Unconventional Mentor no. 34 - Cindy Gallop

“Women challenge the status quo because we are never it.”

Quote: “Women challenge the status quo because we are never it.” - Cindy Gallop

Quote: “Women challenge the status quo because we are never it.” - Cindy Gallop

I can’t remember how I discovered Cindy Gallop, but I was instantly drawn to her confidence and her fearless challenging of the status quo. If you watch her speak or read interviews with her, you will see the energy that she brings to all of the subjects she tackles. The topics she speaks about are not ones you hear a lot, older women being visible and (gasp) having sex, taking action to change the lack of diversity in the workplace and calling out corporate organisations who are doing more harm than good.

She is bold, gutsy, asks difficult questions and when faced with a problem she doesn’t just highlight it, she tries to find a solution for it. She talks openly about not wanting to get married or have children and how her dating life involves sex with younger men. It is so rare to hear a woman say those things out loud, with confidence and pride. It was her experience of dating and sleeping with younger men that made her realise the negative impact hard core pornography was having and gave her the idea to start Make Love Not Porn, which is a site for people to post real-world sex videos. You can hear the story of how she came up with the idea, in her 2009 TED talk here, but it does contain adult content!

“Diversity drives innovation. Not just diversity of gender, but of race, ethnicity, sexuality. The best results come from lots of different point of views and perspectives rubbing up against each other.” 

I love following her on LinkedIn and she not only shares updates about her own work but highlights the work of others who are also setting out to change the status quo. Some of her recent shares include agencies who are looking to create more diversity in the workplace, and people challenging ageism in advertising. Over the last few weeks she has been at the Cannes Lions and she has a way of seeing the problem, which has usually been around for a very long time and shedding new light on it. This year she was asked to host a meetup with the title “How to be a great female leader” but she asked it to be changed to “How to benefit from great female leadership” as she knows that for things to change men need to be on board about having women in leadership roles as much as women need to be supported to be in them. At the same event she also hosted a Women Who Are Making Shit Happen dinner for some of the women who are making changes in the world of advertising. What an accolade it must have been to be invited to that.

“Rational facts and figures do fuck all for this issue. You have to make it emotional. Our creative strategy at BBH was, 'We don't sell. We make people want to buy.' So I'm not selling gender and diversity equality. I'm making people want to buy it."

The topic that Cindy Gallop speaks the most about is the huge lack of diversity of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in the advertising industry, an industry that she had huge successes in for many years. Her main argument is that white men can’t possibly have all of the best ideas and the most talent, so if the industry becomes more diverse then it will produce better work and make everyone a “shit ton of money”. In an hour-long talk called How Advertising Can Change the World for Mumbrella360 she speaks at length about not only why diversity is good but what changes need to occur for the industry to become more diverse.

“The best moment in my life -- it wasn’t a moment, more of a gradual realization -- was the day I realized I didn’t give a damn what anybody thought about me.”

For someone who is an introvert and not overly comfortable being loud and taking up space in the world, Cindy Gallop is a huge inspiration. I’m not sure if it is that I worry about what people will think of me, but more that I don’t want to have the attention focused on me. I know I have important things to say and my work impacts people, but it is in a much quieter and behind the scenes kind of way. Cindy Gallop cuts through all of the bullshit, tells it like it is and doesn’t seem to be bothered by what people think or say about her, and the result is that she gets shit done and her message is heard. The rest of this quote goes on to say “Have the confidence to believe in your own opinions and your own thoughts. Be yourself, and coming out of that, have the confidence to decide what you would like to do in business. And if it doesn’t exist, start it.” Very powerful words indeed.

“I’m not a relationship person, or a naturally monogamous person, and I’m very public about those things because both women and men don’t have enough role models that demonstrate it’s possible to live a life that is not the one society tells you you should -- and be extremely happy doing it.”

I love how open Cindy Gallop is about her life choices, something which is none of our business, but as a woman who doesn’t want to marry or have children, having someone say that my choice is their choice and they are very happy with it is hugely powerful. I hate being questioned over my choice not to marry or have children but at the same time I know how isolating it can feel when you don’t see anyone making the same choices as you, so hearing other people speak about it really helps. Whilst Cindy hasn’t chosen to have children herself, she is hugely respectful of women who choose to have a family and return to work, and she acknowledges the challenges they face are huge, but she is just as keen to show that her choice is a valid one and not one to be dismissed.

Mentor advice: Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo


The advice that I take from Cindy Gallop is challenge the status quo by taking action. Any time that Cindy Gallop sees a problem to be fixed, she not only highlights it, but she looks at what she can do to be part of the solution to that problem. The advice that I take is also about taking action in a loud and visible way and not be afraid to make my ideas known. My Unconventional Mentors project stems from being able to take advice and inspiration from people in a way that empowers you to find your own solutions and put your ideas out into the world. It is about challenging the idea that other people are the experts at what you want to do, and helping you to see that when you apply everything you know with the advice that you choose to take from others you can achieve more than you ever thought you could. Cindy Gallop is one of those people who I see speak and instantly inspired by to shout my message a little bit louder. She is often asked to be a mentor to people and, understandably, she can’t support so many requests, but she does encourage people to follow her online “is a form of virtual mentorship” which is very much what this project is about. You can learn so much from Cindy just by watching how she shows up in the world.

To find out more about Cindy Gallop then do check out the talks mentioned in this piece, follow her on twitter or LinkedIn or read a brilliant article with Huffpost here.

Laura Cloke