Welcome to Rosie-Side Chats where we host conversations with trailblazers who inspire us daily. Our guest this episode is long-time friend of We Are Rosie, Kat Gordon – Founder & CEO of The 3% Movement. We Are Rosie‘s founder, Stephanie Nadi Olson, sits down with Kat and discusses Kat’s journey to starting the mission to change the ratios in the marketing and advertising industry as well as what to expect from this year’s Tenth Anniversary 3% Conference.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Hello, I’m Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder and CEO of We Are Rosie. Welcome to the second edition of our special interview series for The Rosie Report, the Rosie side chat. Today’s guest is Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Movement. Kat, I am so happy to get to spend this time with you today. Welcome.
Kat Gordon: Thank you. Great to be here with you.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: It’s always lovely to see your face from across the country. So Kat, I have so many things I want to talk to you about today. And I, I feel so fortunate that like over the last three years, that I’ve gotten to know you, um, personally and professionally, which has been, um, really meaningful for me, um, certainly someone I admire and, um, have learned a ton from, I think it would be awesome to share just what prompted you to start 3% and like, you know, how did it get off the ground and, and what did it mean to you at the, at the inception?
Kat Gordon: Mm, yeah. Uh, well, you know, looking back, I don’t think I had any idea that I was doing what ended up happening. Um, it wasn’t as kind of deliberate as maybe starting We Are Rosie, which you- you’ve been on that trajectory. But for me, it was born out of, um, kind of an impatience with having worked in the advertising world as one of the few female creative directors, and then yet knowing that everything in the consumer marketplace centered around women, so I- it was just this kind of nonsensical business situation that didn’t, um, ever get it seemed to get addressed.
And so that’s why I started it, because I just wanted to convene a conversation around why does something like this persist when we have so much awareness of the importance of speaking to women from a place of understanding, why would we not want women, uh, you know, in the highest leadership positions on the creative side of advertising, especially when we have a very steady pipeline of, of female talent coming up? So it was just one of those head scratchers that I finally decided, well, let’s get to the bottom of this.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: And when you started, you were freelancing, right? And then you started, uh, this programming for 3% and like, it’s evolved substantially over the last 10 years. Like, what did it look like at the very beginning?
Kat Gordon: Yeah, I mean, it’s fun for me even to flashback. I mean, I owned my own small ad agency, I live in, lived in Palo Alto, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and worked with tons of companies that were targeting women and mothers in particular. And you know, it was fun little agency work. Um, had a small virtual team, and then put on this one day event in San Francisco called the 3% conference in 2012, and it just wasn’t one of those things where it was so readily embraced. And there was so much appetite for more that I realized, oh, perhaps this is something I’d do again.
And then I started doing traveling roadshows just to kind of spread the gospel of why this awareness is needed. And every city, you know, that I went to, there was, it sold out, and there was just so much, um, desire to, to keep this conversation going. So it was a, a slow dawning realization that this was perhaps a business in and of itself. And eventually, I closed my agency and devoted myself full-time.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Oh, my gosh, that’s so brave. And also like, just all the signs of the universe that you were doing exactly what you’re meant to do. Because of how many people were, it, it was like a magnet for all these people that resonated with the work that you were doing and what you were sharing. I think that’s incredible. And I’m happy you stuck with it for 10 years.
Kat Gordon: (laughs). Thank you, thank you.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: So it’s like as you kind of wound your way into doing this full-time and shuttering your agency and really focusing on 3%, like, how have you seen your mission evolve, even over 10 years? Just, things are changing so quickly and culturally, and, um, I’m just curious, like, how has the mission evolved and the work that you all are doing evolved over the last 10 years?
Kat Gordon: So dramatically, and I, I think you’re absolutely right, that this has transpired during a period of such accelerated social change. I mean, just to give you some grounding, the first 3% conference was before the book Lean In came out. So, and when Lean In came out, that was kind of like considered a grenade. It was just like such a, you know, big idea. And now we look back and think that that book is woefully inadequate at kind of addressing the systemic reasons that women are not leading at the highest levels.
Um, and then within that, you know, women are not a monolith. It’s like black women. I mean, look at what’s happening right now, I feel like a broken record of always talking about how black women are poised to lead every sector of society. They’re the highest educated demographic in the country, they have the highest stated desire to lead. Um, and so within that there’s all sorts of communities that have seen themselves and found themselves in kind of our message of diversity equals creativity, equals profitability. Um, mental health issues at the forefront, especially with the pandemic. Neuro-diversity, rights for parents.
