Who is going to lead the future? It’s not going to look the way we’ve been used to.
70% of freelancers report working with diverse teams compared with only 59% of traditional employees. Open the workforce strategy and suddenly, achieving diversity and inclusion requires far fewer committees and initiatives, and our creative work starts to reflect the world we actually live in. In this episode of the Rosie Report podcast, Steph sits down with Kat Gordon, Founder and CEO of The 3% Movement and author of the forthcoming book “The Future Belongs to Belonging: How Inclusive Cultures Unlock World-Changing Creativity.” Kat founded The 3% Movement 9 years ago due to the fact that only 3% of Creative Directors were women and very few were people of color. Through the work and influence of The 3% Movement, Kat and her team are continuing to improve the ratio. Tune in as Kat and Steph cover everything from how change actually happens in our industry, to the radically inclusive future of work that just so happens to be the reason Steph started We Are Rosie as well as the theme of the upcoming virtual 3% Conference taking place at the end of this month! Did we mention Steph has the honor of speaking at the conference? You won’t want to miss it. Kat Gordon has had over 20 years of marketing experience working with major brands and many of Silicon Valley’s most exciting start-ups. She started her copywriting career at Cosmopolitan and then as the youngest copywriter ever at Sports Illustrated. In 2008, Kat made her first move in pursuing her passion for gender equality in the workplace by launching her own agency, Maternal Instinct, dedicated to the woman consumer. Often called a “triple threat” of an entrepreneur, advertising woman, and marketing to women expert, Kat was named Visionary of the Year by Advertising Age in 2018 and one of the 30 Most Creative Women in Advertising by Business Insider in 2016.
Steph Olson: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Rosie Report podcast, where I chat with industry change makers about re-imagining a more equitable future of work in advertising and marketing. I’m your host, Steph, founder of We Are Rosie, and today I have the pleasure of welcoming our guest, Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Movement and author of the forthcoming book, The Future Belongs to Belonging: How Inclusive Cultures Unlock World Changing Creativity. Today we’re going to be chatting about the upcoming 3% conference, which I have the honor of speaking at. The conference is virtual this year and it’s happening on July 27th, 28th and 29th.
Steph Olson: Welcome, Kat, I’m so honored to have you on the show today.
Kat Gordon: Oh, thank you for inviting me.
Steph Olson: Yeah. I wanted to have you on since we started our podcast, so this is such serendipitous timing with the conference right around the corner. And I have a million questions for you, Kat, are you ready?
Kat Gordon: I’m lining up my answers.
Steph Olson: You know, I wanted to take a minute before we talk about this year’s conference and the journey to moving the 3% conference into a virtual world, which I’m sure has been an incredible lift for your team this year, but leading up to this, I just want to hear about the evolution of 3%. You’ve been on this journey, is it for nine, 10 years?
Kat Gordon: Nine years, yes.
Steph Olson: Nine years. I’m sure you could talk about this for days, but can you share with our listeners a little bit about the journey that you’ve been on, what prompted you to start 3%, and maybe even a little bit about the evolution?
Kat Gordon: Absolutely. So I like to call myself an accidental entrepreneur, because I literally convened a conversation back in 2012 that I was longing to have that no one else was having, and it was about the lack of female leadership in my industry, our industry, advertising, just from a point of mystification, about how can these two things both be true? One, that women are only 3% of advertising creative directors, and two, that the work that advertising makes is largely meant to impact female consumers. So I just couldn’t understand, like why is the female perspective not infused in that process? It seems like such a no brainer.
Kat Gordon: So, I decided to have a conversation about it. I’m obviously not an event planner and an advertising creative director, but just really wanted to bring together kindred spirits to talk about it. And so the first conference was just that, a one day conference in San Francisco, and it was a moment where you realized that you’ve struck a nerve and that there’s ongoing appetite for the issue. So I was, at the time, running my own ad agency, and continued to do so, and then realized, “Oh, people want me to plan another one of these.” And so that first year I did, I planned another conference for the following fall, blew out the agenda to be two days instead of one, because people said they wanted more. We doubled our attendance. And I guess it was shortly after that second event that I realized, “I can’t do both things, and there’s enough appetite for this to be a thing, like an agency.” So, I closed my ad agency, devoted myself full-time, started doing traveling roadshows, just bringing this deck I made about the business opportunity of women, and just started going on these roadshows. The first one was in Boulder, Colorado, we tried to kind of hit secondary markets that maybe don’t get a lot of programming coming through, Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City. And we just started taking the message around the country.
