The 3% Conference rises in Chicago


Expert speakers,
engaging activities, and
sensational presentations
helped to guide 1,300
industry attendees
onto the same important
long-term group project


Besides being informative, last month’s 3% Conference at Navy Pier was enlightening, collaborative, optimistic, intense, cosmopolitan, introspective, touching, intimate, raunchy, and hilarious.

And that was just during the final few hours of the two-day affair.

The 3% Conference is an annual seminar for advertising, marketing, PR, tech, and nonprofits that focuses on “the importance of diversity to creativity.” On November 8th and 9th, it transformed the immense redbrick edifice at the far end of Navy Pier into what seemed like the most important place on earth.

Rene Huey Lipton
Rene Huey Lipton

There was an installation at the entrance, a lecture in the Grand Ballroom, social gatherings in the adjacent hall, classes in the adjoining rooms, a live podcast on the second floor, ping pong tables across the way, free head shots in the corner, late-afternoon happy hours, and people everywhere.

They participated in workshops like Second City’s “Lunch & Learn” Improv Class.

They watched performances like Clark St. Bridge’s multimedia sensation featuring the poetry of Ada Limón.

They listened to speakers like Rene Huey Lipton, the Sparks & Honey Vice President of Cultural Strategy, who gave a lecture full of laughs that touched briefly on the trauma of unexpected workplace menstruation.



Back Story
The 3% Conference is a function of the 3% Movement, an organization named after the percentage of female creative directors in the advertising industry at the time of the organization’s founding.

The 3% Movement’s objective is firm, its dedication is unwavering, and its energy is strong, no doubt. But the spirt is friendly, open, and, at times, rather casual. “Changing the world ain’t for sissies,” explains its website. “Until women make up 50% of creative directors, we’ve got a crew who’ll keep working their butts off, all led by founder Kat Gordon.”

It seems that people are not only permitted but also encouraged to be whoever they are.

Kat Gordon is the one who got the whole thing started. An entrepreneur, advertising veteran, and noted speaker, she and the organization have helped the percentage of female creative directors rise from 3% to 11% since launching the 3% Movement in 2010.

The conference has expanded right along with it. The 7th annual event drew 1,300 attendees during its inaugural visit to Chicago, which became the largest crowd in 3% history.

Upon arrival, most of the attendees were greeted by Havas strategist Pilar McQuirter and art director Brittany Bowman Harris, who tended the agency’s #BlackAtWork exhibit at the entrance of the Grand Ballroom.

#BlackAtWork is a white-walled labyrinth displaying statistics and reminders about the challenges facing women in the advertising industry.

Havas #BlackAtWork
Havas #BlackAtWork

The structure included panels that revealed statistics about income disparities in the advertising industry. One them indicated that Asian women earn the most, followed by white women at number two, Black women third, and Hispanic women earning the least.

An ominous series of female voices reverberating through a hidden speaker complemented the display. They recited the kind of stultifying self-doubts that people experience at work: Do I deserve less? Is this really what I deserve? Am I asking for too much. I can’t believe Brad’s salary doubles mine. I know I deserve more, but I’m afraid to ask.

“#BlackAtWork was founded in 2017, when (Havas) asked a couple of Black folks at the agency, ‘what do we want to do for Black History Month?’” explains McQuirter. “In 2018, we kind of kept that same principal, but because of the women’s movement, we focused on the intersection of being black and a woman.”

According to McQuirter, “micro-aggressive experiences” are among the greatest challenges facing African Americans in the professional world. Describing the incidents as “racially awkward moments,” she urges coworkers to “check in” with the people who endure such incidents and “get involved” by listening to their experience.


In support of the inspiration, Havas created an employee lead diversity and inclusion group called Havas Faces in November. The agency also transformed its most recent lobby installation into a tool for helping to fund breast cancer research and care.

These are just a few examples of how the positive effects of the 3% mission extend far beyond women in the advertising industry.



