What does it mean to be an advocate? How can leaders set an example when it comes to mental health and self-care? How do we fairly distribute the gains and burdens of a rapidly evolving work culture? How much should we even be working?
These are some of the massive questions Kat Gordon is taking on as the visionary behind The 3% Movement, an organization she founded after recognizing that only—yep—3% of creative directors were women, and very few were people of color.
With their help, the number of female creative directors has gone from 3% to 11% in just a few short years—and that's not the only issue Kat is driven to address. She's also situated herself at the center of some fundamental questions about the future of work, and how we can make workplaces (and communities!) places where everyone is heard, included, supported, and fairly treated.
Kat has done and is doing some amazing things—and SPI's Director of Operations, Sara Jane Hess, joins Jillian today to soak up Kat's wisdom and share some of her own insights on building a better, more inclusive machine wherever you work.
Kat Gordon has been called the “triple threat” of an entrepreneur, ad woman + marketing to women expert and was named one of “30 Most Creative Women in Advertising” by BusinessInsider in 2016, “Visionary of the Year” from Advertising Age in 2018, and one of “Forty Over 40” women disrupting the world in 2014. She is the visionary behind The 3% Movement. Started as a passion project to spotlight a huge business opportunity in advertising—the lack of female creative leadership and its impact on connecting with an overwhelmingly female marketplace—The 3% Movement has grown exponentially since its 2012 launch: hosting events in 17 cities globally, and offering consulting and certification programs that amplify creative cultures. Today, female creative directors have gone from 3% to 29%.
Kat serves on the Board of The Representation Project and as an advisor to 600 & Rising, WPP and EmpowerHer. She is passionate about elevating the contributions of women and people of color, especially as they relate to innovation. She currently serves as “Creative Entrepreneur in Residence” at Eleven, working to rethink the creative process, workflow and client engagement to build internal cultures and external messaging that embrace everyone.
In This Episode
- Why getting people to feel something is a more effective way to change their minds than “PowerPointing”
- The 16:1 gender imbalance at Kat's old agency that laid the foundation for her mission
- How Kat is a “rat in her own experiment” as Creative Entrepreneur in Residence at Eleven
- The great challenge and opportunity of rethinking the workplace (and why every company needs to be doing it)
- Why leaders need to go to therapy (and put their appointments on their public-facing calendars)
- “If you haven't felt like s***, you're not trying hard enough.”
- Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen [Amazon affiliate link]
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 037: Communication through Demonstration with Kat Gordon of The 3% Movement
Kat Gordon: I feel like the issues that are being solved for right now in the world around work are existential.
They're like, why do we work? How much should we work? Where should we work? How do we value work? Who gets to work where, I mean, these issues are so much bigger than even the issues that prompted me to launch 3%. These are huge future of work issues.
Jillian Benbow: Hey, Jillian here, just wanted to let you know there’s been a slight change in the CX Pod, and that is that Tony has moved on to a new adventure. So, while we wish him the best it also means that I’m gonna have a rotating cohost for a little while, which means you’re gonna get to hear some voices from our team that you might not normally hear, so sit back, enjoy, and we’ll keep you posted on if we keep that going or someone decides to become the permanent co-host, but either way, hope you enjoy the show.
Welcome to this episode of The Community Experience. Today, we are talking to my new hero, Kat Gordon, who started the 3% Movement. And I have a special co-host today, our Director of Operations, Sara Jane Hess. Hello.
Sara Jane Hess: Thank you, Jillian. Hello. So excited to be here.
Jillian: Yeah. Well, and this is such a perfect episode to have you co-host. Of course, would love to have you back, but as the Director of Operations, you are often thinking about culture and how it plays out as us as a company. So how perfect that we're talking to someone who started a movement about workplace culture?
Sara Jane: Absolutely. And I love this interview so much. I felt like I scribbled down notes the entire time.
Jillian: Me too. And then I try to read them and I'm like, "I don't know what that says. Like, I'll have to listen to remind myself."
Sara Jane: Right. Go back and take notes again.
Jillian: Yeah. And so, Kat comes from the advertising industry in the '90s. It's like the second version of Mad Men. And you have personal experience with that too, which you talk about a little in the episode, but you also worked in advertising, so can relate.
Sara Jane: Yeah. Yeah. I started my career in advertising and I worked at several different agencies. So it was interesting to bring my own experiences into this and be able to relate to Kat's experiences too.
Jillian: Yeah. I think this is a great episode just for anyone thinking about just human interaction, honestly, because it goes outside of the workplace and also just being there's a lot of discussion today about like, what does it mean to be an advocate? And is it just a buzzword? And so, we talk a little bit about championing for women in the workplace for people of color in the workplace, for people whose gender identities aren't the same as what we assume they are, all of that kind of stuff, which is a good reminder to just let everyone know we do talk gender pronouns a bit. If you don't identify with one of the main two, you of course are included in what we're talking about. Sometimes I think it's just easier when we're talking and we get away from ourself. It is something we are trying to be more cognizant about, but all gender identities, welcome here. So with that, let's get to the episode. Here we go.