I mean, a lot of these things you’ve addressed through We Are Rosie, you’re kind of coming at it from the workforce, um, angle, and I’m so appreciative for the work you’re doing because it’s going to take all kinds of rabble-rousers, um, to really create a fully fashioned solution that lets everybody contribute at the highest levels.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah, I love that. And it is like, it is such a nuanced conversation. And I feel like, um, even since I’ve been like fully immersed and looking for, uh, ways to create more equity in our industry over the last three years, like really dedicating myself to it, like I’m still peeling back all the layers. And like, we’re recording this, uh, today, on the day that Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics, right? And I haven’t even been able to do the deep dive into all the press around it, whether it was, um, mental health or physical health or a combination of both. But just, um, I’ve been kind of taking a moment to just sit and think about this woman at the top of her game, um, the greatest of all time and the pressure that she must feel to carry that, right?
I’m like, how, how does that like translate? How do we take those lessons from Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles even to women in the boardroom and female C-suite and women that want to be C-suite, and what does that mean for them as we think about the mental health, uh, challenges that, that the weight that you carry in those positions? So that’s just, there’s always something to learn. There’s like always something to unpack and, and discover.
Kat Gordon: So true, this work is never done. And that’s both what I love about it. And what can be a challenge is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much community you convene, no matter how much research backs up what you believe, you know, we’re trying to dismantle ways of thinking and being that have been in place for centuries. And it’s just difficult. I always call it generational work.
Um, but yeah, I think, you know, when Naomi Osaka, uh, was sanctioned at the French Open, I think it was, the- there was a series of things I was watching happen right at that moment, that was the same week that that brave young woman was the valedictorian at her Texas graduation, and that she spoke truth to power. And then for Naomi Osaka to do the same. It’s almost like, um, women are finally realizing that if we go the route of the good girl and follow the rules, and you know, stay obedient, we get screwed over.
And so women are finally realizing, you know what? It’s almost less scary, I think, to say no, and step away and take the heat of, you know, uh, from the, from the people that are the guardians of that old world, because we’re not winning under this current s- situation. It’s serving no one, but the systems that seek to make us, keep us small.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Absolutely. I mean, now you’ve reminded me of yet another Olympic example, (laughs), that I was reading about this morning. There’s this Austrian female cyclist who, and I can’t remember her name off the top of my head, but it’ll be easy to, to Google. But she was, um, like, for all intents and purposes, an amateur. And everyone underestimated her and she took home the gold in a cycling race, and like, was nowhere on anybody’s radar. She didn’t even have like a team, I think she was coaching herself. I mean, it’s pretty incredible.
And, of course, all the press was chasing her and they said, “How did you do it?” And she said, um, something, I’ll paraphrase but like, don’t trust the institution, like don’t listen to authority all the time. Like, li- listen to yourself and figure out ways to do it for yourself. And I think to your point, like there is this kind of awakening where people are like, wait, what is the, what is the institution here? Who is the institution here to serve? And you know, what might I know that I’m getting, you know, that’s getting stifled, um, in this, in this ecosystem that maybe I should speak up more, or maybe I should trust myself more?
And I thought that was like such a poignant … I mean, they said in the, they made a point in the article I read, like, she didn’t even hesitate. She was like, you know, trust yourself, and, um, pay attention to the people you have around you and what their interests are. And I was like, wow, all right. (laughs).
Kat Gordon: Amen. I love it.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: It’s powerful. Um, okay, so I, this is your 10th 3% conference this fall?
Kat Gordon: Yes.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: And it’s here in Atlanta? So excited.
Kat Gordon: Yeah. Yeah, I know, we’re excited. It’s actually our 28th event, but our 10th annual event and, um- it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years, but in some ways it’s easy to believe, (laughs), when I think about everything that’s happened.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah. How does that feel for you personally, just being 10 years in and like, do you t- do you find yourself like able to take time to reflect or are you just constantly like on to the next thing, and, and focusing on what’s ahead?
Kat Gordon: You know, that was one of maybe the few gifts of the pandemic, was that there was a little bit of time where I could be quiet and think about it, because normally the treadmill runs very, very fast. I don’t have much time. But yeah, it’s quite amazing to see, um, you know, there’s that quote, people greatly overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what they could accomplish in 10.
And I think that that is very much fitting for the 3% team, like what we’ve been able to accomplish in 10 years, I, I never in my wildest dreams thought we could, yet the mirror side of that is there are these systems of oppression that are not going to go away overnight. And, and they keep us from achieving, you know, true transformative change.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah, I love that. And, and what is the theme for this year, for your 10th annual event in Atlanta?
