Staging A Creative Comeback - Stephanie Matthews

Staging A Creative Comeback – Stephanie Matthews

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Stephanie Matthews is Partnerships Director at Creative Equals. She helps run their Creative Comeback Returners Program. The program is a two-week bootcamp for people who’ve worked in the advertising industry but have had a prolonged period away from it and now need a hand to get back in. 

You can listen to this episode of Sweathead here.

Mark Pollard: What’s up? Welcome to Sweathead with Mark Pollard. I have Stephanie Matthews, who’s from England but who happens to be in New York. She’s partnerships director of Creative Equals. She’s currently rolling out a global event/program called Creative Comeback which is about getting people who might’ve left the industry to return to the industry.

Stephanie, welcome.

Stephanie Matthews: Thanks for having me.

Mark Pollard: Do you know the LL Cool J song, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years”? That’s not the title but do you know it?

Stephanie Matthews: I don’t, but I like that. I’m going to start using that in my material.

Mark Pollard: Yeah. I felt it was a little obvious for me to point that out just at the start of the interview, but hey, I’m always here to help.

Stephanie Matthews: [Laughs]

Mark Pollard: Tell us about Creative Equals first. What is it about?

Stephanie Matthews: Creative Equals is an inclusion not-for-profit. It started in the UK about three years ago. It’s founded by a woman called Ali Hanan. She is an ex-creative director, she went back into the sector after her second child and experienced some of the discrimination you hear about working mothers.

So she decided to set up on her own. What she’s created at Creative Equals is essentially a data product. So we have a data tool called The Equality Standard which looks at people’s businesses, tells them about the employee engagement, does a D&I profile and a training-and-needs analysis. It identifies areas that you can improve.

But it’s all laddered around inclusion and ensuring that you have representative workforces. And that’s where Creative Comeback comes in because it’s about supporting industry returners. So people that have been forgotten about—often older, often female—but are talented.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, I think back to early years in the industry—and it’s not that this happened tens and tens of times … you’d hear about it, where someone would have a baby, and all of a sudden their job—and it could have been a senior job, you know, like a GM for example, but they’re like maybe a younger GM or an MD—the role just disappeared. They got reorganized. You’d see the meeting happening in the corner office. But it’s hard not to have seen a little bit of this and to hear the stories and to not think that it’s absolutely a systematic, discriminatory practice.

Stephanie Matthews: It is, it is. And yet it goes unspoken and unsaid and people just carry on as is. And I think it’s slightly worse in the—certainly the New York sector, just from my learnings, having been over here a couple of times—but because of the maternity leave legislation, people are encouraged to come back much sooner. You’ve got the breast-pumping stations, which I think is madness…yeah. It feels like they need to come back ASAP, otherwise they will have lost their job.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, it’s interesting because the breast-pumping stations and mother’s rooms are paraded around a lot of companies as huge acts of compassion and empathy, so yeah, it’s interesting to hear that you don’t feel that that’s the case. Why is that?

Stephanie Matthews: Well, it’s not actually giving mothers enough time to spend with the children, I think, particularly if you’ve had a caesarean, so that’s the recovery time, that’s time that you need to be at home, not in the office. Having the breast pumping stations there for me is a bit like with all of the tech companies that have everything on site for you like, do your dry cleaning, get your lunch, get your dinner… It’s encouraging presenteeism and encouraging you to work longer and longer, and it might not be efficient.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, I remember working with someone in my first few months in New York who came back to work after—I think it was less than two weeks—and it stunned me. I was like, What is that? And also the way it was discussed, and the way that this person presented it was because they’re all about their career. And as I got to know this person a little bit better, the thing is that—she was the main breadwinner, and if your job’s at risk—back then, at least, in an even more extreme way than now, but it’s still the case, if your job’s at risk, then your healthcare is at risk.

Stephanie Matthews: Correct.

Mark Pollard: Let alone salary, let alone people with college debt that’s lingering for decades. It’s a really complicated position. One of the riddles especially of the U.S. corporate world is how it doesn’t provide much, and then when it does, it’s like, “You’re welcome.” Which is very different, obviously, to Scandinavia. And I think the U.K. is in between, right?

