Throughout our agency's history, we've heard plenty of remarks — some well-intended and others more eye-rolly —about our team and its noticeably female-identifying composition. And we know that we're not the only women-led team that's subject to this.
Indeed, as a women-led agency we’ve either been scrutinized with skepticism or celebrated as a symbol of empowerment in our industry — which truthfully, we’re not. After all, women make up over 67% of the advertising and marketing industry’s workforce according to a 2021 report by Statista, which is truly a display of progress compared to the early mad-men days. That said, there’s a lot left to be desired when it comes to the number of women holding leadership positions. In fact, a 2022 report by San Francisco-based recruitment firm, Zippia, revealed that while women comprise half of the workforce across all industries, they hold just 35% of all senior leadership positions.
In light of these statistics and just in time for International Women’s Day, we wanted to explore the experiences of our own team members at our women-led agency and throughout their individual careers.
Hello there! My name is Bronwyn and I began as a freelance designer right after graduating from university, and fortunately, it was a success! Within four years, we transitioned from a design studio to a full-service marketing agency, and I’ve never looked back (for the most part)!
I am grateful to have two daughters, and I often speak to them about the importance of finding a career that brings them happiness and aligns with their passions. I not only love my job, but I also adore the people I work with, most of whom are women. Throughout the years, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with some of the most innovative, intelligent, kind, and creative women.
We hire based on merit, personality, and talent, without intentionally favouring women over men as we expand. It just so happens that most of the exceptional candidates we’ve encountered have been women. Notably, women tend to ask for lower salaries, so we’re meticulous about benchmarking pay to maintain industry standards and ensure fairness.
The good news is that, over the years, the men we’ve worked with have been feminists at heart and have never once questioned our leadership. In fact, they celebrate it and don’t seem to care which gender is in charge.
As a female leader, I’ve encountered many challenges, from being expected to “dazzle” to receiving inappropriate text messages, emails that exploit my emotions, and comments that would not be acceptable if I were a man. However, these experiences have only strengthened my resolve to embrace my femininity and lead with confidence.
Above all, I wake up every day feeling grateful to work with people I love. My daughters once told me they hear me laugh every day at work, and I have the women in my team to thank for that.
My name is Andrea Dyer, and I am the Director of Content at Cinnamon Toast. I went to school for Journalism and have spent the better part of the last 16 years writing — whether in professional, freelance, or creative settings.
What obstacles do women face when achieving leadership roles in our industry?
I think there are just a lot of antiquated belief systems we’re still trying to overcome. I think there’s still a belief system that supports the idea that being assertive or tenacious is “masculine” and “for the men to do”, so when women attempting leadership display these necessary qualities, people tend to be surprised or straight up write her off as being difficult, unpleasant, and disagreeable.
In your experience, have you noticed any particular leadership traits that are more common among woman leaders?
I hate to put women in boxes, so I don’t want to say that there are traits that are MORE common in leaders who are women, however, a lot of the women I know and deeply respect have the common thread of being both bold AND emotionally attuned to the people and environments around them. They are remarkably capable of getting shit done and being considerate and kind along the way.
Hello! I am Stacey, CT’s Digital Marketing Specialist. I’m a graduate of McMaster University, have been working within the digital marketing industry for 11 years and have been with CT for just under six years now!
In your experience, how has working for a woman-led company differed from working for a male-led company in this industry?
CT is my first experience working for a women-led company and it has been quite wonderful. There is a deep level of respect, understanding, and collaboration that takes place daily at CT. Our leadership team is open to new ideas and I always feel like my opinions are valued and being heard, in comparison to some of my previous experiences.
Have you ever faced any gender-related challenges in your digital marketing career?
I have been fortunate that most of my experiences have been positive, however, there have been a few moments where some man-splaining happened or my opinion as a specialist wasn’t valued based on my age and gender. I’ve worked with clients whose team was 95% male, and while some moments were challenging to be heard or respected, my role is really fueled by data and when the data is good, no one can deny that!
What pieces of advice could you offer to women who may be reluctant to enter into this male-dominated industry?
My time at McMaster University really helped me get started with this. I was one of 12 females in a 50-person program in my graduating class. My advice would be not to give up. You will face rejection, doubt, and hostilities from some but not all. Women supporting women is contagious and although you may face some uncomfortable situations or conversations, you know your stuff, and that is what’s important!
Hey hey, I’m Rachel. I’m an account manager at CT (and office snack coordinator). I studied Visual Merchandising arts at Sheridan College and have worked in project management, retail and design, and people management roles. I come from a big family so I’ve gotten used to making my voice heard.
In your interfacing role at CT, and even in your previous roles, can you describe any gender-related challenges you have faced?
In my work experiences, it’s common for clients and/or coworkers to comment on my age or gender as a point of interest instead of a neutral part of my identity. When commenting, it’s often been posed as a deficit — that I inherently have less expertise, less experience, and that I will not be given the benefit of the doubt.
In previous workplaces, I have also experienced sexual and gender harassment from coworkers and clients. Sometimes this has been handled well by HR and leadership, sometimes it has not.
How do you feel working for a woman-led agency has impacted your perceptions of the advertising industry?
Working for a woman-led agency has highlighted the necessity of innovation within the advertising industry. As a woman-led agency, we are often discredited or held to a higher level of scrutiny. Although this can be a challenge, it also pushes us to be better! There is never a day or project that we go through that we don’t constantly ask how we can make our work better. We are constantly poking holes in our work and our processes. This is a lesson that the advertising industry could learn from woman-led agencies.