Kat Gordon: And then, over the years, the evolution was largely driven by, as we were building community around the issue and uncovering all the things that were contributing, often unwittingly, to this problem, what is needed to combat that? And so out of those kinds of queries came things like a certification process that we created to measure the gender friendliness of creative companies, and things like research, we did our Elephant on Madison Avenue research about sexual harassment and microaggressions in the industry and how rampant is that. We’ve done other industry research about parenting in the field and where we stand, just kind of a benchmark setting survey. So lots and lots of iteration around how to solve for this. We’re very much a solutions driven company, very optimistic, very inclusive.
Kat Gordon: So that’s kind of the journey. And even as I talk about it, I’m like, “All of it feels accidental at birth, but then very purposeful as we moved along to try to really make a dent.”
Steph Olson: I can relate to that so much. I was actually talking to a friend about that earlier this week, that I feel like … I mean, you were ahead of the curve nine years ago, but a lot of the people that I know that are starting businesses around … I mean really not even just in marketing and advertising, but are starting their own entrepreneurial journey, it’s not because they were like, “I need to start a business. What am I going to do?” It was just a calling, you know? And I think that’s how you become an accidental entrepreneur where you’re like, “Well, I really care about this thing and I’m uniquely suited. Lo and behold, I’m the one I’ve been waiting for to solve this problem.” And I think that’s the beautiful part about the entrepreneurial journey and about 3%, because the evolution over time is just you being open and having an open heart to how 3% and how your team can show up in service of the mission of the business, and that it looks like a million different things. And this year it looks like a virtual conference for the first time.
Kat Gordon: Yes, yes. First time ever.
Steph Olson: How has that been?
Kat Gordon: It’s been kind of dizzying, because not only did we make the decision to go virtual, which required a whole bunch of steep learning curve around just the technology that enables a really good event and the economics of tickets and sponsorship in a year that’s very iffy, so there’s that, and then we also decided to fast track the delivery of the conference. We normally do it in the fall, in late October, early November, and we had already announced dates in late October in Atlanta, your home city, and we decided, at the advice of our advisory board, to, if there isn’t the constraint of a venue and a date where we can be inside that venue, the content that we were incubating was so urgently needed in this moment because it’s all about the future of work and how to make sure it’s radically inclusive. And all of these return to work policies are being made right now, this summer. And we thought we really want to make sure that people that are informing those decisions have thought very consciously about inclusion and anti-racist workplaces and agile work environments and support for caregiving and all of these issues. So actually going virtual has been kind of fun, it’s more, I think, the speed at which we’re trying to do it that’s been a little crazy-making.
Steph Olson: Yeah. And that’s kind of the name of the game right now. I feel like we’re experiencing maybe five years of transition in how we work in a few months, and it’s impacting everybody. But you’re right, I think it was brilliant for you to have the conference earlier this year, and I’m curious if you’ll end up doing them more frequently because of the pace of change that we’re all living within at this moment.
Steph Olson: And I’m so excited about the theme this year. Clearly it’s something that’s really close to my heart, the radically inclusive future of work. It’s why I started We Are Rosie. And I think there are so many implications to changing our mindset around how work happens, from sustainability, climate, and re-imagining everything, like we’re re-imagining our education system right now, which is part of systemic racism. And so I feel like we just have this absolutely incredible opportunity, and I cannot wait to attend the conference this year.
Steph Olson: I’m curious the opportunity you see in a radically inclusive future of work, and the opportunity that we have as a collective in this moment to institute really meaningful change while things are kind of frankly unstable?
Kat Gordon: Yeah. Well, I mean, you mentioned that I’m working on a book called The Future Belongs to Belonging, and kind of the central thesis that drove me to want to write this book is that I actually believe that when we create radical inclusion, inside education, inside companies, inside any kind of organizational structure, it just is a multiplier for creativity and ideas and ingenuity. And all of the world’s problems, all of them, require ingenuity to solve. And we don’t know inside whose brain, or whose collections of brains, that we can unlock these vexing problems.