Kat Gordon: Uh, it’s a decade of difference and it’s, we always have our event as a two day event, and so we’re going to spend the first day looking back, and really taking a moment to reflect at what this community has enabled over the 10 years, the winds, um, the surprises, the highlights. And then the second day will be kind of the more sobering look forward, what will it, what will it take, you know, to really, truly achieve our mission.
And we have some interesting programming planned where we’re going to be able to harness the minds and wisdom of the people gathered either in Atlanta or tuning in virtually to look at kind of what we call the four isms, racism, sexism, ableism and ageism, which really are the speed bumps, huge speed bumps, speed mountains, um, that we want to talk about. Like, what will it take to really make change around these four, uh, challenges? So there’s gonna, I think it’s gonna be a very rich gathering. We’re hoping to somehow publish the results of what the community surfaces during that crowd sourced kind of wisdom s- you know, afternoon on day two.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah, that will be incredible. There’s something about 3%. I mean, my first time attending was three years ago, I was very late to the game and I’m kicking myself because of it. And it has, it has had a really, truly profound impact on my life. And there’s something about the energy, um, hopefully, that will, we’ll be able to have a lot of people in the room here in Atlanta. But when I attended there was, I mean, so many people together in a room in Chicago, all intent around a single purpose of creating a more equitable industry.
And the connections I made and the friends that I, friendships that were formed and the energy, I mean, it was like nothing, honestly, it was like nothing I’ve ever felt at a, at a gathering or conference before. So I’m so excited for it to be back and for it to be in Atlanta, and, um, for us to be tackling kind of an expanded, um, uh, array of isms, right? That we definitely need to be talking about, um, for sure.
Um, Kat, one of the things … you know, I get asked this a lot. And so I hate to put you on the spot, but I’m going to ask you, because I never quite know how to answer it. But, you know, how will you know when you’ve, when you’ve reached your goals, right? When you’ve, um, fulfilled, you know, and achieved the impact that you want to create via the 3% Movement?
Kat Gordon: You know, I- I’ve been thinking a lot lately about RBG. And remember how she was asked, and she said, “When there are nine.” And, um, I realized that when I meet with agencies or companies that proudly say our creative department is all women, I actually say to them, that’s the same problem in different clothes.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah.
Kat Gordon: Like, that is not the goal. The goal is to have all kinds of contributors working shoulder to shoulder, that’s where you get the epic creative output. Yet, I’m starting to think that there’s some wisdom in what RBG said. In that, if we start to see, you know, creative departments, or cam juries, or cam [goldline] winners that are all female, it makes a point and this is very timely, because I’m sure you’ve been following the news item out of the UK about the two men from JWT who just won a discrimination suit to white men.
And, you know, kind of the, the reporter that was interviewing the agency president asked, um, “Well, aren’t these men, uh, being disadvantaged by the advancement of women.” And if you really take that statement apart, it presupposes that the jobs belong to men and women are, you know, elbowing their way in. And that is not true. Like, wherever in the world did we get the notion that men control everything, that men lead everywhere, that men are the most talented, that white men are the most talented? That exceptionalism is, is killing us, and it’s killing us in this country, and it’s killing us in the corporate world. And so when you ask, when will I know, you know, that we’ve had the impact, it’s when women are leading at the highest levels of every ad agency, and no one thinks they stole it from someone. It’s just…
And I guess that’ll be a hard thing to measure, and we’re getting there. And again, that’s not my goal. My goal is that every single creative person can unlock their full contributions at the highest level. And we’re not there when things like that lawsuit are happening.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s, um, it’s interesting how people constantly like they, they want, they presuppose that the pendulum is gonna swing, right? And that what we’re all fighting for is all women everywhere. And it’s like, no, that’s not it, like. And I think female leaders are, are really good at this. Um, like, it’s actually all about everybody being represented, and everybody having opportunity. And that’s something that, um, I talk a lot about myself, because I’m always like, it’s not, um, the future of work, which, where we seat, unless we’re all there, right? Like, we need everybody there.
It is not, you know, um, we’re not trying to recreate the same problem in reverse, certainly, but it’s gonna take a lot of work to dismantle the mindsets. And, um, we’ve all been conditioned and programmed from a very young age to like, presume these things are true. You know?
Kat Gordon: Yeah.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: It is, it is generational work. I’m doing the work with my daughters now to bring these things to their attention. I’m like, pay attention to how they said that or why they said that or who they said it to.