All right. I am so excited for this episode. We have a very special guest, Kat Gordon. She's been called the "triple threat" of an entrepreneur, working in advertising in the '90s, basically the second phase of Mad Men from what I can tell. She's awarded so many things, I'm not even going to list them, we'll put them in the show notes because that would be the whole episode. And really to make a poor summary of fantastic efforts, I would say Kat is an ad exec turned creative-driven champion of women. Welcome to the show.
Kat: Thank you. Great to be here.
Jillian: Yeah, we are so excited to have you. So, you have done just amazing things. And I would love to just get, just for our audience if they don't know who you are already, just a brief like who are you Kat? Tell us what you do. Tell us your story.
Kat: Yeah. So I am an advertising creative director who became a social change entrepreneur. And that's probably the best encapsulation I can have for my whole career. Essentially worked inside the machine and realized I was one of few women in creative leadership and started to question why such an enormous opportunity was being overlooked because it was not a pipeline issue, it was definitely a bias and kind of, we have this Mad Men idea of what a creative leader looks like, and we think it's Don Draper instead of Donna Draper. And I just realized that this was a business opportunity and also a creative opportunity.
So, started a social change movement around the lack of women and also a lot of underrepresented groups. Anyone that wasn't a young white dude, was underrepresented in creative leadership and advertising. And that was a problem because the buying audience today is not all young white dudes at all and is trending even farther away from that. So, that's really me in a nutshell, that's me professionally in a nutshell.
Jillian: I can't help but ask, what about personally in a nutshell?
Kat: I am a total book nerd, introvert. It's funny because this whole 3% Movement has put me on a stage and put me in front of a lot of people, but at my heart I'm actually quite a homebody and quite shy. I love to read. I live in Napa Valley, so I love natural beauty, I love being surrounded by hiking, I play a lot of tennis. And then I have two adult sons. One is a freshman at University of Michigan and one is a graduate of Emory and working in the arts in New York City. So, I'm an empty nest going through a divorce and spend a lot of time just recharging my creative batteries out in nature. I do have a really lovely circle of friends.
Jillian: That is what we all need, right? That circle of friends. And it sounds like you kind of have the opportunity right now, it's like a renaissance of doing whatever you want to do.
Kat: Yeah. It's pretty amazing. After having raised kids and built a business where a lot of your time is not your own and you're in service of other people and other things, which is definitely worth the effort, but it's very strange now to be doing everything based on my own hedonistic wants, what color do I want to paint the living room? What do I want to eat for dinner? Or do I even want to have dinner? You know? So, it's kind of amazing this stage of life.
Jillian: That's beautiful. And in Napa Valley no less, let's not forget the key point here. You mentioned the 3% Movement. Tell our audience more about what that is.
Kat: Sure. The 3% Movement, first of all, 3% refers to how many creative directors were women as recently as 2012, when the 3% Movement began, which is shocking. For anyone that's not good at math, that means 97% of the creative directors were men. And it grew into this community and a movement and constant initiative around the relationship between diversity and creativity. We hear a lot about diversity from a lot of other angles, but not a lot about how idea making flourishes when you have a lot of different types of people partaking, not too many of one kind of thinker or one kind of person.
So, we primarily have made our mark through events. We've done 28 events in 10 years. And we do something that my friend, Cindy Gallop, calls communication through demonstration. We show the world as it should look, we put really diverse, interesting thinkers on our stage, and our events just they're really creative and fulfilling. And people come to these events and they feel enlivened in a way that they don't in their current workspaces and they connect the dots for themselves. So we don't power point people into caring about diversity, we make them have their own lived realization that diverse communities and thinkers and idea sessions are just more vibrant and more interesting to them.
Sara Jane: I love that. I love the idea of the demonstration being the main focus of it rather than what you said, like power pointing people, because I think we've all had that experience of the power pointing, which is not very effective.
Kat: Yeah. I mean, I do think it's important to have a business case for whatever it is you're saying the world should look like. And it's certainly, although is there a business case for how things are now? No, but people change their perspective or open their eyes through a lived experience. It doesn't happen in the sectors of the brain that are analytical, it happens in a different place. And so, we really work with that and say, "We want people to feel something, we want them to reach their own conclusions," because that has greater stickiness than some kind of diversity workshop that's mandatory and which you kind of enter not understanding why you're there. So, it's also more fun. It's more fun to get people to reach an understanding of how the world should look through something super positive. So that's what we're about.
Jillian: I think a lot of us who have faced misogyny and have faced discrimination in some way as like white women and to everyone listening, if you didn't figure it out, we're all white women in this episode. But then I know I've been paying more attention to women of color and BIPOC women and their experiences and how different it is for mine and how I can gleam a little bit, but I'll never fully understand. So how can I support in a way that's helpful and not intrusive?
