favorite responses about diversity came from Scott McAfee, Partner at Sanders/Wingo. He summed it up nicely: “Working with lots of different people is just more fun.” I agree.

AC: As our blog is all about highlighting the excellent work being done by great organizations and people, who else would you like to recognize for their efforts?

KG: Catalyst does an excellent job of researching issues of diversity from every angle. Representation Project does social media around gender roles and inclusion better than anyone. I love what Tiffany Warren at Omnicom has done building visibility for diverse talent and diverse ad campaigns via the AdColor Conference. Nancy Hill, CEO at the 4A’s, is a powerful change agent and spearheads many influential programs, including the MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Intern Program). Lastly, a few “manbassadors” worth mentioning: Michael Roth, CEO of IPG, Ignacio Oreamuno, Executive Director of the Art Directors Club and Courtney Buechert, CEO of Eleven, the first agency to sponsor The 3% Conference when it was just a gleam in my eye.

AC: Implementing change is hard, and some people feel intimidated by the prospect. What are some next steps that readers of this blog can take?

KG: Download our 50 Things list. Follow the folks I’ve listed on Facebook. Speak out. Leave comments. Write blogs of your own. Refuse to speak at events with homogeneous speaker lineups. Get curious about your own unconscious bias (we all have ‘em). Most important of all isn’t that you do a particular thing, but that you do something instead of nothing.

Be sure to check out Kat’s great TedX FiDi Women talk!

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Amanda Cordell

Author Amanda Cordell

Amanda writes an on-going series on diversity and inclusion in advertising and marketing for Shocase. She is also the Lead Concierge. When not at work, Amanda teaches cooking classes in an East Bay after-school program, co-hosts a monthly supper club, enjoys theatre and storytelling and can be found wandering in the hills.

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Revolutionaries Changing the Face of Advertising and Marketing: Kat Gordon