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s just about giving them a choice and it not being a kind of an expectation. Because there will be some mothers or parents that do want to come back because of their healthcare. But there should also be an option where if people want to return at a later date or come back part time to manage that. Yeah, I mean, don’t get me started on flexible working. It’s just about trusting your workforce that they will deliver.

Mark Pollard: Mm. I wonder if psychologically, in a lot of people’s heads, that the advertising industry, regardless of the genders in it, has represented, first of all, newness and kind of being this hot, young, single, subservient mistress, and as soon as you break that archetype, people are like, Oh, what—you don’t fit in here, you just had a baby. That means that you’re older than a lot of people are. Or You’ve hit 40 or 50 or 60, no you don’t fit into this. You talk a little bit slower than us and you keep telling stories from a long time ago, you’re not that hot young thing—

Stephanie Matthews: But look at the makeup of clients. So on the client side, yeah, they want their advertising agency to have fresh thinking and fresh ideas, but that doesn’t always need to come from the younger talent. And often they want an older, more experienced person in the room that can help them solve their business challenges alongside the other people in the ad agency. To me it’s just about having a representative workforce. And I think that’s where it comes to employing and having practices in place that allow for that.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, and you mentioned something that was unspoken early. I think that a lot of clients over the years have also wanted agencies to be that hot, young thing. I buy into experience and I buy into a lot of seasoned marketers wanting experience in the room, but there are marketers who want that hot young thing because it’s way more interesting than being in the business park that’s gray and bleak and everything.

Stephanie Matthews: I’ve worked in the business park. I can tell you that it, yeah, it’s pretty hideous, but when you are in a meeting and you have  25 year-olds, and they’ve got great idea, you [still] want to talk to that older BD, the business director, who is more relatable.

Mark Pollard: Hmm. So is that a form of confirmation bias as well?

Stephanie Matthews: That’s my own—it’s probably my own bias, but I would like a balance. Where if I was talking about it for being a marketeer, you want a balance. You want to make sure that it’s not all young people in the room.

Mark Pollard: Tell me a little bit about the Creative Comeback—is the word “program” or “events”? What’s the right word?

Stephanie Matthews: I would say it’s more of a program. So how it works is it’s a two-week boot camp for industry-returners–people that have been out of the sector for at least 15 months. They need to have worked already agency side or in-house, and they can span art directors, copywriters, creative directors, UX, creative strategists.

And we found that people have left the industry—predominantly there’s a female skew, an older skew, 45-plus. Predominantly it has been for children, but we’ve also found that it’s been for caring responsibilities, so whether they’re looking after their parents in their own home or they have to leave and look after them in another city, we’ve found illness has been a barrier to get back in if they’ve had to leave for just short or long-term illness. Yeah, they’re the main ones.

And what we do is we create a cohort, so there’s 35 of them, and we put them through an intensive bootcamp. So in the first week we run a training program with D&AD, and we train them on soft skills–so around knowing your values, about confidence—because if you’ve been out for awhile your confidence can be on the floor because you’ve had different experiences, you’ve been out for awhile—and then we also train them up in hard skills—so, digital skills. In London, we worked with Facebook who trained them on creating for vertical, because perhaps when they were last in the sector it was all about horizontal. So it’s really kind of an intensive four days to upskill them on all the areas that they think that they need training on.

And then at the end of that first week we have the Diageo brands team coming in from Smirnoff and Johnny Walker, and they’ll be briefing them on a couple of live briefs. And then, in the second week of the program, they go into groups of twos and threes, and they take one of these briefs, and they go into host agencies—so we have a number of agencies on board with the program. We’ve got BBH, 72andSunny, Anomaly, TBWA, Vice Virtue, and FiG, just to name a few. They’ll go into these agencies, and they work on that Diageo brief, and then in the agencies we have a CD or a senior creative that mentors them and just kind of answers any questions they’ve got, helps them to bounce ideas around… with a view that at the end of that week they’ll come back on Monday and they’ll pitch back to Diageo. So everyone’s in the room, all of the returners, all the agencies. The idea then is that Diageo pick one of those winning ideas, and that gets taken into the Diageo agency and is made by our returners.