And I find a lot of well-meaning "allies" are actually kind of creating harm inadvertently and get very offended when their actions aren't appreciated. And so, thinking about people who get defensive and like there's that natural get defensive, and then that helps nobody. So, working on a way through like a positive reinforcement of how do we do this together. And it is, we are a community. Women as a whole are a community. How do we make sure we're all helping each other? And then same for men, how do men help with the same thing? And vice versa, how do we help BIPOC men? It's a whole lovely circle of community support.
Have you found growing that awareness within the 3% and the other work you're doing, have you found a way to kind of help people like let their guard down, maybe not be so defensive and reactive, and move to progress, if you will?
Kat: Yeah. I'm a real fan of what Adam Grant says on this. We had him at our event once. And he talks about how people are so, to use your word, defensive about something that maybe in their past comes to light that they wrote or authored or thought, or a mistake they made in their youth. And he posits that it's a far better way to approach that, to think, "Oh, great. This is evidence of my growth." Like, we're supposed to evolve as humans, we're not supposed to have the same set of beliefs the whole way through. And if we do, what a waste of a life? And so, I do think that just talking and desensitizing people and normalizing that, like, "Oh, you stepped in it, great. That means..."
I mean, I actually gave a keynote at our most recent event called 10 Things I Learned in 10 Years. And one of them was if you haven't felt like shit, you're not trying hard enough. And that was my way of trying to normalize, that all of us, all of us, are on a journey of trying to understand the lived realities of people around us. And it's the most beautiful journey if you can withstand sometimes inadvertently causing harm or just making a rookie mistake.
And so, I think the more we can honor that, and I talk openly about times I've done that, I mean, I was writing a newsletter yesterday. I published a newsletter and I was reading it one last time before I pushed Publish. And there was one phrase in it where I said something like, "The purpose of this, boys and girls," and I realized I know that I was trying to be cheeky with that phrase and I know people would probably understand what I was harkening back to, but that's probably exclusive in some way to gender identities and realities. And this is a very new and wonderful voyage for our understanding of gender.
And so, I just changed it at the last minute, but I could have easily pressed Publish and someone might've called me out. And the beautiful thing had they done so is to thank that person and say, "I missed it. Thank you for bringing it to my attention." And to do that publicly is great, because you're showing others how it can look. It doesn't negate who you are as a human, it doesn't mean you're worthless, it doesn't mean you've made some sin that's unforgivable, it's just being human. And quite frankly, if you're not making those mistakes, in my regard, you're not in the conversation deep enough.
Sara Jane: I'm really intrigued by your like the 10 things in 10 years. And I'm just wondering like, would you mind sharing some of those? Sharing those experiences with us?
Kat: Yeah. I mean, I already shared one, which was you can't power point people into caring. I can't remember all of them, but I do remember one of them that got a lot of attention was that introverts and empaths must lead, but they will run kicking and screaming. And I added that because I think we have prized a particular kind of leader that seems strong and emphatic and decisive.
And often the types of leaders that are leading in Corporate America, as I said, the great thing about them is they don't take anything personally so they can withstand corporate life, but the downside is they don't take anything personally. Like you need people that are deep feeling humans to lead, who can read emotion in other people, can regulate their own emotion. And we just have too many people that are built one way leading, and I shared at the top of this call that I'm more introverted and I do that on purpose because I think that I'm a kind of leader that you don't see a lot, someone who it's actually a little hard for me to lead. I'm not comfortable. I'm more comfortable in quiet settings, but I also bring another kind of knowing, it's another kind of intelligence. And so I think we need to wake up to that and encourage people that are a little more shy, a little more internal, that they actually have leadership qualities.
Sara Jane: Kat, so I actually have a degree in advertising and I started my career in advertising agencies. So, like reading about your work and about your experience, I'm like, "Yes, I know that. I've worked..." In my first agency, it felt like a boys' club in a lot of ways, there was a lot of nepotism happening at that agency, there was... I heard all kinds of conversations that should have shocked me more and didn't. Like the way that my fellow female co-workers were talked about, the way that clients were talked about. But that's a hard environment to speak up in. So, I'm wondering, was there a tipping point for you, like a moment where you said, "This is not how it should be, I can find another way"?
Kat: You know, I've written about what that moment was, and the answer is there was a moment. And the sad thing is that I didn't speak up about it for many, many, many years, but then when I did, it was the 3% Movement. So it was almost like this lava inside of a volcano that finally erupted, but the moment happened when I worked at Hal Riney in San Francisco, an agency. We were pitching a car account. And the pitch team was 16 men and one woman. And I was not the one woman, my friend Bonnie Wan, was the one woman at the time. But I was a copywriter at the agency at the time and they had taken headshots of all the pitch team for the leave behind deck and they had the headshot pinned up in the creative department and you had to pass through it every time you went to the bathroom or the elevator.
And they had a huge headline above all these headshots that said, "Would you buy a car from these guys?" And I remember just having literally this visceral reaction to, "Does no one else see the pattern I see? That there's 16 male faces in a row and then one woman at the end?" And that was my big moment. And it's funny, it wasn't so much toxic masculine culture, it was more complete myopia about like, who is the consumer buying audience? And this was a Swedish car company. So, I mean, a very evolved country, a very evolved brand. And it just to me was like, I can't believe we have this much brain power in this agency and no one can see how shortsighted this is, and did not win the account.