“It’s not a women’s conference,” says Andrea Nordgren. “It’s a business conference.”

Nordgren is the 3% Movement’s Content Director and Executive Producer. A seasoned industry producer and creative director, she was drawn to the organization by the same reason that Gordon founded it.

Erik and Andrea Nordgren
Erik and Andrea Nordgren

“I had never realized that only 3% of Creative Directors were women,” she says. “When I heard the stat, I thought, ‘what is that all about?’”

Inspired by the fact that “women make or influence more than 85% of the purchasing decisions,” Nordgren joined the “very small and mighty” team responsible for creating the movement’s year-round schedule of “consulting and certification and other events.”

“It’s a very rich and robust movement, and the conference is the biggest manifestation of that,” she continues. “We work on the programming and the speakers and the direction of the company, so it’s near and dear to our hearts.”

For this year’s conference, the team created the theme “Bring It.”

According to Nordgren, the theme translates into “bringing your truth, bringing your power, bringing the men in your agency, bringing anything.” In taking her own advice, she invited her son Erik to attend.

A music composer who graduated from Berklee before setting up shop in New York City, Erik became familiar with the Movement by working on videos for its social media channels. But he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his first experience with the annual Conference.

“I was completely blown away,” he says. “The 3% team and the speakers of 3% are so invested in getting men involved in the movement, especially with the Manbassador tracks and workshops that they’ve been doing throughout the conference.”

His mother, Andrea, jokes that the word “Manbassador” sounds “a little kitschy,” but is very serious about its importance.

“It’s a workshop and an ongoing conversation about male leaders and their ability to use their influence and power to help people who don’t have as much influence and power,” she says. “Men are here to help solve issues within the industry as well, and we need them.”



When Andrea Nordgren wasn’t helping her son expand his masculine sensibilities, she spent much of her time filming interviews of the event’s presenters.

Among the forty-or-so who shared their wisdom were Airbnb Creative Director Naz Arandi, ARC Worldwide US President Karuna Rawal, FCB West Chief Executive Officer Joe Oh, Mother USA Chief Creative Officer Corinna Falusi, Ross Intelligence CEO Andrew Arruda, Grey Group Chief Creative Intelligence Officer Suresh Nair, and author Soraya Chemaly, who wrote Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger.

Nordgren says that the Conference’s “speaker solicitation process” helped to create such an “amazing” group.

“We look at who is really truly, authentically a part of the movement and is interesting and challenging,” she says. “We’ve always gotten really good feedback on the power of the speakers.”

The experts who participated in the conference offered more than just words. Besides dozens of classes, sessions, and tracks, they gave a number of performances.

On Friday morning, FCB’s Clark Street Bridge combined the poetry of Ada Limón with a spoken work presentation by John Claxton.

Claxton is a Writer-In-Residence who helped create the Clark Street Bridge multimedia series, which started out as an FCB in-house workshop and then evolved into a phenomenon with a mission to “enrich the creative abilities of business leaders and connect with a younger audience.”

Artwork in the Grand Ballroom
Artwork in the Grand Ballroom

According to FCB Communication Associate Shelly Yusko, visuals by Framestore enhanced Claxton’s description of “how his mother used to write him letters when he was growing up.”

Before the 3% Conference began, Yusko helped White Book Agency’s Nancy Vaughn spread the word about the attendees and the agenda. Once it got underway, she was able to enjoy some of the action.

“Everyone I would say was passionate about everything,” she recalls. “It seemed like everyone connected in a way that somehow resonated with them and can get behind it.”

Among the speakers who impacted her most (besides, of course, Claxton and FCB West CEO Joe Oh, who participated in a panel called, “The Mike Pence Effect”) was Cindy Gallop.

The cross-continental advertising leader, former chairmen of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and founder of the “social sex revolution” MakeLoveNotPorn gave the conference’s closing keynote speech.