And then, after that day we have a bit of a careers-type fair where we facilitate jobs, so we match up the recruiters from the agencies with our returners so that we can help them and support them back into the workplace.

Mark Pollard: Okay. There’s two things that I’m thinking about around this. The first one is the people mentoring them in agencies. Let’s face it: there aren’t that many great mentors within the industry. I don’t mean that to be—that’s such a blanket statement—like, mentoring is hard! And you might have people who are younger mentoring older people as they’re training for people about how to mentor?

Stephanie Matthews: When I say “mentor,” it’s more just providing a bit of advice—being a CD, in a sense. So, the’ll perhaps come up with some ideas on day-one, but they need to kind of learn to bounce them off someone that’s got that kind of experience and that ability to be able to go “Yeah, you know, option two’s got some legs, I think if you tried this, you know, have a think about that,” and then they’ll come back and do that the next day. So maybe “mentors” is the wrong word, it’s more playing a CD type of role.

Mark Pollard: And then, as far as after the program, when hopefully they all get jobs somewhere, is that when the rest of the Creative Equals apparatus comes into play to help those environments learn how to work with these people better?

Stephanie Matthews: Yes. We work with the agencies to provide advice around understanding different types of working audiences. So understanding—you know, whether they’ve got internal groups, whether they’ve got parent groups inside—it’s really kind of upskilling the people that they work with to deal with different types of people.

Mark Pollard: Got it. And have you sensed a different kind of response between the U.K. and New York?

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. The applications we’ve had from London versus New York—one of the main reasons people leave in New York versus London is stress and burnout, and that’s much more prevalent versus the London cohort.

We’ve had more male applicants in New York. We’ve had one in five so far, which is brilliant because we want to make sure that we’re inclusive, that it’s not just a program for older women, but outside of that, they’re quite similar reasons in terms of why people have left. It’s around children, caring responsibilities, and illness.

Mark Pollard: Why do you think the sense of stress and burnout is different? Because you know London’s an intense city in many ways as well. What’s going on in New York based on the stories you’re hearing so far that makes it stand out to you?

Stephanie Matthews: Just from the stories I’ve heard, I think it’s to do with lack of job security and something you alluded to earlier on. I think that “your jobs are more at risk over here” is tied to the healthcare, so I think that people are working at an intense pace, always on, and yes, they are that in London, but I think there is more of a work-life balance in London, to some degree. I mean, it’s still not perfect at all. But yeah, I think in New York it’s about job security and lack of it. There’s not the legislation tied in around that.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, I was going to say is job security largely a policy issue versus a cultural issue; are they intertwined?

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah it’s a policy thing, I think. I don’t think you’re as protected as an employee.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, it’s funny, the phrase, I guess, is “hire at will,” right? And the way that that was explained to me in New York, which is basically “you can just lose your job at any time,” and a CFO explained this to me in my first year or so in a really serious way, and the reason they said it existed is because of slavery—that the opposite of that is slavery. And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know. There’s like a lot of other countries in the world where that’s not an opposite of what you’re talking about.” It was a really weird piece of context to run into when you’re like, What’s up with this entire lack of job security?, and especially with people on temporary visas and with dependents, it’s quite intense.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. Wow, I didn’t know that was linked back to slavery.

Mark Pollard: I don’t know if it is, but the person who said it to me, that was their theory. And I’m like, I don’t know. I’m new to the country, but I also feel like you’re making that up just a little bit.

But it’s interesting because you hear a lot of the U.S. policies that are in the benefit of companies are explained as being in the benefit of employees. And it’s just patently not true.

Stephanie Matthews: No, I mean, you can spin anything, can’t you, really? We work in that sector.

Mark Pollard: Yeah. I mean, it’s just done in a large way here and I am fascinated by the country. I don’t mean to be negative about it, it’s not to get into a political thing, it’s just, come on …enough. Enough.