So that was my big... Like when I think about all the moments I experienced as a woman in advertising, that was the one that seemed the most emperor's new clothes to me where... But I didn't say anything, and I wish I had, but I said something I guess when I was ready and maybe when the world was ready. I mean, it's no coincidence that the year that 3% started, which was 2012, 6 months later, Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, came out. It was really when social media sharing was taking off. And that was the missing ingredient, it was we were able to build a community that could keep talking about this issue with no let-up, could talk directly to brands through social media, could talk directly to agencies. And that was what it took. And I think when I had that Hal Riney moment, I don't know that the world was kind of wired and greased for that kind of movement, but it was when I eventually started 3%.
Sara Jane: Yeah. It's interesting how our idea of normal has shifted over the years and allow us to say, "This is..." Like, everyone sees this, right? Like, what you're describing. And finally, someone like you saying, "This is not normal, it's not what it should be." So, I applaud you for doing that.
Kat: Thank you.
Sara Jane: The volcano finally erupted, right?
Kat: But I think you touched on something, the world is changing so quickly right now and we're seeing it 24/7. And I mean, certainly we've all watched like a TV show or a movie from our youth or even from our more recent adulthood and been like, "Whoa, I can't believe that joke flew" or, "That would never fly." I quite frankly watch some of the sessions from our early conferences and grimace and think, "Why did we ask her that question?" Or, "Why didn't we have any black women on that panel in the beginning years?" And so, it's a learning curve back to that thing of we all experience these moments of checking ourselves and it's just a sign of progress.
Jillian: Yeah, it's so interesting because I think about... I'm 40. I think about situations I was in in my younger years, even in my like I guess early 20s when I was getting started in like post college, working. And I think about situations that I experienced and it's very cringe in the sense of like what I put up with, what I laughed off just to be polite and not to make a scene.
And I think about if some of those things happen now, like would I react that way? And for me, more importantly, if someone did that to my daughter who is 12, almost 13, what would my reaction be? And it's funny because if someone did it to my daughter, like hold me back, right? Like, but to myself, I'm more like, "Oh, well, I can take it." You know?
Jillian: And there's this interesting... I mean, one, I think as we grow older, we start... I heard someone say this, it's so funny, we start losing our fucks, like-
Kat: We run out of.
Jillian: No fucks given.
Jillian: Yeah. You just start running out of fucks. Like, "Oh, some fucks fell out of the bucket there." 40 and then especially 50 is like the pivotal, like there are no fucks left to give. And I very much feel that, and I think it's great because it is that progress. But I'm curious because, I mean, like you said, things are progressing, which are good, but we still experience these things. I still experience misogyny all the time. And I've gotten better at identifying it and this has turned into a ramble, so I apologize, but that's also kind of how I roll. But I'm curious your thoughts on that. What would your advice be to humans out there to be able to just take a step back and recognize and question?
Kat: Yeah. I mean, I love that and I can't remember who coined this term, so forgive me for not attributing it, but "Flip it to test it," which is the notion of, if you feel like something's wrong, think, "Would I say this if it was a man? Would I say this if it was a white person? Would I say this if it was a straight person? Would I say this if it was a young person?" Whatever it is that doesn't pass your sniff test, flip it to test it, and say, "Wow, I think I am acting differently because of someone's gender or their age or whatever it is." But the thing I find even more interesting in your story is what are the really insidious quiet things that aren't even on our radar, like overt misogyny, that you'll look back and cringe on 10 years from now? Right? What are the ways?
And I suspect part of it will be are, I started talking about gender as an expression and I feel like that is the most beautiful and exciting thing to watch because I think gender has been such a binary and such a box that has created these very limiting beliefs for men and women and people who don't feel that they want to subscribe to all that gender comes with. And that to me I think is the thing. In 10 years, we'll look back and be like, "Wow, boys' and girls' clothes were in different sections of the store and make-up was only for women," and all these things that right now seem kind of like, "Whoa, what's happening?" And it's happening fast. But I think that's the thing that will be cringe. We'll go back and we'll watch media and say, "Wow, that was so weird how gendered that was, in a way that felt really patriarchal and small.”
Jillian: I can't wait.
Kat: Yeah, me too. I'll take the shame. I'm just excited for the progress.
Sara Jane: I was just going to shift over to your current efforts, if you want to talk about what it is that 3% is focusing on, what you yourself are focusing on, what's the work that's coming out of all of this?
Kat: Yeah. So, I mentioned that we are 10 years old as an organization, that we've had 28 events. So, a lot happened in that decade of awareness, mobilization around key things like pay equity and family leave. And it became very clear the deeper I got into this work, that there was this missing place where the creative process inside creative companies or ad agencies has particular workflows and hierarchies that were at odds with everything I was seeing from my diversity work. And so I felt like there needed to be someone who came in and inspected the entire ant hill operation, how it works, the pitching process for new business, all of it with an eye towards belonging and inclusion and corporate social responsibility, which is a huge exciting shift in the world.
