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Spoon London’s Shelley Hoppe on creative industry leadership

By 10th March 2020 No Comments
Shelley Hoppe

It doesn’t need to be International Women’s Day for Spoon to be immensely proud of the fact that all our six offices are led by phenomenal woman directors – but it’s a great reason to shout about it. Even though the creative industry is saturated with women, the heads of creative departments are usually male-dominated. As few as 3% of creative directors are female. A 2019 study led by Lean In found that women are 21% less likely to be promoted to management roles.

We took this opportunity to ask our female agency directors across all six offices about their roles leading Spoon offices. In this article, London’s Shelley Hoppe discusses her experience as a leader of a creative agency.

What do you enjoy most about leading a creative agency? 

Probably that there’s a lot of variety in what we do, depending on what clients we’re working with – there’s always something new to learn about. It’s fast-paced, sometimes challenging, often surprising, but definitely not dull.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt managing multiple stakeholders and sometimes indecipherable client briefs?

I think it’s a common mistake to imagine there’s a perfect client and / or brief out there – there’s always a period at the beginning of any project where you have to find out what the actual desired outcome is. Sometimes, no-one knows – and you have to be OK with that! It’s really part of our job to try and help the client shape their goals. I think clarifying the brief using active listening skills, and then being confident, persistent and charming (sometimes a tough combo) are essential to get any project off the ground.

Are there any changes (in mindsets or otherwise) that you would like to see, in order to help more women break into management within the Creative industry?

Actually, I think there are a lot of women in management in the Creative Industries already. I think possibly the issue is that there does seem to be a bit of a glass ceiling. The real problem is that there are significantly fewer female business owners, which means we are often near but not at the top of organisations.When you think about it, this is probably caused largely by historical economic inequality. Women have only had the right to vote for about 100 years and have only been attending university in the same numbers as men for approximately 40 years – all of this has had an impact on both female personal wealth and how influential we are able to be in society. In addition to that, even though we now are studying and working alongside men in equal numbers, there is still a massive gender pay gap. Things are starting to change. Hopefully it won’t take another 100 years to fix.

Tracing back your career trajectory, do you spot any limitations you faced as a female entrepreneur? How have they shaped your career?

I’ve definitely had all the usual suspects – patronising and derogatory comments from male colleagues and clients, for example, and a lack of access to traditional power networks and contacts. There are also some weird ways you can be excluded, like competing against male counterparts who take our mutual clients out to play golf, for example. If all the ultimate budget holders are male and want to be taken to do “male bonding” type activities…that can be a problem. There’s not much point dwelling on these things too much. I’d say the three most important lessons I took from it were to:1) use being underestimated to your advantage (evil grin),2) be creative and find different solutions to problems if the “male” ones are in some way not available to you and3) when initiatives designed to help women do come along, or you come across allies who want to help you – be grateful and jump on those opportunities as quickly as you can!


Gain more insights from Spoon’s agency directors:

Spoon: Led by women, made for all

Marte Ramborg, Spoon Oslo

Lena Barner-Rasmussen, Spoon Helsinki

Spoon Stockholm’s Maria Biesterfeldt

Spoon Malmö’s Divya Ostwal and Jenny Dernelius

Spoon Gothenburg’s Johanna Niklasson