Titled, Looking For Creativity In All The Wrong Places: How The Ad Industry Is Failing Its Clients And What You Can Do To Change That, Gallop’s insight continued to reverberate with Yusko after the address was over.

“She is really laying out the way the advertising industry is, and how much it has to change, and the ways you can go about doing it,” Yusko explains. “I’m still like trying to process every little part she said.”



Mixed Company
Gallop also spent time with the hosts of Mixed Company, a “raw podcast about diversity, inclusion and social equity in creative Industries” that streamed live during the event.

Mixed Company hosts Karinna Schultz and Simeon Coker
Mixed Company hosts Karinna Schultz and Simeon Coker

A glass-walled room on Navy Pier’s second floor served as the studio where Karinna Schultz, Kai Deveraux Lawson, and Simeon Coker conducted interviews that are still available on the company’s website. With a large microphone for the hosts and a table and chairs for guests, it added a streamlined touch of modernity to the 100-year-old Victorian structure.

“This is my first time at the conference, and it’s beyond my expectations,” says Schultz, a native of New York City. “Sometimes, when you go to a lot of conferences and talk about diversity and inclusion — especially in the creative industries — the conversation can sound repetitive; but here at 3%, it’s a completely different story.”

Schultz had recently finished interviewing Airbnb Creative Director Naz Arandi, and a few of the conversation’s more thought-provoking moments stuck with her.

“She was talking about making the workplace a home, like family, and how the workplace (at Airbnb) is centered around the kitchen,” Schultz recalls. “When you’re at home, you have dinner with your family in the kitchen.”

The example reinforces her opinion that 3% offers something “completely different” than other conferences by including “more nuances, more details, and an amplified conversation.”

“When I go to these places, you think that it’s going to have a whole list of takeaways, and it’s actually really simplistic,” she continues. “Get some sleep, pause, make time for you, make time for your family, and then everything fits together.”

The Future
These new ideas and budding friendships — combined with a handful of long-distance reunions — generated a collegiate level of enthusiasm throughout Navy Pier. Everyone seemed to be working on the same important long-term group project, and whoever didn’t get with it would fail.



Mina Enayati-Uzeta is ahead of the curve. The half-Iranian, half-Mexican high school student attended the Chicago event as a follow-up to her appearance at the 3% mini-con in Los Angeles over the summer. Like her older peers, Enayati-Uzeta exudes confidence and strength as well as friendliness when describing her reasons for participating.

“I’m here representing the younger generation, and we do have a different way of thinking and our mindset has shifted,” she explains. “We’re the most diverse generation that America has ever seen.”

Enayati-Uzeta joined a panel for a session called “Representation Matters,” moderated by “Creative Instigator” Evita Puente.

Mina Enayati-Uzeta (far left) with attendees at the close of the conference
Mina Enayati-Uzeta (far left) with attendees at the close of the conference

Together with four “rabble-rousers” (including Fractured Atlas Marketing Director and #Oscarssowhite creator April Reign), they discussed the importance of securing “a seat at the table.”

“Representation is — I mean, specifically we’re talking about in the media — so characters in books and movies and TV shows that aptly represent the citizens of the United States or wherever it’s taking place,” she explains.

“Not just the same whitewashed-like characters that we see over and over again. Characters that have depth (and) present good role models for young kids of color and young women.”

During the session, Enayati-Uzeta spoke on behalf of Gen-Z as the panel discussed “how brands can appeal to these underrepresented groups.” In everyday life, she’s “really liking what Nike has been doing recently with Colin Kaepernick,” and most of her classmates back in LA are onboard with the effort.

When she channels her thoughts into a consumer perspective, Enayati-Uzeta not only helps confirm the success of the 3% mission, but she also makes a declaration that advertisers would be wise to champion.

“If you’re trying to sell something, part of the people you’re trying to sell it to are us,” she says. “There are certain things that you need to do in order to appeal to us, things that have not been considered in the past.”

To view Reel Chicago’s Facebook photo album of the 3% Conference’s final few hours, click here.