So I was talking to Courtney Buechert, who's the CEO at Eleven, which is an ad agency based in San Francisco. And they were the founding partner agency of 3%, the only ad agency in year one to sponsor the conference. And so they've been on this journey with us for 10 years. And I was describing this to Courtney and he said, "Could you write a job description for what you're describing?" So, I sat down and I wrote this job description and I called it the Creative Entrepreneur in Residence. And I shared it with Courtney and we went through it together and we were both very jazzed about this need.
And then he said, "Would you want to do this job at Eleven?" And I said, "Yeah, I really do." Once I wrote the job description, I was like, "I want to be a rat in my own experiment and go back inside the machine and see things up close." So, starting this past November, I have spent three days a week working with the team at Eleven on these issues in a time of... There's a lot of transition in that agency, so it's a good time to be in there, but so much about the work is also colored by the remote work piece, which was certainly in my job description as one of the things to be awake to and aware of, but it is the central thing.
I feel like the issues that are being solved for right now in the world around work are existential. They're like, "Why do we work? How much should we work? Where should we work? How do we value work? Who gets to work where?" I mean, these issues are so much bigger than even the issues that prompted me to launch 3%. These are huge future of work issues. And I love being part of the conversation with my background in creative problem-solving and also diversity justice, and looking at making sure that the gains for however the new workforce is structured anywhere, do not advantage or disadvantage certain contributors unfairly. So that's the work I've been doing. I've been writing about my takeaways from this work on a newsletter that's public-facing, it's on sub staff under my name, Kat Gordon. And it's really been juicy, thinky work. Like, I can't believe the volume of issues, the magnitude of them that I'm thinking about all at once.
Sara Jane: Are there any that are sticking out for you at this moment?
Kat: You know, I just wrote a book review on that newsletter of this book called Out of Office, that I think if you're going to read only one of my newsletters, read that one, because it essentially looks at the promise and the perils of remote work. And I thought it was an excellent book and there was a lot in there that I agreed with. But the thing that I loved that that book asked was... And there was one line in it that I called out that was something like, "Why did we ever think it was an extravagance to create a work-life equation that centered joy?" And like, so much of the way we work is this very exerting and five days a week and this many hours and timesheets and just a lot, it's all premised on this kind of scarcity mindset about like, people are not going to work hard if you're not cracking the whip.
And instead of where do people get unlocked to like be their most creative selves and where do they refill their cup of joy so that they want to work in the first place, and I think the pandemic has really put all those issues at the forefront and made people question everything. It's not just about like, "How many hours are we going to let people work from home?" I mean, if that's the only inquiry your company is doing, you're completely missing the larger conversation.
And while it is really tiring to imagine rejiggering a whole organization and thinking about all of the operational issues that come with that, it's also an incredible opportunity because people have been asking in chorus in all certain ways for these customizable ways of being themselves and doing their best work.
And so, I think there's such an opportunity right now to let your people, especially your juniors, I talk in the newsletter about how I think that these very young people, some of whom have never worked in an office, they literally graduated. I mean, my son graduated from college during COVID. And their very first work experience is a remote work experience. They don't know what they're missing, which is both sad but also an opportunity because they're the ultimate focus group. It's like they can say, "Why not this? And I like this. And how about more of this?" And so I feel like the juniors in your organization are such a valuable source of rethinking.
Sara Jane: I love that. As the Director of Operations, who I spend a lot of time thinking about these things, it's like you're just saying all of the wonderful things that I'm thinking about. So we-
Kat: That are going to make your life crazy.
Sara Jane: Well, I mean, that's only one consideration. The other consideration is like, how can we provide people a life that is not just centered around work? Because to your words, like that does not fill people's cups of joy, it doesn't fill mine. So like how do we create a workspace that is healthy and accommodating, but also like encourages people to do great work and work that they want to do?
Jillian: It sounds like with this work, you are very focused on the community of the workplace, and it's not just the things we've talked about previously like misogyny and getting more women in those leadership roles, but it's also just the dynamics of filling your joy cup and why are we here? And what is the point of all of this, "Yeah, let's work and make cool shit together, but let's also have great lives outside of that too"? With this residency, are you finding anything like some like really valuable like ahas that you just want to shout from the rooftop?
Kat: I think the number one thing that I'm talking I feel like a broken record around is mental health and wellness. And Courtney, the CEO at Eleven, he and I talk regularly, but we have an official once a week where we really talk about like what I'm doing and just kind of... And I hear what he's tackling on. And he jokes that it's creative therapy, that I'm like the Lucy character with her little can out front, "The Doctor's In", but I do feel like so much of what I keep saying to Courtney is these are unbelievably challenging times to be a human, to be a parent, and to be working inside a corporation where you just have no sense of when you're going to... There's no horizoning of like when this will "end" or change or be fixed or... It's very destabilizing.