Stephanie Matthews: Just a bit more job security.

Mark Pollard: A bit more job security, a little more evidence-based decision making, please. That’s all I’m asking for.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah—said the strategist—I love it.

Mark Pollard: [Laugh] I’m a little on the quirky end of the planner spectrum.

Stephanie Matthews: That’s not quirky, having evidence to make decisions isn’t quirky, it’s solid and robust.

Mark Pollard: [Laughs] I’d hope so.

How have you found the agency response to the Creative Comeback program in New York?

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah, it’s been really promising, really promising. Often as soon as I meet the agencies, they totally get it. They can see in their own business how there’s a lack of older talent. It kind of just falls off a cliff after a certain age, and yeah, they’re for it, they want to kind of get people back in. And it’s a real feel-good program as well. You really feel like you’re changing and making a difference to people’s lives.

Mark Pollard: Obviously there’s this infatuation with newness, and that for a lot of people advertising represents newness. In the U.S., newness is a huge part of the culture here. It makes it go around. It’s just part of capitalism. And it’s amazing in a lot of ways. However, over time, when you’re working in it, you yourself don’t become a new thing, you become less of a new thing. And I think that’s partly what’s going on.

And then older people are more expensive. That’s another reason why some of this stuff might come into play. You’re not allowed to say that, but they are more expensive. And then also maybe less obedient.

Stephanie Matthews: Obedient, who wants obedient? [Laughs] Don’t you want people that disrupt and think differently? —[“Obedient”], said the planner.

Mark Pollard: [Sigh] Stephanie Matthews, come for a walk with me. It’ll be like—what’s that story where they go to visit the three different Christmases? Oh my gosh. Who am I? I’ve forgotten. Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah, I know the one you mean.

Mark Pollard: Anyway, I’ll take you for a walk through time—or through offices.

And the other thing is, part of what goes on is that as people move into leadership roles one way to signal that they’re the leader is to not have other people who are similar in age or older than them around them. And so I think they take them out because they’re trying to remove threats. I think that goes on. What do you think about those theories? Are they strange? Do you have any other theories about what’s actually going on?

Stephanie Matthews: Wow. That’s an interesting one, that last one. So you think that they’re being removed because they’re less of a threat?

Mark Pollard: Yeah, subconsciously. I think also sometimes consciously, and you know, I’ve worked in agencies in New York where there were people running accounts which were bigger than the agency they were in, but they didn’t report to the CEO of the agency. And there were battles. And part of it’s about age and seniority and hierarchy. And I think it’s true. I mean, this happens in the jungle as well, I don’t think there’s any surprise—you know, you take out your competitors. I think that’s part of what goes on.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah, potentially. Yeah. I don’t have any evidence for that to support that.

Mark Pollard: It’s just a theory.

What else is going on to help people understand the ageism issue, or anything that we haven’t talked about that you think might be causing it that is unspoken that we need to discuss more?

Stephanie Matthews: Well, I mean, it really is just an unspoken taboo. So, we recently launched Creative Comeback with an event with SheSays and BBH. And we had a panel of women and men from across agencies, and they were all talking about their experiences and the common thread was that they were never discussed—it was a bit of a taboo. And really just having everyone in that room, it felt quite uplifting. It felt like a real safe space where people could go, “Yeah, yeah. That’s happened to me too.”

And it’s so commonplace that people leave—for whatever reason, whether it’s children or whether they have to go and care for someone, but that’s just life. That’s just part of being a human, and we really need to better understand that so we can bring these people back in and deliver better results for clients.

Mark Pollard: Yeah. I want to read out a tweet—there’s a hilarious parody account called “Female Copywriter”—the Twitter handle is “female” without the e, @femalcopywriter—she’s hilarious. She wrote,

“White ad dudes about sexism:

White ad dudes about racism:

White ad dudes about ableism:

White ad dudes about homophobia:

White ad dudes when they turn 40: Everyone in the industry MUST address ageism NOW because it affects ME.”