Steph Olson: Yeah, I love that. And that resonates so much with me on a personal level, because I think about my background, I went to an engineering school, I was going to be a biomedical engineer, I wanted to make prosthetics. And then I took Calc Two and was like, “I don’t want to make prosthetics anymore, this is not the life for me.” And so I actually ended up changing my major over to business, but because I have a very analytical mind, I’d put this label on myself at a young age, that I’m not creative, but you give me an Excel sheet and I’ll go to town, but don’t ask me to do any kind of creative work.
Steph Olson: And one of the realizations I’ve had over the last two years since I started this company is my creativity was so suppressed, partially by my own biases around how I viewed myself, and also by this idea that work had to be painful. I come from a very working class background and work was painful for my parents. They had hard jobs, they always worked more than 40 hours a week when I was growing up, and I had just kind of said, “Well, this is it. You just go to slog it out, and then you try to make it up in another area of your life.” And it really wasn’t until I listened to my own intuition about, “It doesn’t have to be like this. I don’t want this to be the next 40 years of my life,” that I tapped into my own creative potential. And I’ll say, there is no way I would have even come up with the idea to start We Are Rosie while I was working in a previous job, I had to quit my job. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I just walked out and I was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, two babies at home, but I’ll figure it out.” And it was in that calm, and also it was a scary time, but that kind of calm where I got to sit with myself and really express myself fully, right?
Kat Gordon: Yeah, exactly right. Do you remember the moment when you talked about you tapped into your own intuition, because as you were telling your story, I was feeling like what’s the disruptor that’s going to puncture this age old belief system that you inherited from your parents? Was it a moment? Was it something you read? Was it-
Steph Olson: Yeah. There’s this quote that I love that says, “I had that to make you uncomfortable, otherwise you wouldn’t have moved.” And I was getting increasingly uncomfortable everywhere I worked, and I had an amazing career at some really incredible businesses and corporations and global conglomerates, but something was always in the back of my head, like, “This isn’t right. It doesn’t feel right.” And such a good example of that is I avoided public speaking like a plague until I started We Are Rosie, and people, they would ask me to do public speaking things all the time, and I would say, “No, no, I don’t want to do it,” I’d make up excuses. And someone got real with me and said, “Why won’t you do it?” And I said, “Because I don’t give a shit about what they’re asking me to talk about. I just don’t care that we helped sell more iPhones. I can’t authentically say that with passion, like that’s what lights me up.”
Steph Olson: And so I think for me it was like a slow build of a bunch of things that were making me feel uneasy. And then it was probably the birth of my second daughter when I started to look around and say … and this is such a personal story for me, but my dad, coming out of a refugee camp and making it to the States without being able to read or write English and charting a path forward for me, I think I had this moment, like, “I’ve been given everything. I have the ultimate privilege of being born in this country and being able to go to college and all of these things. Is this what I want to do with it? Just kind of be miserable?” And I looked at my kids and was like, “Is this the example I want to set for them, and then they’re going to have more misery?” And I think it was probably the birth of my second daughter, and the business is named after her to always remind me why I’m doing this, because it’s scary. We’ve been trained to stick with the psychological safety of a job, even if it makes you miserable.
Steph Olson: But yeah, I don’t think it was one defining moment, but it was definitely a slow build. And then I was tired.
Kat Gordon: Yeah. My friend, Natalie Nina Molino, has this great saying she coined, “Little by little, then all of a sudden.” And I think about that a lot, because I feel like so much of what happens in our evolution is incremental and it happens in sometimes our subconscious in the background. And then one morning you wake up, it’s like a toddler that wakes up and can say a word that they couldn’t say the day previously. But it’s true, and you can’t go back. And I know probably a lot of your listeners are women, and I don’t think we’re actually trained, in our conditioning, in society, to listen to that intuitive voice. And that’s actually our most powerful guide.
Kat Gordon: So, good for you, I love that. And I hadn’t realized your company was named after your daughter, but literally every day you are stating, “This is why I’m getting up in the morning. We Are Rosie.”
