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  • Writer's pictureVedashree Khambete Sharma

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Woman CD

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

I was asked a question the other day that has been asked several hundred times before to several other people before me:

Why aren’t there more women Creative Directors in advertising?

I didn’t have an answer to that. Not a good one in any case. And of course, we can’t have that now, can we? So I thought, let me see what others think. And ask them I did.

One of my colleagues felt that there exists a definite glass ceiling in our industry. Women are perceived as not being capable enough to handle the demands of a senior management post. I’m not sure if I agree with this. Because if this is a blanket assumption made about women, then it doesn’t explain the existence of women who’ve made it to CD level and beyond. Besides, I have personally never encountered any kind of professional discrimination on the basis of gender, nor has anyone I know. Maybe the glass ceiling exists in some agencies, but I think they’re the exception rather than the rule.

The belief leading to the alleged glass ceiling sometimes takes a softer, more patronizing voice. In the form of the hugely popular view that women find it impossible to manage their homes, while keeping advertising hours. You know how it is. You work fourteen-hour days, weekends, public holidays, festivals – or run the risk of being termed not driven enough, not committed enough, not… good enough. And that’s perfectly fine till a certain point in life. In fact, a book I had read in ad school clearly said that advertising is a great, fun profession, if you’re single. Apparently, marriage, kids, tend to change women’s priorities. They begin questioning the logic of spending more than half the day in the office, when they can be spending quality time with the family instead.

Apart from challenging the belief that men feel no such longing, I must also point out that I’ve seen a stellar exception to this norm. The lady in question was a CD when I first started working with her, and according to her partner had once worked on a pitch right till the day before she delivered her second baby. She had help, of course – a cook, a maid, her mother, all helped her run her house smoothly. And to her credit, she won her share of awards in her day and built some fairly well-known brands too. Then, she retired from advertising to pursue interior design. Which brings me to the next point.

After Neil French (in)famously declared that the reason there are fewer women at the top in advertising is because they tend to “wimp out and go suckle something”, he found a whole bunch of silent supporters. I actually think if you leave out the colourful bits, there may be a grain of truth in there somewhere. Like the lady I mentioned before, a lot of women have quit advertising at middle-management and even senior management levels, though not, and this is important, necessarily to reproduce. No, a lot of them simply found something more interesting/ rewarding/ financially more satisfying/ insert suitable adjective here, to do with their time. But then for that matter, I’ve known a whole bunch of men who’ve quit and taken up other careers halfway through their decently successful advertising stints.

So then is it simply a numbers game? Perhaps there are more men in creative departments than women, so if the same number of men and women drop out of adland, it still seems like more women have quit, because fewer women are found at brainstorms after this exodus. But it’s a mathematical theory, this one, and like anything to do with that hateful subject, without the numbers to back you up, you have nothing. So let’s just leave it at ‘maybe’.

At this point, you’re probably thinking if I came up with an answer at all. It’s the least you can expect after wading through 633 words, right? Sadly enough, I’ve had no such luck, only theories. I may not even have a definite answer till I reach a point where I have to quit this business. Even then, I’ll be able to speak only for myself. Till then, I suppose I’ll just do what every other woman in this field is doing: work like I’m single.

(This is my July blog-post for Campaign India.)

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