Stephanie Matthews: [Laughs] Yeah. So, I have heard that from a couple of older male creatives here. Yeah. I think when it starts to impact them they can see the value in the program. And that’s part of what Creative Equals is about: helping educate people to understand people’s different lived experiences. So it’s not just about what’s relevant and applicable to you but having empathy and understanding about who your workforce is.

Mark Pollard: Yeah. For some people, I think it’s a complicated topic. I would understand why someone’s like, “You know what, we have to swing the pendulum in a way that it has not been historically, and we’re just absolutist about it.” I would totally understand that. At the same time, I know people who are trying to get jobs in their 50s and they get told honestly by a recruiter that they’re looking for a diversity candidate, and, “Who’s going to hire a white guy in their 50s?”. That’s a horrible thing to feel and experience and to hear about. And so all these things are kinda true, but the industry still needs to do a better job. It’s complicated.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah, it is complicated, and I think it will be messy for a while whilst it all kind of comes to a head and starts to rebalance, definitely. But we need representation. I think that’s key.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, that’s indisputable.

With the cohort that you had in London, can you tell us any stories about that? Any interesting emotional experiences, epiphanies? Do people go on to do things that they didn’t expect they’d be able to go on to do?

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. I mean, the main KPI for us off the back of the launch program in London was that four out of five of the people on the program went back into work. So whether that was permanent work, part-time or placements. So we were extremely happy with that because that was one of our main goals for the program.

But yeah, the stories from the returners were all so varied. There was one that left the sector because a parent was ill, and then the other parent got ill, and then that kind of spiraled into depression, and this program was really a life-changer for her because now she’s back working at an agency, she feels fulfilled and she’s kind of doing what she loves.

It’s unbelievable the difference this program makes to people. You’re really making a difference.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, I like stories like that as an antidote to the frustration that people who are fortunate enough to be in the industry can feel. They hit certain ages when they’re young, and they’re like, “I don’t know if I should be in this industry anymore. Maybe I should move into marketing. Maybe I should set up my own thing.” And then you see that some people are desperate to get in—at all ages—or are desperate to get back into it. And how it can be deeply and emotionally meaningful for people to do that.

And it’s a nice antidote for the flippant frustration that a lot of us can feel at times–when we’re burnt out, we don’t realize how good we’ve got it. And again, that’s not to say that you’ve got it good, and you’ve got to put up with toxic behavior, but those stories, when you look into people’s eyes, and it’s deeply meaningful, it’s incredible.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. Like, think about yourself and what drives you. It’s that sense of purpose and fulfillment that often work can provide, and this is really a bridge back for those returners.

Mark Pollard: How did you come into doing this role?

Stephanie Matthews: Oh, good question. I was working in the inclusion space for the Virgin Group before, and then I’ve known Ali Hanan, the founder for a good number of years in London. And she’s looking to expand and scale up. And I thought that I would really like some agency experience. So I joined end of last year

Mark Pollard: And a partnerships director, I know that’s pretty self explanatory, but tell us what the day job actually is.

Stephanie Matthews: Oh, yeah, it’s very varied. It’s rolling out the New York program, partnering with brands that are looking to become more inclusive. So I mentioned the equality standard that we have. So we’re looking to get that embedded into people’s businesses, because we believe once you’ve got that data that’s when you know exactly what your workforce is like. You can start making better decisions rather than kind of making assumptions about where you think you need to have particular programs to support which audiences. Without data, it’s kind of finger-in-the-air.

Mark Pollard: Hmm. So I don’t know what my question is going to be, but I just want to relate some of my own data, which is, when I talk to people, do interviews, or even publish articles or things on social media that deal with issues of identity, plus mental health, the interactions—the amount of interest in them is lower than just telling someone how to write a good creative brief.

And I find that interesting. I don’t know whether I judge it or not. Sometimes it’s surprising because I might feel like we’ve just had a really important conversation, I’m desperate for as many people to hear it as possible, and also, for those who aren’t familiar, I don’t usually go into identity unless someone says that they want to talk about it, because if somebody who has an interesting, varied identity just wants to talk about writing a creative brief, I’ll talk about that.