Steph Olson: 100%. Like how can I create better opportunity if … I always think, “If I do my job right in this moment, both of my daughters will have an opportunity to work in a way that makes sense for their lives and allows them to have the career they want.” Which is the ethos of kind of everything that we’re doing at We Are Rosie. But it’s tough to get to that place, I had to be made very uncomfortable, you know? And so one of the things that I tell people, and you’re talking about intuition, my business coach, Jessica Joins, has gotten me thinking about the signals that your body gives you physically, like whenever I’m like, “Oh, this thing happened and it made me feel some kind of way,” she’s like, “But where?” And I’m like, “Oh, in my chest,” or, “In my stomach,” you know? And I think we just have to take note, like even just being aware of those things at first, to your point, it’s putting things in motion, even in your subconscious mind, like, “Oh, this doesn’t feel right. I don’t like this.” And I think if we can get people to trust that more and listen more and pay more attention, then we’ll have this ancient wisdom of our bodies guiding us to do the things that we’re meant to do in this lifetime.
Kat Gordon: Amen.
Steph Olson: Yeah, I love it. My coach calls it Earth School. She’s like, “What are you here in Earth School to learn? What are you here in Earth School to notice and observe and evolve?” So I think there’s just a lot of opportunity there.
Steph Olson: Do you think that the giant institutions of advertising can change, and what is it going to take? Because there’s so many dynamics, these are publicly traded organizations, these are tens of thousands of employees, and is it possible? Do you think that they can do it, and where have you seen some success?
Kat Gordon: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. First of all, I believe anyone and anything can change, it’s just about … like you talked about how you got so uncomfortable, something had to give, I think that’s exactly the impetus that needs to happen at the holding company’s highest levels, where they’re like, “Oh, this is not” … I mean, I do think people thought 3% was a passing fancy, was the issue [foreign language 00:16:58], that it would be over. And nine years later it’s like, “Holy crap, this is the future.” And did you see that moment? There was this moment that comes to mind in answering this question in The Morning Show, did you watch that show with Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show?
Steph Olson: No.
Kat Gordon: It’s about the shakeup, it’s kind of loosely based on the Matt Lauer story and the shakeup at a news program when the male star is accused of sexual harassment. And his cohost, who is Jennifer Aniston in the series, there’s this one scene that just I wanted to watch on replay over and over again, where she’s in the boardroom of the producers of her own show, and I think she’s the only woman in the room, she’s at the end of the table wearing this red, almost trench coat dress, this power dress, and all the white dudes around the table. And they’re basically telling her that they’re trying to push her out. And she has this speech where she kind of pounds her fists on the table and she goes, “You are so certain of your own relevance and power that it never even occurs to you that the power has been transferred to someone else.” She’s like, “I am in charge here. I am the one people want to tune in and watch. I am the future of this program.” And it’s like that’s the moment that the holding companies need to have, is to realize, “Oh God, the way we’ve thought the world was trending, the assumptions we’ve made, they’re no longer true. And who can help evolve us into the future in a way where we’re still profitable, we’re still relevant?”
Kat Gordon: But it’s that reckoning around what matters and who’s going to lead the future. And it’s not the way things used to look. And I remember at the very first 3% conference we had this movie screening, the night before the conference, of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation. And then we had a discussion amongst some advertising leaders. It was a private event. And I’ll never forget when I was talking at that event about what I was envisioning needed to happen, and how women needed to be more in the creative process, and diversity of all kinds, this one ECD that was in the room, or CCO, a white guy, I remember he said, “But that’s the way it’s always been done.” And I remember thinking, “What an unimaginative thing for a person who’s supposed to be all about imagination to say.” And I just hope that more and more people are not thinking that the default setting is there for the reason why.
Kat Gordon: I mean, there’s so much about the causal relationship, even when you were talking about your parents and how they thought work has to be hard, that’s what it is, that’s almost its defining characteristic. And so maybe your parents had correlated, “Well, we were able to support our daughter to go to college and success,” but they’re creating a causal relationship that’s actually not true. Maybe had they had joyful employment, you would have had even more prosperity in your family. So I think that’s the kind of query that leaders have to have, is like, “Just because we’ve done it this way and we’ve had these results does not mean that this is the only way it can be done, nor that it’s the preferable way for it to be done.” And so I think we need, more than ever, question askers, people that notice things. And I think I am definitely one of those people, I’m always thinking about, “Why is it that way? Is that the best way?” And not in a devil’s advocate way, I’m not like a pest, I’m just more, I think, very curious and very positive. On the Enneagram I’m that enthusiastic visionary, I’m all about what could happen if things were optimized. And that’s a great headspace and heart space to live in.