And so, so much of what I tell him is to just keep honoring that, just keep saying that out loud, over-communicating that to people like, "Wow, these are weird times. And is there anyone else feeling this? And it's strange." And just instead of trying to be like the leader that's like, "We've got it all figured out and here's what we're doing," and then people feel alone with their own sense of kind of lostness.
So that's the number one thing I would say, has been just feeling that and seeing that. And this is nothing about Eleven, this is something about the world, and Eleven is just one citizen of the world. And I just moved and I just wrote a newsletter about how moving I read is the number one stressor in life. More than divorce or marriage, Americans say it's the number one stressor in life. And I was preparing to move and planning to move on a Friday and go back to work on a Tuesday, and I got to this point where I was so overwhelmed. And here I am, the poster child, the chicken little about mental health and stress and burnout and talking about it to Eleven. And then all of a sudden I was like, "Holy crap, physician, 'Heal thyself.'" Like, I was not asking for help that I needed.
And so, I called Courtney and I said, "I think I need like three weeks off, not just one week." And he said, "Take the time you need." And I needed every single day of that. And even coming back to work, I felt like I barely had it together, because moving was so destabilizing. And so, I think all of these realities, and I don't know if part of that was because the backdrop is that the world is on fire and there's so much to worry about and you're moving, or if just moving has always been it's just hard, you don't know where your stuff is and you're getting to know new rituals and routines, but that's the piece that I feel like creativity, which is my jam, is an act of vulnerability. And you cannot be vulnerable when you're in any kind of distress.
And by the way, this also goes for identity issues. If you feel like you're covering at work or code switching or camouflaging, any element of your being, or you're not being able to wear your hair in braids or whatever it is that is your expression of yourself, if that is stymied in the workplace, you cannot be creative or your full creative self, because you're... I always say it's like having malware running in the background, it's such a drag on your capacity.
And so, these are the issues I'm very awake to at Eleven is how can we make sure that we're making people feel that they're not alone with the distress of the world and just the weirdness of this moment, giving them permission to take a beat, a breath time off, whatever it is with zero stigma, talking about it openly. I tell leaders that if they go to therapy, and they should, they should have it on their public-facing calendar so everyone can see they're at therapy or at Reiki or whatever it is they do for self-care. It's not something that you just block out and write some generic thing, it's like really normalize this, this is self-care, this is mental wellness, this is corporations need to make this just like any other benefit, it's something we want everyone to be partaking in. These are the issues that I think have most surprised me in this. I thought I would be much more into like the creative process and the workflow of creative processes, but it's like I couldn't even get there because I'm just about steadying the ship.
Sara Jane: For our audience who maybe has like a small business or works in the business where they have a say in how these things are done, what would you say is like the first step that someone should take to create this type of environment that you are describing?
Kat: State that it's a value. I think that that would be the first step is to over-communicate to your people that you have this vision for the kind of company you want to run and that you know that they can help you co-create it, but put it up on the wall, put it in writing, put it in your email signature, just be incredibly overt about the fact that this is a value that you want to put time and energy around, and then talk like crazy with your people and listen. And if you're a large enough company that you have ERGs or diversity councils, pay those people for that time. In fact, ask them, would they like to be paid with days off? Would they like to be paid with cash? Would they like to be paid off with a donation to a charity that you'll match of their choice? Make it clear that this is a business value and that the time that is spent against it is billable, it's a value just like anything else.
Sara Jane: I love that. Love it. So, for like creative entrepreneurship, do you see this being a role that is needed for like all businesses, any businesses?
Kat: Yep, every single one. In fact, I was looking... Apparently the number one job right now is like director of remote work or director of future of work, Meta/Facebook has an opening right now on LinkedIn for like global head of future of work, very big job. And I think that's awesome, but I think it should be a committee. I don't think one person... Like, I love the lens I'm bringing to this work, that I'm a creative director background but I also have this diversity. By the way, I also started in market research. So I have like data creativity, sensitivity, diversity, but you need a lot of different perspectives weighing in on future of work, you don't just want the operational piece, you don't just want the HR piece, you don't just want the creativity piece, you want all of those leaders talking.
And so, yes, I think every single company needs to be asking these questions and have a team of people that meet regularly to talk about them. Because as I said, these issues are enormous and they're impacting how you do business and how your people feel valued. And this is a moment in time where if you don't I think get in front of it and put something in place now, you've missed the opportunity of a lifetime.
Jillian: That's just gold.
Sara Jane: It is gold, yeah.
Jillian: We could probably just talk forever with you. So, we will force ourselves to transition to the rapid fire. Kat, as you know, I'm going to ask you some questions. And just the first thing that comes to mind. So, Kat Gordon, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Kat: A spy.
Jillian: Oh my gosh. Follow up questions.
Kat: Yes. No follow up though. Next.
Jillian: Love it. How do you define community?
Kat: Psychological safety.
Jillian: What is something on your bucket list that you have done?
Kat: Whale watching.
Jillian: And what is something on your bucket list that you have not yet done, but hope to soon?
Jillian: All right. What is a book that you just love and everyone should read?
Kat: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.