My name is Nila and I am a first-generation Kurdish-Iranian Canadian. I am one of CT’s Front End Developers focusing on WordPress website development. Growing up I was always focused on Fine Arts and imagined I’d be a painter-activist, working towards sharing my passionate views through art in whatever way I could. When it came down to choosing a path to follow, I was introduced to the Graphic Design program at my local College which is where I learned the basics of HTML and CSS.
What steps do you feel educators, employers, and industry leaders could take to foster gender inclusivity in the web development industry?
Web development is a predominantly male-dominated industry, and this imbalance is very clear when you come face-to-face with it. The scarcity of people identifying as women, non-binary, or gender non-conforming is very apparent when you visit a Developers’ conference or skim YouTube for training videos.
The “status quo” of the community is very male-oriented, not only in demographics but in vocabulary, branding, and more (cited from here.) Very few people are tracking this imbalance transparently and reliably, which makes it difficult to improve. (cited from here)
There are people who are actively working to improve this issue and we need to support these companies if we want to balance the scales. For example, educational websites like freeCodeCamp and Scrimba work to create an inclusive platform which has resulted in increased web traffic from women. I want to also give a huge shout-out to Girls Who Code, an incredible company that works to close the gender gap by providing learning and support for girls, young women, and non-binary students.
If we continue to discuss why this happens and work towards more inclusive digital and in-person spaces, we can build a stronger community.
Have you felt supported by the team since you’ve been at CT?
Since my first day working at CT, I have noticed a constant strive for inclusivity within our workplace culture. This is one of the reasons I will keep advocating for the growth of this industry because inclusive agencies do exist and make you feel like you belong in this world when others will make you feel like you don’t “fit in”. CT has allowed me to grow professionally and made me recognize that I can be a leader in my industry, and my gender identity is not a block, but a reason to work harder for the balance.
Hi! I’m Jarie! I’m a recent 3-year Graphic design graduate from Algonquin College in Ottawa. I’m currently working as a Graphic Designer at CT and I specialize in Branding and Motion Graphics!
In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of having more women in leadership positions?
It’s very important to see women in power/leadership roles. I seldom see it which creates a feeling of insecurity about taking up space in the business world. Under-representation in gender and diversity contributes to ongoing marginalization and injustice in society, so it’s integral to witness women lead successfully. I believe it can bring in benefits including confidence in oneself and learning to create bigger goals without fear.
Since you joined, how do you feel CT encourages and supports your professional development?
CT has mental health check-ins which are super unique! I think that has been a great support throughout my time working at CT as a graphic designer. In regards to being a woman working at a women-led agency that in itself is encouraging for my professional development to see women work together and strategize new projects and campaigns. I’ve sometimes found it challenging to take up space in professional settings as a woman and it’s something I’m learning as I grow as a graphic designer, so to be in the same room and witness groups of women brainstorm, collaborate, and come up with solutions is extremely reassuring and encouraging for my professional growth.
Hello! My name is Vanessa Rosati, and I am a Senior Graphic Designer at Cinnamon Toast. I went to school for Graphic Design in Toronto, then went on to start the first three years of my career there. About 4 years ago, I moved to Ottawa where I continued working as a designer.
In your experience, has working for a woman-led agency differed from working for a male-led company?
To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it until recently. I’ve had good and bad experiences working for both men and women so I think it’s more about the type of person rather than their gender. I will say I feel very supported and able to always voice my thoughts and concerns at CT.
What advice would you have for women who want to start designing?
My advice would be to always trust your gut and speak your mind. If an opportunity that comes along doesn’t feel right, wait for something better. The people you work for play a major role in your well-being and you want your time and efforts to be valued.
Hey! I’m Dan, the Proposal Writer here at CT. I’ve worked in marketing and communications for the last eight years, in-house at a university and an agency.
How have you found working at a woman-owned agency?
It’s been four months since I started here and I would say it has been overwhelmingly positive. Key aspects of my experience that I’ve noticed would include beautiful office spaces, extremely organized project management and a progressive workplace culture, especially around work-life balance and spending time at home/with family. I wouldn’t say those are a direct result of CT being woman-owned, but they may have been influenced by it. One other thing I’ve noticed is a willingness to more openly talk about emotions at work. The fact that we have “kudos” so baked into our culture is amazing. You really feel the love. Maybe that’s a broad generalization or even a stereotype of women — but it’s a net positive here at CT.
What are some of the benefits of having more women in leadership positions?
In my opinion (which is coming from a cisgender, heterosexual white dude), diversity is always a good thing, whether the person in leadership is a woman, queer or non-binary person, Black or Indigenous person, and so on. We need diverse experiences and stories in leadership — especially from minorities — to live out the best version of society, and a women-owned organization is a small step toward that.
Hi! I’m Catherine, one of the Graphic Designers at CT. I’m an avid reader of fantasy books, have one of the biggest sweet tooths, and I love to pick up lots of different hobbies (right now, it’s pole dancing and calligraphy, though I do have some crochet on standby.) I’ve only been working here for a month but so far, I love it!
How do you feel agencies and business owners must change to better support and encourage professional development for women designers?
I have only worked with agencies that have female designers so I’m biased and have luckily always felt supported. However, in my experience, not all agencies promote and encourage leadership, sometimes, it can feel like anything beyond designer is a coveted tenure role which people gatekeep up so you can feel stuck in a role. I think encouraging women into positions of leadership is key which is a reason that attracted me to CT. There are opportunities for me to grow and potentially develop in those positions which I might not have had elsewhere.
We acknowledge that supporting a cause is a multifaceted approach encompassing a range of contributions from monetary donations to volunteering and sharing stories to truly make a meaningful impact.
We are committed to the goal of creating a more equitable workplace and world for women, and we pledge to do our part in pursuing this vital objective.
We are committed to the goal of creating a more equitable workplace and world for women, and we pledge to do our part in pursuing this vital objective.