&Walsh launches, joining the .1% of Women Founded Creative Agencies

Posted July 23rd, 2019

Today, as I launch my creative agency &Walsh, I am overwhelmed with emotion: elation that this is finally happening, exhaustion from the non-stop work that brought me to this point & an anxious excitement about what's next.


I’m also overwhelmed with gratitude for this privileged position I’ve found myself in. Very few women make it to creative leadership positions and even fewer have founded their own creative agencies.


The lack of representation in leadership & the pay gap for women and non-binary people has been a focus of mine through our non-profit initiative Ladies, Wine & Design. This initiative was born out of personal experiences I had with sexism in our industry, not only from men but from other women. I found that sometimes women were unsupportive of one another, possibly because our chances of reaching the top are much slimmer than for men. The numbers say it all: 70% of design students are women, but only 5-11% of creative director positions are held by women. Only .1% of creative agencies are women-owned. POINT. ONE. PERCENT. How does this make any sense when women drive about 80% of consumer purchasing? Diversity in leadership at agencies drives profit.


In addition to the leadership gap, there is still a pay gap for women and an even larger gap for women of color. We cannot talk about feminism without including the varying intersections of privilege and oppression. All too often feminism only champions the equality of white, cisgender, straight women. Feminism should be inclusive of all people, championing equality for everyone — no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age or ability. While we’re living in divisive times, it’s exciting to see the younger generations breaking down traditional ideas of gender, beauty, relationships, work culture, etc. towards a future that is more fluid, genderless and accepting of all humans as we are. My dream for our industry is to see much more representation at the top. This will not only make our work stronger and more inclusive, but make the creative work function better.


While we’ve made strides towards equality in the last few decades, we still have a long way to go. I’m determined to use &Walsh to expand on these social initiatives such as Ladies, Wine & Design, and I also want to implement these principles within our studio. I’m excited to build an agency that provides mentorship and equal opportunity for all to learn and grow creatively and climb the ranks towards leadership, if that’s their desire. I also recognize that the career success or leadership track does not have to be the path for everyone, and I will implement paths for those who prefer to focus on their individual craft.


I have many privileges in this life. I’m white & cisgender in a heteronormative relationship. I found a career I am passionate about. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with amazing creative people who inspire me, to work on projects that challenge me and to find success along the way. In this next chapter of my career, I’m determined to use this privilege to continue to give back to the world and to our amazing community in bigger ways. This means putting a focus on social initiatives that champion and amplify underrepresented voices, to pass on what I’ve learned to others and to give back to those less privileged. We have many exciting plans and new project ideas in the works and these initiatives will be a driving force of our agency.


And while I recognize my privilege, I also want to acknowledge that I'm really fucking proud of myself. I know, I know: how dare a woman boast and show anything but humbleness!?
However, this is a dream I’ve had since I was young, and I worked my ass off non-stop, round the clock to make this a reality.


As women, we are constantly told what we can or cannot do. It's been happening all our lives. At every step of the way, forces tried to tell me "I couldn’t” or “I wouldn’t." My elementary school teacher told my parents I was too fearful and introverted and it would keep me from succeeding. When suffering from severe depression & eating disorders as a teenager, a woman in the hospital told me she was worried I'd be one of the ones that would never recover. Even when we achieve success, our legitimacy is doubted. When I was named partner with Stefan at the age of 25, many men and women said (publicly!) that I only got the position because I slept with him. Can you imagine them saying that about a man? Then as a partner, I was ignored and talked down to by older men in more meetings more than I care to remember.


On top of external forces, sometimes the forces trying to stop us are ourselves. I suffered from severe self-hate and self-doubt in the beginning. I could never have imagined in my earlier years fighting mental health issues that I would one day find joy and passion and purpose, let alone success and the ability to really love myself and my life. Early in my career, I had so many moments of almost giving up, feeling I wouldn’t make it in this big city or that I wasn’t good enough.


If you have a dream, keep moving towards it. There will always be obstacles, naysayers, haters and those who don’t believe in you along the way, including yourself. The path might not be as straight or simple as you thought, but you have to keep fighting and keep pushing through. Don’t be deterred if it takes longer than you think: age and years are meaningless. And don’t be disillusioned that once you achieve a certain award, title or raise, your life will be happier or more complete. I’ve found the real joy is not in any accomplishment, but in the creative pursuits, discoveries, personal growth and people you meet along the way. And if you’re unsure about making a big change that you know deep down is right, trust your gut, take the leap.


Jessica Walsh