But if we talk beforehand about talking about age or race or gender, or being a drag queen, for example, yeah, well, let’s get into it, but I don’t want to force my way into it.

First of all, it’s super important–just the message that whoever you are, you belong in this world, and it’s not right for people to judge you for how you experience yourself and who you think you are. And part of the life journey for humans is to work that out. And it sucks to be judged because of that. It’s crazy. So I think that’s a super important thing.

But I suspect that when we lead with identity in some of these communications that an audience will be like, “Well, I’m not that person. I’m looking for what I have in common with that person. And if you’re going to lead with identity in a podcast, for example, then you’re talking not about me, and you might actually be saying mean things about me, therefore I’m not going to engage.”

I don’t have a strong theory around it, it’s just a dynamic that I think is out there. And that feels like the opposite of inclusion.

So the question is, how do you get a message about inclusion out there when maybe using a word like that or using a word like “identity” will put people off it?

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. “Identity” can be a triggering word, and I definitely think there’s an affinity bias where you’re kind of drawn to people that are more like you. But yeah, inclusion for me is, it’s not just like the right thing to do for business, but there are also—like, it does impact the bottom line. The McKinsey reports have shown that. So it’s not only kind of better for business, but yeah, it’s the right thing to do.

Mark Pollard: Yeah. What are the main statistics that you cite when you’re talking about “better for business?”

Stephanie Matthews: Oh, you’ve put me on the spot, now. There’s a couple of McKinsey reports that you can look from the U.K. and the U.S. which show the profitability—I’m not going to make them up here, but you can check them out online—if you had more gender-diverse workforces, more ethnically-diverse workforces.

Mark Pollard: Right, yeah. Sometimes I just like to throw in a slightly clear question after I bumble my way through a vague, esoteric question.

Stephanie Matthews: I’ll add the McKinsey report URL to the post follow-up. [It’s here]

Mark Pollard: There’s a book that talks about diversity called The Wisdom of Crowds. And I don’t know if the science within that book has stood the test of time, but it talks about how having people from varied backgrounds is really important. It helps groups survive because you’re getting different ideas, different ways of seeing the world, hopefully an increase in empathy and social cohesion.

So there are ideas that kind of popped up without using necessarily words like “diversity and inclusion” that just talk about having different people in a room.

Stephanie Matthews: Yeah. That’s why you need representative workforces, otherwise you’re just going to have the same thinking all the time. When you’re thinking about where you get your media from, if you always get it from the same places, you’re always going to have the same point of view.

Mark Pollard: How do you feel about—I don’t want to get too dramatic about this, but I often hear stories about London and how you have a really severe class system over there. Is “severe” too strong a word?

Stephanie Matthews: No, we have an ingrained class system. Yeah, I noticed that more—I had a stint in Australia, in Melbourne, for five or six years, and I hadn’t noticed how prevalent it was until I took myself out of the U.K. I went to Australia where that didn’t exist.

Mark Pollard: Yeah, I think there are other kinds of class system in Australia, but a big part of the mentality—at least what I grew up around, I don’t want to talk on behalf of all Australians, not now, I’ll do that in my leisure time—

Stephanie Matthews: [Laughs]

Mark Pollard: But part of the psyche we grew up around—maybe it’s a white male Australian thing—is like, “What, you think you better than me? Oh yeah. Really?” And that I think is a bit of a reaction to the English class system. And historically speaking, the English didn’t treat the Australians that well, they would send them into war ahead of them, for example.

So you know, when you’re working at Virgin or even in the work that you’re doing now, to use a word like “inclusion,” I mean, you’re talking about serious change because there are a lot of people with a lot of money who do not want to change.

So how do you navigate that? Is it a big dramatic conversation? Do you have to be polite in certain rooms when you’re discussing these topics? Do these topics not even enter some of those rooms?

