Hi there! My name is Jen Lemerand, and I am the co-director of SheSays Chicago. We are an award-winning organization running free mentorship and events to women in the creative and marketing businesses. Why? Because we want to see more women at the top.
That is the formal version. My take? We are a badass group of women (and men!) who have created an inclusive community and support group for women in Chicago with a huge, or very small, creative bone in their body, hosting free events on varying topics every 4-6 weeks. We welcome anyone from designer to writer, pr to social media, account manager to strategist, photographer to jewelry designer… and anyone in between.
I started this group when I was promoted to Creative Director at Revelry Agency, then Salt Communications. I was excited, nervous and questioning if I was fit to take on the role. Something a lot of us do. Second guess ourselves.
When I accepted the responsibility, one of the owners sent me an article in Ad Age by CD Tiffany Rolfe, “What Can We Do About the Dearth of Female Creatives?” She pointed out that women only make up 3% of creative directors. I was floored. Then realized… that seemed about right. In the 11 years I had been working, I only had one high level creative or art director who was a woman, but was not on her direct team. Just recently I read an article about the reasons women often leave advertising… one stat being that 70% of young female creatives have never worked with a female creative director. Yikes!
Tiffany’s article in 2011 led me to do some searching for a mentor program. The AIGA mentor program was full at the time. Most other mentor groups seemed too stuffy, and were not focused on creative. That is when I came across SheSays. They only had a handful of chapters at the time in New York, London, Los Angeles, and a few others. When I asked them about Chicago, they said “Start one!” I have a tendency to take on more than I can chew when I am excited about something. So I of course agreed.
It took some time to get my first event rolling. Since everything is based on hosts and sponsors, I was not sure where to start. I was nervous about asking agencies to put up space or buy us food and drink. I was also scared to ask people to donate their time as panelists.
We finally had our first event in June 2012, six months after diving in. The topic was fairly general… Leading Mad Women. I moderated a panel for the first time ever. My agency hosted. I was so incredibly nervous about having a chair for the exact amount of people showing, not thinking there may be no-shows for a free event. The event list was mostly made of my own friends in the creative community. But I was blown away that of my 34 seats, about half were new faces who found the event on their own. It sounded like there was a need for what we were starting.
Fast forward to 2016, 30+ events under our belt, and we are still learning with each event. This year we have a larger committee than the past, including my new co-director Beckie O'Connor, all bringing unique insights and ideas to the group to continue our growth. The feedback from the community about how our events feel genuine and are not to be missed is what keeps me going. Many have said that unlike most networking events, people are not there trying to pitch themselves. They are truly there to learn and meet other strong women in the organization. It makes me smile and get all warm and fuzzy. I am still amazed with every event (that sell out in about an hour!), about ⅓ of the attendees are brand new. They are there by word of mouth, found us through social media, or by searching events on Eventbrite. That means that our events that generally host 60 attendees, 20 of those faces are new!
All of these events lead the community with a positive tone, and feature organic conversations with the audience. We have a goal to bring more men into the conversation as well. Men who are committed to #ChangeTheRatio, because they know it takes both of our voices to make a gender equal world.
We can’t wait to see how this community will shape itself in another four years.