Steph Olson: Yeah, I love that. I mean, people are often surprised when I’m like, “I’ve never worked at an agency,” but we’re basically creating agencies 2.0 at We Are Rosie. And it’s such a gift because I have no preconceived notions about anything. I am not like, “This is how it’s always been done.” And so we’ve built the entire business with common sense and imagination and creativity at the forefront. We’re really solving these problems for the first time. And I agree, and we need more of that entrepreneurial mindset inside these big major holding companies, huge agencies, and even the brands, because this is one of the things that I think that gets lost a lot, it’s like at the end of the day, the brands are holding the purse strings, right? And so what is their role in giving their agency partners, or any of their marketing services partners, both the mission to change and to have a more equitable, diverse, inclusive way of working, but also to hold them accountable for it and give them the space to do it, because you can’t snap your fingers and have it happen overnight and it’s going to be a collaborative effort.
Steph Olson: Have you seen brands really getting involved in holding their agencies accountable? And not even holding them accountable, but I would love to see them kind of co-creating the future together, like, “Pull up a chair and let’s figure this out,” versus just dictating what needs to happen.
Kat Gordon: Yeah, it’s funny because I’m writing a piece for you guys, for Rosie, for your upcoming newsletter, I can’t remember how it’s being delivered, but it’s about this exact topic. And I talk about how a few years ago there was this moment where several large CMO brands like Hewlett Packard, General Mills, Verizon, they started to ask their agency partners, “What are your diversity numbers? And we want to hold you accountable to gains around that on the business that you’re servicing for their clients.” And my perspective is that those brands also need to turn the mirror on themselves, because often they are unwittingly creating working conditions that do not support diverse staffing. They either have ridiculous turnaround times or really last minute scheduled trips or presentations, which, in a way, COVID might solve for that in a way that they didn’t think was possible, that, “Oh, we can actually create from afar.” But in a way what you’re doing is you’re forcing one kind of team, that is always available, to service your work.
Kat Gordon: And so I also feel like that research we did, Elephant on Madison Avenue, around sexual harassment and sexual microaggressions, the women in our industry that claim that they have been the victim of that, very often at the hands of a client. And so I think also the CMOs and brands need to be looking at their code of conduct and does it extend to all their agency partners? And setting expectations with their employees about what these relationships need to look like.
Kat Gordon: And all of this begets, or belies, partnership. I feel like we’ve gotten so far away from feeling like a brand and an agency are true partners. It’s become this almost adversarial relationship where the agencies feel vendorized, it’s kind of like, “Someone else will do it cheaper if you won’t do it.” They have really short engagements. And if you look at the work that wins the highest creativity awards at Cannes, it’s the longest tenured relationships between brands and clients that create the most breakthrough work. Of course it is, because it means you have trust and that you’ve built up a really good working relationship. And so there are costs. If they’re only looking at the cost for how cheap they can get the work done, they’re actually discounting what they’re losing in that equation.
Kat Gordon: And so I do feel like brands absolutely belong in this equation, but not only as the arbiters of demanding something from others, but of demanding it of themselves. And so it’s an interesting moment.
Steph Olson: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think, at least with the brands that we work with, I do feel like they are really paying attention in this moment. I know we’ve had a lot of moments where there’s been a rallying cry for quality and justice culturally, and certainly within our industry, because we have so far to go, this moment right now feels to me like a watershed moment. And I have a lot of hope that we will keep beating this drum and that everyone will continue showing up in whatever way they can. And it’s going to look different for everybody, but that we can create meaningful change in this period of unrest, right? Our mutual friend, Cindy Gallop, is like, “What is it going to take for the industry to change? Total fucking disaster?” Well, here we are.
Kat Gordon: Yeah, we’ve got.
Steph Olson: In spades. So it’s now time for us to have a reckoning, and hopefully we can rebuild something that is built by everyone, for everyone. And that is the dream that both you’re working towards and what we’re working towards, which is why I look to you a lot, Kat, and I think the work you’re doing is so incredible.