Stephanie Matthews: What normally works for them is the data. So, if they’re able to understand what—for instance, if I think about the equality standard and where we’re going into ad agencies, which are predominantly more upper class, they have people that have come from privately-educated backgrounds—once they can see that in the data, and they can see this is the makeup of your business, this is all of the people that you’re missing out on by not having a representative spread of society and that will impact your outputs. That’s when you can start to change the way that they think about diversity and inclusion. For me it’s always about the data, that’s the only way to drive a change.

Mark Pollard: There was a bit of public activism—I’m going to talk in a very vague way to not name people and things, because I respect this organization—there was a piece of activism last year in the U.K. where someone looked at most of the journalists in this very famous publication. And not only did they go—most of them, a crazy big majority, from what I understand—not only did most of them go to the same college, they came from the same building in that college over years and years and years. That’s what I’m trying to get into when I’m asking these very polite questions about the class system there, because that’s a structure that is— it is rigged and there’s a strong bias, so—

Stephanie Matthews: It’s subconscious bias and it’s conscious bias, yes.

What are they doing about it? We are actually working with, um, a number of the more, um, traditional, um, newspaper outlets—

Mark Pollard: [Laughs] We’re both watching our words, now, aren’t we?

Stephanie Matthews: —and they’re on board to change. It’s just going to be a much slower process. So there are people inside the business that understand, and they’re aware, they’ve got the data. So we’re rolling out unconscious bias training with them because that really helps them understand, that yeah, it’s not their fault, but they hold the power in terms of where they recruit next.

We make them look at their networks, we do network-mapping exercises where we kind of look at the people that you associate with, look where they’ve gone to school, look whether they go skiing or not. And once you kind of look at that and you’re like, “Ah, okay, that’s that affinity bias I was talking about, then that’s just a very standard, plain way of thinking. So it’s a slow process, but I feel like we’ll get.

Mark Pollard: If an agency is interested in getting involved, how do they reach out to you?

Stephanie Matthews: They can head to our website which is and check out the Creative Comeback page, and they can contact me there.

Mark Pollard: Okay. And then how many Creative Comeback events do you have planned for this year?

Stephanie Matthews: So this year we have London and New York launching in March, and we have Mumbai launching in September—October time.

But, at the moment, the program just looks at the creative sector. We’re hoping to expand into the more kind of media, planning, strategy sides to expand the program next year.

Mark Pollard: Okay. And then if somebody is thinking about signing up, they’re a little bit nervous, any advice? How would you soothe them or encourage them into applying?

Stephanie Matthews: Oh, don’t be scared. That’s when the best benefits and change happen. You’ve got to go for it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only kind of get trained and upskilled with a D&AD and a digital provider, but to have an opportunity to go and experience what it was like back in ad agencies—kind of get back on the bike again and with a potential opportunity to get reemployed at the end.

Mark Pollard: I love it. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Isn’t that right, Stephanie?

Stephanie Matthews: Absolutely.

Mark Pollard: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you joining me on Sweathead today. I’m looking forward to seeing what these cohorts get up to. I don’t know if I’m allowed to stick my head in at all, but I’m really curious to see what work they do.

Stephanie Matthews: I would absolutely love you to be part of the program—in that training bit.

Mark Pollard: I’m down. I’ve got bits. I’ve got training bits.

Stephanie Matthews: Yes! Excellent.

Mark Pollard: And if you’re thinking of signing up or you have signed up, I’m sure that through various communities, not even only just Sweathead, but around the world, there are all these beautiful little strategy and creative communities that have been around for a while and some of that are popping up—there are homes for you.

It can feel quite isolating when you’re trying to work out how to get back into this kind of industry. And that can create a lot of stress within your relationships, marriage or non-marriage relationships within families, but there are people here who are going to help and support you and catch you. And I feel like there’s this, I don’t know, re-emergence or emergence of deeper empathy within the industry at all ages, I’d like to see it’d be bigger and more, but again, if you’re thinking about doing it, do it, nothing to lose, could be life-changing.

Stephanie Matthews: Would be life-changing, will be, based on the London cohort.

Mark Pollard: Yeah. I like that. Awesome.

Stephanie, thank you so much for joining me on Sweathead today..

Stephanie Matthews: Oh, thank you very much.

Mark Pollard: Peace!