The eighth annual 3% Conference

Every year, the annual 3% Conference transforms a highly professional agenda into a warm and spontaneous vibe. Inspired to change the fact that only 3% of agency creative directors were women at the time of its founding, the event offers a two-day program of panels, experts, and workshops that dives deep into the intricacies of representation within the advertising industry.

The theme is necessary and relevant, no doubt; but the mood is just as important. After making the rounds again this year, Reel Chicago can confirm that the 3% Conference has once again succeeded in not only advancing diversity, but also in spreading hope and happiness.

Kathryn Hempel
Vice President and Partner at Cutters

Besides being a partner at Cutters Studio, Hempel is known as the woman who edited Throw Like A Girl, a legendary commercial for Always by Leo Burnett that has been shattering stereotypes about women since the day it premiered during Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. Attending the conference with Cutters’ Executive Producer Heather Richardson, the “huge proponent of gender equality” had started taking notes by the end of the first day.

“I love it. After one hour this morning I was like, ‘this is so great.’ I have been very touched and surprised by some of the stories. I met Katherine Wintsch and loved Slay Work Life Balance Like a Mother (the session hosted by Wintsch, CEO & Author of The Mom Complex). Hearing Vita from FCB speak about ways of using terminology for projects that might be sexist or racist, I thought that was really profound. (Vita Harris, Chief Strategy Officer at FCB Global, delivered a session titled, Provocative or Damaging?). I’m going to carry that back with me, think about it for projects I want to do, art I want to make.”

Hempel also mentioned an upcoming spot titled, Equality Can’t Wait, that Reel Chicago cannot wait to see.

Geraldine Ramírez
Art Director at Leo Burnett
Mariana Guarín
Copywriter at Leo Burnett

Although they have endured only four Windy City winters apiece, these Leo Burnett pros have earned the right to call themselves Chicagoans by sacrificing Caribbean weather to be here. Ramírez is a native of San Juan, the capital of the US territory of Puerto Rico, and Guarín hails from Caracas, Venezuela.

The pair is also active with the United Nations National Committee For Women, an “independent non-governmental organization that supports the mission of UN Women through public awareness initiatives and fundraising efforts.”

Among the speakers who impressed them at the 3% Conference was Andrea Diquez, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New York.

Diquez spoke about achievements in diversity and morale that have long been regarded as “impossible” during a session titled, Tell Me It Can’t Be Done + I’ll Do It Twice and Take Pictures.

“The CEO of Saatchi in New York, Andrea Diquez, she’s a fighter,” says Ramirez. “She takes on any challenge when she sees a problem in the industry and she tackles it head-on. She saw a problem with the amount of maternity leave that people get and she said ‘no’ and she changed it.”

“Andrea said that she doesn’t have anything bad about her career to, like, complain about,” adds Guarín.”She was about all her team. She spoke about that she’s really close to her team. The most exciting thing about being here (is) to see real people in real roles, real women, doing things.”

Ben Gordon
Senior at Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA

Ben Gordon has been attending the 3% Conference since the days when it was “200 people in a gym.” As the son of the event’s founder, Kat Gordon, he really didn’t have much of a choice; but the college-bound young man considers himself “fortunate” for the opportunity.

“It’s changed my perspective on, you know, how I view women, how I view equality, how I view business,” he says. “Each year we come back, it’s new faces, which I think is the best thing.”

During the conference, Gordon has generally served as something of a personal assistant to his mom — “you know, running around, making sure that she’s always got her phone charged and a water in her hand.” But this year, the seventeen-year-old dialed up his role and moderated a session called, We Started a Feminist Club at our All-Boys High School.

Joining him for the twenty-minute onstage presentation were Regis High School students Matias Benitez and Matt Chen, the founders of HeForShe, a feminist organization at the elite, all-boys Jesuit prep school.

“It’s like the most ideal scenario for this 3% Movement,” he says. “Even in the situations where women aren’t present, there’s still men fighting for this equality and moving this movement forward.”

The college-bound student — who favors “big state schools out here in the Midwest and some schools in the South” — was particularly impressed with “the pure swagger and intelligence that they held.”