Jillian: You told us you live in beautiful Napa Valley. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would that be?
Jillian: I love it. And final question. Kat, how do you want to be remembered?
Kat: For my sincerity.
Jillian: Ah, beautiful. Well, I think that will be easily accomplished. Thank you so much for being a guest on The Community Experience Podcast. Where can our audience learn more about you? Where can they find you on the internet?
Kat: I'm very active on Twitter. My handle is @KatGordon, and it's K-A-T G-O-R-D-O-N. I also hope people will read my newsletter katgordon.substack.com, or maybe it's substack.katgordon.com, I can't remember. I think it's substack.katgordon.com. Those are the two main places.
Jillian: Wonderful. Well, thank you, again. This has been a delight. Everyone go check out all of Kat's work. And Kat, do you have a 3% conference in the works? I know we're still in pandemic times. Is there any plans?
Kat: You know, we are planning to support the community with a lot of virtual events, we haven't yet announced, but there's a really interesting film screening we're going to do showings of and panel discussions around that's very relevant to our crusade. That should be announced very soon. And actually, this week we have a webinar about the future of freelance. So we're doing more of these kind of virtual meetups to try to support the community around the clock, but to be continued unsure what the event-centric nature of our future is because it's so difficult to plan.
Kat: We did do two events during the pandemic, one live with hybrid and one totally virtual. And it's hard, it's really, really hard, because the shifting realities of the variants and different cities, requirements, and we of course only want to have an incredibly safe event. So it has been difficult, but I feel... I said to our team, "How lucky are we that the 10 years it took to build this community into what it is happened when travel was frictionless and we could all be together?" Now it's different, we have to pivot and figure out how to support the community in ways that are perhaps sometimes in real life, but also heavy on the virtual.
Jillian: Yeah. Well, and the benefit of virtual is people from all over the world can get a taste.
Kat: Exactly, right.
Jillian: Great. Well, thanks again. We loved having you. And our audience will definitely be checking out all you have to offer. Take care, Kat.
Kat: You too. Thanks. Bye.
Jillian: And that was our interview with Kat Gordon. So, I feel like I say this every time or at least I think it, but oh my gosh, I just want to talk to her forever.
Sara Jane: Yes.
Jillian: Like so many things we didn't even get into that we wanted to.
Sara Jane: Oh my gosh. I know we only got to like a handful of the questions we had for her.
Jillian: Yeah. Story of my life. Sara Jane, what was like your biggest aha or like takeaway from our convo?
Sara Jane: So many things. I think the one that's really top of mind for me is the way that she talks about leadership and how we have this idea of what a leader "should look like," but also like I think, you can attest to this and probably so many other people listening to this can say that that model of leadership is not the best probably. Like, there's a lot of unhealthy behaviors that go with that, whether it's being a workaholic or just forgetting all empathy for the people who you're working with, like your direct reports.
Jillian: Who pay for your yacht.
Sara Jane: Who pay for your 196 foot yacht. Yeah, no big deal. But just this... Yeah, just this idea of her almost putting like a siren call out there of like empaths and introverts, like there is a place for you. You have the capability of being a great leader, so why not you? And I love that idea that the mold should be broken and that we can all benefit from having different types of leaders and with different experiences and backgrounds. Like, that's what we should be striving for.
Jillian: I agree. And I think there's something about... And it's much like what she did when she was miserable in her role and was like, "This isn't..." Like, to be able to take a step back, like out of the matrix, I don't know if that reference works.
Sara Jane: Sure.
Jillian: But just take a step back and look and be like, "No, this is messed up." And then to find a way, a solution, whether it's for yourself personally or a movement like the 3% Movement. And it's funny because I think a lot of people who are more introverted, more empathetic it's like, "Oh, well, the world is going to chew you up and spit you out." But in reality, that's just a way to keep you from sitting at the table because you're a threat, and in a good way. So, bring your own chair.
Sara Jane: Right. And shove your way in.
Jillian: Yeah. Just use it as like a battering ram to the table.
Sara Jane: Yeah. Right. Exactly.
Jillian: But there's something to say about not... Like, just believe in yourself. You can be a leader and yet it may not look the same way as that person who was your boss or leader, but you can do it your way, and your way might be actually better. And that's awesome.
Sara Jane: Yeah. Well, and the way that you do it, other people might connect with that more than they would someone else. And so you are therefore empowering other people, which I think is fantastic. And I think too the fact that when we follow the lead of so many people who are leaders now, it's almost like you are expected to be a robot to perform, perform, perform, be productive. Not that being productive is bad or not a goal, it certainly is, but I think that sometimes we kind of forget that we're human and we forget that the others around us are also human. And having people who are more sensitive and more empathetic, like that can only help us to bring that humanity back into the workplace and be able to support each other much better.