Kat Gordon: Yeah.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Um, but it is, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work.
Kat Gordon: Yes.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Um, what is the future look like for 3%?
Kat Gordon: You know, we’ve been trying to figure out a way that, you know, what you just said about the magic of our event. I think the people that come together and the wisdom that’s contained within the community is so potent and so powerful, that we are investigating ways that we can enable it beyond the episodic events that we put on. So what might that look like if we had some kind of way to deliver a steady drip of content throughout the year to enable people within the community to find one another for mentorship, for support, um, for new business, uh, to offer micro loans to the Kat Gordon’s of, you know, today.
Like, I know there are people out there incubating ideas, and sometimes just the power of suggestion that will help you even in the tiniest way, get going, I think is really potent. So there’s that, there’s that desire to turn our community into a self-serve kind of model. Um, and then another thing that’s very much on my radar as a creative director is that I feel like the modern creative leader, I have not yet seen that we are skilling our leaders for what they need to be ready to do as the future of work is upon us. And I’m talking about all of the things, the drum I’m always beating about inclusion and belonging, and how do you create creative environments that truly center belonging and have a true understanding of how you create cultures of acceptance.
Um, but also an equal piece to that is corporate social responsibility. I mean, if you think about no matter who is on your client list, no matter what sector or industry they come from, an increasingly big part of your job and messaging out to the world who they are is who they are. It’s not what they sell, it’s what do they stand for? Where do they message about that? How do they back that up? Brand values, brand purpose, uh, this is really the, the differentiator of the future and I just don’t see modern creative leaders having the understanding they need about, what does it look like to convene meetings and even like to construct creative briefs so that they unearth that and center that?
And so there’s something I’m going to be announcing around my dedication to that issue, because I do think that’s the greatest contribution I can make at this stage of my career. And now I’m just talking personally, around, um, getting the creative industry ready for needing this moment.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Wow, that’s exciting. I will definitely be staying tuned for that. And it’s such a good point, as we think about, like, what does the leader of today need to look like? You know, it’s funny, just kind of in a broader sense, we just kind of, I think, make this assumption that, like, when you become a leader, you just like know everything. And it’s like, nop, (laughs), like we definitely are going to need to have like continuing conversations with leadership and on all of the cultural issues that we’re all working to solve and the, the work issues we’re working to solve. Like, I love it, I love that you’re gonna contribute to that, and that, that’s close to your heart, because we need it.
Kat Gordon: Thank you.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Um, Kat, I, I like, I’m so happy to hear, um, that 3% is gonna be in Atlanta, as we already discussed, where can people find you and learn more about the upcoming, um, conference in November?
Kat Gordon: Um, at our website, which is 3percentmovement.com. Percent is written out. Uh, we’re also very active on Instagram @3percenttconf, and Twitter, same handle. So definitely sign up for our newsletters, and that’s where we’re, you know, releasing names of speakers and thanking our sponsors and starting to preview some of the content. There’s some really interesting things we’re going to be exploring about, like restorative, um, justice and other things. Back to that, what will it take?
I mean, like these are times for big ideas and big discussions, this is not a moment to kind of, um, pat ourselves on the back and assume all will be fine. I don’t assume that although I am an optimist. Um, I believe we have to keep pushing, questioning, evaluating new forms of … I mean, changing people’s mindset is something that is not done in a PowerPoint, like you cannot, uh, metric people into changing the way they think, you know? Oh, that data makes sense to me therefore I’ll change how I think. They have to feel something.
And often they have to feel something deeply uncomfortable or even painful, where they sense that there’s something being lost in the current equation, even if making the change feels scary. And I’ve seen it happen, I’ve seen it happen as it’s happening. I’ve seen it happen to men that have led, assuming that they were leading with, um, the greatest team and kind of success posture possible. And then they start to realize, oh, my goodness, have I missed something very central to, uh, creativity and to profitability. And so I believe it. I really just believe that the more people understand this, and can kind of, um, convene and converse around it, the change that we seek will happen and is happening.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: Yeah, I love that Kat. I believe it too, and, and you all are doing such important work. And it’s, um, been an incredible experience for me to even be near it, to attend, um, some of your events and to get to know you. So thank you for sharing your wisdom with us today, um, and I encourage everybody to follow Kat and 3% on all socials, and sign up for the 3% conference in Atlanta in November. Thanks for coming, Kat.
Kat Gordon: Oh, my pleasure.