What's it like working at ... Kerning the Gap
What has your career journey been like to date?
I’ve been working in design agency lead roles for the last 12 years, after starting my career in marketing. I joined the team at the Design Business Association in 2007 and fell in love with everything the creative industries contribute. Since then
I have worked in principal roles in branding agencies like Elmwood, Good and most recently as one of the youngest female CEOs in the industry, at Pollitt & Partners.
Tell us a short history about Kerning the Gap and your role there:
Kerning the Gap is a community I founded in 2015, aimed at getting more women into leadership roles within the design industry. For several years I had been noticing less and less women at the tables I sat at and asking myself the question “where have all the women gone…?”. Being well connected across the industry from my days at the DBA, and at that time in my first MD role,
I felt a growing need to do something to unite the agencies in our sector and start challenging the issues that are leading to such a lack of diversity at the top of our field.
The design industry is dominated by SMEs and micro businesses (90% of design agencies have less than 10 people in them), so the usual government legislation, such as publishing pay scales and HR policies, tend not to apply. Often design agencies are owner lead – predominantly by men – so the representation of women in the upper levels of agency leadership is woefully poor, and the role models for our aspiring leaders simply aren’t accessible.
70% of design grads are women, but currently, only 13% are Creative Directors*.
We wanted to create a community that not only discussed these issues but empathised with agency leaders about the challenges they faced in tackling them, offering practical advice and programmes that support both business and the individuals within them.
What does a normal day look like for you?
I’m the complete opposite to those ‘day in the life of a leader’ articles that you read. I don’t get up at 5am, meditate, swim, drink a green juice and read the New York Times.
In fact, I’m passionate about how these stories build the inaccessible impression of what leadership looks like, and just add more societal pressure to women who are already doing the best they can to nail all of their commitments.
I’m a night owl, so you’re more likely to receive an email from me at 1am than 7am. And each day starts afresh with a sense of who we can help, and how we can inspire change. I might be preparing a talk (or listening to the Rocky theme tune in preparation to giving one), meeting with a mentee or one of the brilliant KTG regional teams. This week I’m working on the relaunch of the KTG website, and the exciting start of our Yorkshire chapter in the Autumn.
What is your biggest achievement for Kerning the Gap?
I’ve sat in room after room listening to senior women talking to other senior women about how they’d already made it into their position. Whilst this kind of communion is valuable, its inaccessible to junior women who would love to learn these lessons. And many of them were focused purely around female creativity, and yet we have numerous roles in our industry that are client, strategy and support focused – which lack representation in these rooms.
At talks i often wonder why aren’t men part of this conversation?
As (almost) 50% of the population, and over 70% of our leadership, they are a critical part of the dialogue as we work out how to improve the opportunities for women in our industry.
The core pillars of Kerning the Gap are to see more women in leadership roles (and by doing so, improve the opportunities for women at every level).
I think our biggest achievement has been staying true to our aims, and seeing a mix of people in every room. I believe men are a part of the solution, not the problem.
On a personal level, the thing that keeps me going is the personal stories of women affected by the work we’re doing – be that through mentoring or just those who have been inspired by their experiences of the community. Watching a person grow in confidence is an absolute privilege.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working at Kerning the Gap?
A careers assessment I took in my early 20s told me a should be a trade union official. I thought that was hilarious at the time. Feels a bit spooky now.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Without a doubt, it’s the brilliant people I meet through this work for change. It doesn’t matter how tired I get, or overwhelmed by the challenge at time, they always inspire me and fill me with energy and hope.
What has founding Kerning the Gap taught you?
How long have you got?! Seriously, there is so much to understand and appreciate in this challenge, that I’m learning every minute of every day, but I’ll leave you with the quote from the brilliant Madeline Albright, that I use most in my KTG work, because it never fails to hit home: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women”