Joshua Santana
HR Director at Mirum

Joshua Santana attended as one of the employees from Wunderman Thompson (the parent company of Mirum, a digital advertising agency) who strived to help the 3% Conference achieve “The 29% — a Big Audacious Goal of having 29% of our audience be men.” Along the way, he enjoyed a “buffet style” taste of the tracks offered during the event.

Among the ones that impressed him most was Rock Your Profile: Your Brand, Your Story, a how-to for creating the most effective profiles on professional networking sites like LinkedIn.

“For me, it’s the elevator speech, first and foremost,” he says. “Where did you come from? What are you doing now? Where do you see yourself in the future? I think a lot of us need to rethink that.”

Some of the knowledge he plans on taking back to the office came from an Interpublic Group session titled, Why Positive Psychology Belongs in Feedback. The track’s affirmative approach will be especially vital to the HR department’s role in facilitating employee reviews.

“If you focus on what are the individual’s strengths and what are the behaviors that you want them to model … the conversation becomes a lot more constructive, a lot less anxiety-building, and a lot more beneficial,” he says. “And those 360 providers who were originally afraid to give their feedback because it was negative can now say, ‘hey, I think you do great when you’re a public speaker and you can talk about XYZ things and I’m going to help you … get more of those opportunities.”

Elise Cowan
Business Leadership Team at Leo Burnett
Safia Hurst
Business Leadership Team at Leo Burnett
Xenecia Farrell
Paid Search and Social Manager at Spark Foundry

Elise Cowan, Safia Hurst, and Xenecia Farrell had heard great things about the 3% Conference before attending the event for the first time this year. As the second day drew to a close, they graciously and enthusiastically confirmed that the rumors were true: it’s all that.

Like Santana, Cowan’s greatest impression came from Why Positive Psychology Belongs in Feedback, a track about addressing shortfalls and remaining constructive hosted by Jen Ostrich President of Ostrich Coaching + Consulting and Co-Founder of Shift Positive 360.

“I wanted to experience for myself and see what I could actually grasp from this conference and take back to my company,” said Cowan. “The coolest thing that I took away was the leadership track on how to provide positive constructive feedback.”

Remarking that, “Leo Burnett showed up pretty big last year and a lot of people brought back a lot of positive learning,” Hurst was inspired by Second Chances, a presentation spotlighting convict-turned-CEO Vincent Bragg.

Bragg is the leader of ConCreate, an agency that “crowdsources ideas from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women.” According to Hurst and her colleagues, he wields a level of knowledge and confidence that remind them of a Head of Strategy or a CSO.

“I just think it’s great to continually expand where we’re sourcing creative talent,” Hurst says. “Especially knowing the range of classes and demographics and all of that that actually populate the incarcerated system. It’s a great way to continue to build diversity from numerous different levels.”

Although Farrell was keen on seeing Jessica Chung and Vanessa Toro, two of her colleagues who presented during the conference, she was there to support the whole program.

“It’s interesting to see more women of color being in these conferences and kind of telling their stories,” she explained. “I really wanted to see the gambit of women that they had and see what they had to say.”

A few of her favorite moments about the event occurred during a session called, Mother to Daughter: 10 Lessons Learned. The self-explanatory title is only half the story.

The mother was Desiree Adaway, seasoned nonprofit consultant, facilitator and Principal of The Adaway Group. The daughter was Jordan Dinwiddie, “the only black female copywriter working on the Nike account at Wieden+Kennedy” (who also happens to have “comic characters tattooed all over her body”).

Farrell expressed delight at seeing “two Black women on the stage,” but she was equally happy to hear the universal message that they shared.

“It was beautiful and it was great because it just kind of spanned from life lessons into career into dating into all these different things,” she said. “It’s interesting to see that women are, you know, pretty much the same everywhere, and we all had those same conversations with ourselves … there were still those common threads and themes that they could pass on from generation to generation … there’s always something we can share to each other no matter what our backgrounds are.”

To view Reel Chicago’s photo album of this year’s 3% Conference, click here.

Send your news updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton,