Finding A Female-Friendly Agency Fit

August 22, 2016 – Guest Post by Bridget Deenihan for The 3% Conference Blog

Illustration by  Tim Delger

Illustration by Tim Delger


Micro-actions can create powerful, positive changes when you work at a healthy agency with feminist allies, the support of manbassadors and progressive leadership. But if you’re stuck at agency that has a toxic culture—one that’s riddled with misogynistic management, abusive clients or people who routinely undermine women because they’re giant walking buttholes disguised as full-grown human beings, then it’s time to get out and find something better.

But how? Great question! I don’t have a simple answer. But I can offer a few pieces of advice for finding out if an agency is right for you prior accepting the job.

Be honest with yourself.

What do you want most from your workplace?

Before landing my current gig, I took time to figure out what I wanted. I wanted it all, of course. But I settled on my must-haves: nice coworkers, progressive female leadership and growth opportunities. Oh, and reasonable hours too.

Every woman’s list is different. Yours may include things like having the opportunity to be mentored by a female creative you admire, work on specific brands or having everyone call you Beyonce even though your name is Jennifer. Whatever your wish list is, keep it in mind and ask for what you want every time you talk to recruiters or potential employers.

Know that most great agencies will have a decent website that outlines the things that they feel make them special. However, it’s not so easy to determine whether or not a new employer will actually deliver the female-friendly goods until you get in there a do your recon work work work work work—which is all about communication and observation.

Be honest with the agency.

I’m not one to mince words. Especially when there’s a damn movement happening in our industry. So in the interest of investigating niceness, progressiveness and the potential for growth during my interview, I did something I only recommend if you promise to take full blame if it goes horribly wrong:

I talked about my uterus.  

My baby bag was broken. I had just undergone a gnarly, 3-hour surgery to fix it. Needless to say, I meant business about becoming a mother.

When I told the woman President/CEO that I was trying to have a kid, “like now,” that I wanted a promotion in the near future and I needed to know how she felt about both, I watched her face for a reaction. There was none. Then I think she said something like, “fine” and moved on because she clearly had better things to do than be weirded out by me. Boss move.

When I asked about typical work hours, she said outside of the occasional weekend shoot or pitches, there would be nothing out of the ordinary. She admitted she was at the agency at 5 a.m. every morning. I admitted I didn’t know what 5 a.m. looked like.

Female leadership, check. No freaking out about impending maternity leave or investing in my growth or the fact that I’m not a workaholic, checkity check.

Agencies and recruiters will always ask if you have any questions. And you totally do. Ask about what’s on your must-have list, then be on the lookout for red flags in answers, any sort of flinching or other evidence indicating that one of you is about to sprint out of the room screaming.

Another great litmus test for female friendliness? Talking about the 3% Conference. Discussing the conference is a great way to gauge awareness and maybe even get them to send you so we can meet in NYC on November 3rd. Warning: I give great hugs, but have really sweaty armpits.

My agency got bonus points for knowing what the conference was, double bonus points for saying they’d send me if I was hired, and all the points for saying they they would expect me to give a presentation about it to the entire agency. (I went. It was awesome. I gave a presentation. It was long.)

Their willingness to invest in this kind of experience showed me they were aware of one of our industry’s Biggest Little Problems and were willing to do something about it. Pretty progressive. Pretty impressive. Kudos to you if you’re still reading since I’m dead inside after writing that last part.

Pay attention to everything.

As people who know how to assimilate to new clients and solve problems quickly, we are naturally adept at listening and observation, though we may not recognize this skill set as one of the most important ones to have. Most agencies will have a spiel for interviewees about their values and the way they work, so it’s not only about listening to what they say. It’s about observing how they act as well.

Did you find the ECD was less interested in taking you seriously and more interested in talking about himself? Or something even worse?

If you observe any behavior that makes you feel gross, don’t just nope your way out of there. Nope your way out of there while walking backwards and maintaining uncomfortable eye contact.

Remember that it all matters.

Above all, I wanted to work with genuinely nice people.

It mattered to me that during my second round of interviews—which happened to fall during a motorcycle trip to Nashville with my husband—the leadership team cleared out all the executive parking spots so we could pull our car and bike trailer into the parking lot.

It mattered that the HR manager set my teacher husband up in an office so he could grade papers while I met with everyone. Then she brought us breakfast.

It mattered that I saw people of color in the hallways, that I heard people say “please” and “thank you” to one another and that I learned the VP/ECD doesn’t even play guitar, much less feel the need to talk for 20 minutes solid about it during interviews. Can you tell that happened to me once and I’m still bitter?

I’ve been at my agency two years and I’m happy to say that staying true to my must-haves has paid off. I had that baby. I got that first promotion. I’m part of an internal team that’s launching a pilot program called Ad Women For All Women to inspire more young women of color to pursue ad careers. (Which the fearless Cindy Gallop would be glad to know is an effort spearheaded by our awesome white-guy agency owner who doesn’t just talk to other white guys.) I’m surrounded by lovely people who treat women as equals and one another like family. And when I say family, I mean our HR Manager has my old dryer and I have her old leather chaps.

Ad women I know have said I’m lucky. But the word “luck” comes with the connotation that we, as women, are somehow stumbling into female-friendly agencies by chance. We aren’t getting lucky. We’re just getting better at getting what we deserve.

I believe no woman—or man, for that matter—can have it all. But I do believe if we fight sexism and gender bias in adland while getting braver about asking for the things we want, we might just be able to get most.


Bridget Deenihan is an ACD/Copywriter at bohan. She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of her husband’s pants and Chief Executive Officer of her daughter’s booger situation. If you like curse words, you can follow her @bridgetdeenihan.