Kat Gordon: Aw, right back at you, I love what you’ve done as well.
Steph Olson: Yeah. My final question I ask everybody is what is something that gives you hope for a better future, I’ll say, in this industry?
Kat Gordon: Youth. I mean, I can’t tell you how inspired I am by young people’s vision and their awareness of their role in co-creating the future. They don’t feel like they’re passengers in life, they’re really involved. And we have had youth speakers at all of the … I can’t remember when we started inviting young people to speak, but very clearly it enriched the programming so much. And so, for instance, at this conference that’s coming up, we have an 18 year old named Hannah Nee, she just finished high school. And I read about her in the local paper, that she was questioning the gender bias in high school debate, and she was a high school debate champion. And she raised some really interesting points about just how that whole world operates and the preferential treatment certain debaters had over others. And I thought she was a really interesting thinker and so I invited her to come speak.
Kat Gordon: And so it is these young voices that are determined to ask ‘what if’ questions and to not be constrained by … I mean, think about how they can start a company from their bedroom and have meaningful traction, that was not something that was available when I was 18. And I just am excited for what they’re going to contribute to the future.
Steph Olson: Yeah. I love that answer. I have four college age nieces and nephews, and I feel the same when I see them. I’m like, “Man,” they seem to have it together in a different kind of way than I ever did at that age. And they seem to understand their role and their privilege and the opportunity that they have. So I love that. I love that you’re thinking about the same thing.
Steph Olson: Thank you so much for joining us today, Kat. Before we wrap up, where can everybody get tickets to the first virtual 3% conference happening later in July?
Kat Gordon: Absolutely. So if you go to our website, which is 3% percent, percent is written out, the number 3percentmovement.com, it’s right there on the homepage. You click, you can buy tickets. We made a decision this year to make tickets really financially accessible, so it’s only $99 for all three days. Students come completely free, you just register with your school email address, completely free. We have hundreds and hundreds of colleges represented, and basically high school students, you’re welcome too. This is the future of work that you’re going to be inhabiting and influencing, so yeah, I really hope people can come.
Kat Gordon: And one of the other things we love about the virtual platform is that you can actually buy your ticket and then watch the content any time you want for the remainder of this year. You don’t have to miss work on those three days to tune in. Or if you’re listening from overseas, you don’t have to get up at some ungodly hour to synchronize with US time to join us live. So we are excited, this means we’re going to reach a lot more people in a lot more corners of the globe, and it’s a mission based company, so the more that people are aware of what we’re about and our programming, the more they can make change inside their organizations. So this was a blessing. I mean, I don’t want to say COVID is a blessing, but this year of having to kind of rethink everything, I love the work of Mark Barden, he wrote that book A Beautiful Constraint, and it’s about how sometimes when you don’t have an unlimited budget or unlimited time or unlimited whatever, that’s when the most breakthrough ideas happen. In this feels very much what 2020 has meant to-
Steph Olson: I agree. I agree. I love that. And I have to say, for me, the 3% conference, I often describe it as a spiritual awakening combined with an industry conference. And I think it’s an absolute must attend. I’ve actually already told my niece and all of her upcoming college freshmen roommates that they have to get tickets, and I think that they have. It is a must attend. We’ve canceled all of our internal meetings, the days of the conference, at We Are Rosie, to give our own team the ability to listen in live. And I’m so excited about this year. I’m super honored to be able to contribute as a speaker too. And I hope everybody gets their tickets and also follow 3% on all social. Do you know all your social handles, Kat, off the top-
Kat Gordon: Yeah, it’s the same everywhere, I believe. It’s just, again, the number three, the word percent, and then conf, like conference, C-O-N-F, not movement. So we are on Twitter, we are on Instagram, we have a LinkedIn group that you can join, we’re on Facebook. So definitely follow us. And yeah, I’m excited too, we’re just a few weeks away, actually, I think, two weeks from Monday, so it’s coming fast.
Steph Olson: Yes, I’m so excited. Thank you so much, Kat, and thank you everyone for tuning into the Rosie Report podcast. Subscribe if you’re watching on YouTube or follow us on whatever streaming platform you’re on to never miss future episodes. You can always head to wearerosie.com/podcast if you ever get lost. See you next time.