Why Women Need Wolfpacks

The power of the pack is what will make #TimesUpAdvertising stick.

Jen Costello
Group Strategy Leader TBWA\Chiat Day LA

One of my girlfriends works for a Big Bank. Yah, you know the one.
As one of just a few women in leadership and an overall badass mama, her company recently asked for her ideas on how they could better support and encourage women in the organization. She was thrilled at what seemed like a big and positive signal from top brass.


So, my friend’s suggestion to her Big Bank Boss? Create all-female mentoring circles and call them 'Wolf Packs'. I clinked her glass when she told me, declaring the branding brilliant (and from a finance gal no less). “Well,” she sighed, “my boss said calling a women’s group 'Wolf Packs’ is way too aggressive, so I’m trying to think of a better name.”  


STOPITTHATISCRAZY, you must be thinking – at least that was my reaction. What shortcoming (ahem) must this Big Bank Bossman have to be so threatened by a group of women assembling beneath a mildly assertive, animal-themed banner?


But, here’s the deal. My friend's boss was right to take issue with her idea. My issue is that he took issue with the wrong thing.


Women absolutely need wolfpacks. But, I say don’t limit your pack to just women.


In our #MeToo era, women everywhere have undoubtedly realized the power of the pack. Spurred on by the badassery of Cindy Gallup and #TimesUp and Where Are the Boss Ladies, I’m thrilled at the way women-led wolfpacks in agencies are naming names and talking truth to power and supporting the hell out of each other. Yes, yes, and yes.


And at the moment, these are the exact sorts of spaces women need. Because we’ve had to go so long without them. Because women-only wolfpacks afford us the space to recharge, and regroup, and reinvigorate our intentions for the climb ahead. If the last 18 months have been about smoking out the perps and the problems in agencies, these are our spaces to be safe and supported.


I believe in the ability of women-only wolfpacks to create seismic change, because they have. And at the exact same time, my sense is that if we want to shift culture in our agencies for real, to actually build the infrastructure that makes it damn near impossible for harassment and misogyny to thrive, we need everyone - everyone! - to be all in. And that means assembling wolfpacks that aren’t just women.


I’ve spent all of my adult working life in agencies. I thrive on the restlessness, and the creativity, and the buzzy vibes. And in every agency I’ve worked at, I’ve experienced bias in one form or another. I’ve been groped by clients and colleagues. I’ve been propositioned, interrupted, and mansplained. Told to “calm down”, “just relax”, and that I “look smarter when I smile”. The sad bit is that none of that experience is unique, because it’s the experience of nearly every other woman I know in advertising.


I suspect it’s also fed my fire to support and surround myself with awesome women at work. I try to carry as I climb, just as others did for me. Bring the women, all the women! And not just for the common good - rabble-rousing with my women-led wolfpack is when I’m at my personal best. More open, more real, more liberal in my thinking, more me.


At the same time, I’m ready - and starting - to see a complimentary kind of wolfpack emerge. And girl, it’s got the good guys in it.


Because to be true allies, men need proximity to the conversations happening in women’s wolfpacks.


At my agency, we’ve talked a lot about our company role and response to #TimesUpAdvertising. And we continue to come back to a conviction that intersectionality and inclusivity is the only way to make this movement stick for real.


That’s because it teaches everyone how to recognize even the most subtle signs of sexism and abuse, and the immense toll it takes. It creates a sense of accountability, a social contract we all share to stop being bystanders. And because it equips everyone in your agency with words and ways to respond - and not to rescue women, but to be their allies.


That’s the power of the pack.


So, as Heidi said ages ago: who’s in your motherf*cking wolf pack?