The Brave: Kat Gordon, Founder, The 3% Conference

Posted October 5, 2015

This post kicks off ILLUME’s first on-going blog series interviewing risk-taking women and men working to support women in business, energy, and the arts. The idea for these interviews began with our first interview with artist Lisa Congdon, and was inspired, in part, by Lisa’s latest book, “Fortune Favors the Brave.”

Kat Gordon, Founder of The 3% Conference

We are excited to interview Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference. Kat has been called the “triple threat” of an entrepreneur, ad woman + marketing to women expert and was named One of 2013’s “Top 10 Women to Watch” in Advertising Age. She spends much of her time attending other conferences to either deliver the 3% message to new communities (TEDx Women, Cannes, Creative Week).

Your work and passion surrounds bringing attention to the mere fact that the creative and advertising industry lacks women leading creative teams. What led you to get involved in this issue?

I couldn’t believe no one else was talking about the unbelievable business opportunity it presented. Every indicator was supporting that female consumers had unprecedented influence, yet my awareness of the advertising world clued me into the fact that women were still being spoken to through a male megaphone. There were billions of dollars on the line and it was crazy-making to me that no one seemed to think women deserved to be spoken to from a place of understanding and respect.

$20 Trillion, the untapped market in women’s buying power

Last year you posted an article on Linked In that blew up. The lead graphic said: “Having an all-white, all-male creative team is the new spinach-in-the-teeth embarrassment”. What commentary came out of your posting that piece?

I got an overwhelmingly positive response from all types of people who appreciated how factual I was in my argument. I backed up that provocative headline with research about the importance of diversity to creativity.

Do you think the industry is changing? Do you think recruiters and HR departments are listening?

I do! Recruiters and HR departments are only a small part of the solution, because this is a RETENTION problem, not a recruitment problem. The changes that need to happen are more of a culture shift within the agency where every member of the leadership team makes it clear that diversity is a business value that the agency will embrace.

Tell us about The 3% Conference.

It’s not just an event, but a movement. Yes, we have an annual conference and multiple traveling events all over the U.S. that are dedicated to championing more female creative leadership. But we also support this issue daily via a very active 13,000 member community on various social platforms. We also write a blog, have a student scholarship, host a Super Bowl Tweetup on advertising’s biggest day of the year, and do various other things to raise awareness of the importance of female media-makers in the advertising world.

Who attends The 3% Conference and who are some guests you have been proud to have hosted?

We expect 800 people next month at our NYC event. The split is about 80/20 women to men and most people hail from the agency world or are there to show their support for the issue from the brand side (CMOs, VPs of Marketing, Product Managers). We’ve had some amazing people keynote or speak at our events — Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Tig Notaro, Cindy Gallop, Michael Roth, Michael Kimmel, Todd Henry, Tara Mohr, and John Gerzema.

What does it feel like to be “that person challenging the lack of women in creative departments in the advertising industry”?

I feel like I’ve moved past the “challenging the lack of women” part and into the “changing the lack of women” arena. In the beginning, our tagline was “Building the business case for more female creative directors.” By year two, that felt accomplished and we moved into more presumptive messaging. Our current tagline is emphatic: Diversity = Creativity = Profitability. Amen to that.

You were named Top 10 Women to Watch in 2013 in Ad Age in 2013, and Winner “Forty Over 40” in 2014. What was that like?

The awards were very important early on because I wasn’t a household name in the ad world and the conference was a new offering. So I’m extremely grateful for those early nods of recognition. These days we have such great traction that the awards are more of a validation that we’re on the right track. The things that really touch me are the emails from young women in advertising who tell me I’ve changed their entire view of their futures. Those never get old.

What else are you working on?

I’m working on building a certification model for agencies around gender diversity. We just completed some research that uncovers exactly what women want from agencies to help retain them. I’m using that as the basis for a system for benchmarking agencies around their female-friendliness. We’re also working on building an online community site that can support video learning, job postings, mentor matching and other needed services for 3 Percenters. Other than that? I’m working on helping my oldest child find the right college. He’s a senior in high school and we have traversed the country looking for just the right fit for him. It’s like a second job!

The 3% Conference is being held Oct 26-27, 2015 in NYC. For more information or to register, visit