Jillian: Yeah. I think it also just... We all need to take a step back, because we may be in a position where someone like that is coming up—and I know a lot of women do this with each other at work to help get our voices heard and whatnot as we kind of watch out, because once we gang up together, you all are screwed. But if you were interrupted in a meeting, I'd make a point to say, "Oh, Sara Jane, you didn't get to finish, what were you saying?" Right? And redirect back. So, can we do that on a more expansive set? Can we do that for people that maybe are quiet in the meetings, but probably have an amazing point to make? Right? And just kind of shift the like you don't have to be the loudest person in the room to get ahead please.
Sara Jane: Yes. Or to get attention at all. Yeah.
Jillian: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Sara Jane: Yeah. What about for you? What stuck out?
Jillian: All of it.
Sara Jane: All of it? Other than all of it, yeah.
Jillian: Yeah. Other than all of it, well, I think the big one for sure was just especially the culture we're in now. And even we talked a little bit about like from when we were kids to now, just like what was the acceptable norm in society? There's kind of this cancel culture, whatnot, whatever you think about cancel culture, I think the important thing is like, yeah, you should be held accountable for things.
However, if there's something in your past and then you look at it and you're like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I believed that or participated in that." Like, to recognize, "Look how much I've evolved since then, look how much I've learned." And that is what's super important, because we can shame each other all day for how dumb we were. Thank goodness, there was no social media when I was in high school and college. Not that I think I did anything like that, but at the same time I was an idiot, and I'm glad there's no proof of that other than people's failing memories, because it was so long ago. I can deny it all. No, just kidding.
But like to think like I'll think back and be like, "Gosh, I was kind of a jerk or I was really not like very whatever." And to see that now and be like, "Oh, I'm so glad I'm not like that anymore. I'm much more considerate, I'm much more mature." I think that's so powerful. And we have to be kind to ourselves and then again also kind to others with that so we can all grow together.
Sara Jane: Yeah, it's interesting that your mistakes can actually be a measurement for growth. You certainly don't think about it that way in the moment, but now being able to look back you can see, "Oh my gosh. Okay, I have improved like a fine wine," right?
Jillian: Yeah. Until I finally turn to vinegar. Yeah.
Sara Jane: Hopefully not that long.
Jillian: Not there yet, I'm just in the fine wine. Yeah.
Sara Jane: Yeah. Well, it's like she said, like if you haven't felt like shit, then you're not trying hard enough.
Jillian: You're such a nugget.
Sara Jane: And I just I love... I know she said that and I was like, "Scribble, scribble, scribble, write that down."
Jillian: Like, I try so hard.
Sara Jane: I feel like such shit all the time.
Jillian: Yeah, it's a sign of achievement.
Jillian: No, it's so true. And it kind of goes back to the empaths and like letting the bastards grind you down, right? Like, you beat yourself up so much for things and the people who don't are often the ones that succeed, but they also have just like absolutely... Well, and I hate to... I don't want to say everybody, but like a lot of people that don't feel like shit about something it's because they don't have like functioning emotion and empathy. And so, sure, oh, they succeed on paper, but they might be kind of horrible, you know? I think I'd rather be a-
Sara Jane: Yeah, at what cost?
Jillian: Exactly. Yeah. I think I'd rather be like a more well rounded open-minded human. Maybe I'm not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but that's okay, because I wouldn't be able to sleep at night probably. Not to say that they're all bad, but I couldn't do that in the way that it's done now. And I'm okay with that.
Sara Jane: Yeah. And truth be told, if you were to ask that CEO of the Fortune 500 company, they're also probably not okay with that, but maybe don't see another path.
Sara Jane: So.
Jillian: But they're like, "It is what it is." And who knows? Maybe in the next... How long ago was 1990? I still think it was like really recent, but it was like 30...
Sara Jane: Shh, don't do the math.
Jillian: Oh, anyways in another... Oh my God, I'm going to be so old. When I'm an old lady in 30 years, I mean, it'll be interesting to see who is leading these things, who does have a seat at the table that they didn't have to battering ram in, and how can we help make the people who will be having these conversations in 30 years, how can we help them be in a good spot?
Sara Jane: Absolutely. And I feel like Kat Gordon is doing so much of the foundation work for that, where she's... All the things that she talked to us about in the interview were things that everyone in any company can apply to their daily working lives and can start to make a difference. And I think actually now that I've said that, I think that's probably my favorite thing out of this conversation is that every single person listening can take her advice and apply it and start to make their workplace and their world just a little bit better. And that's going to be measurable in 30 years.
Jillian: Absolutely. And we didn't even talk about the fact that it's also stuff you can do in a community if you run a community, but—
Sara Jane: You know, I think it applies just... I think you can take the advice directly from her and apply it directly to a community, maybe it doesn't have to be overthought.
Sara Jane: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jillian: Sara Jane, thank you so much for being guest host today. Loved having you. I'm sure everyone would love to have you back, but until then.
Sara Jane: It was a pleasure. I would love to come back.
Jillian: Yeah. Until then, everybody, we will see you next Tuesday.
Sara Jane: Bye.
Jillian: Your lead host for The Community Experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski and our editor is Ray Sylvester. Sound editing by Duncan Brown, theme music by David Grabowski.
See you next Tuesday.