Perspectives on WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP—Shannon Gabor

In support of AIGA’s Women’s Leadership initiative, AIGA LA is embarking on a series of events, interviews, and discussions to celebrate the achievements of women in design, cultivate awareness of gender-related issues, and creating connections by facilitating relationships within and beyond the design industry.

This interview occurred in Fall, 2015, as AIGA LA prepared for it’s first Women in Leadership panel discussion.

Shannon Gabor, Founder & CEO of Clever Creative, Inc.

Shannon Gabor, Founder & CEO of Clever Creative, Inc.

Shannon Gabor is CEO and Founder of Clever Creative, Inc., an agency focused on strategic branding and packaging with a focus on lifestyle brands. Clever Creative services clients with brand architecture, identity design, packaging design, print collateral and retail strategy and merchandising, with a belief in working with brands and companies that do good, make people feel good and that are good for you. This stems from Shannon’s personal mantra, “All things good”, which is reaffirmed daily through the work she does, people she leads, clients serviced, and positive outlook she place on her day.
I work from our offices located conveniently above a Starbucks—creativity and coffee, the perfect pairing. Our agency is a nurturing creative playground, where our team collaboratively designs in partnership with our clients to deliver award-winning smart designs that work hard for the brands we support. We just moved in to these new offices and we love the new airy, cabin-like vibe adorned with rustic pine walls, black accents and copper fixtures. Clever Creative take pride in the actual space we occupy and welcome clients in to our ‘home’.

Please describe your family situation (married, single, kids, no kids, etc.)

I am happily married to an incredible landscape architect who is also self-employed and was my motivator to follow my entrepreneurial adventure 10 years ago. Together we have an eclectic and confident 6 year old daughter named Harper Grey and the most loyal and loving black lab named Oliver.

How does your current status from the previous question impact you in your career?

My family fuels my passion for design and my pride in running my own agency. They continue to be a support to me daily and are very understanding of my schedule when it affects family dinner time or morning school drop off.
I have a post it on my bathroom mirror that reads “Today, you will let someone down.” It is a personal reminder that I am human, not a super woman and that I cannot do it all. These simple words allow me to remove any guilt that I may carry in my day as it is the truth I live by. There is no way that a woman in my position can make everyone happy and fully commit to everything in her life. I do my best and give my all while making sure I remind myself that everyday, there will be someone I let down. That someone could be me, by missing my workout, my husband by not having time to help with homework, my daughter by not being able to make back to school night or my client by choosing to go to back to school night rather than grabbing happy hour drinks. I am grateful for the life I have created and the family that I have at both work and at home.

From your perspective as a man or woman, are your career goals or current opportunities at all impacted by your gender and or family situation?

Early in my career as a creative, there were many instances of the “boys club”. It was clear that the agency conference room table was reserved for mostly men. That obvious imbalance became a reminder to me that I had to seek ways to get to that table and carve a place for myself. In my next role, I successfully found myself around that table equipped with confidence, smart creative solutions, all the while not letting go of the nurturing female side of my being.
In my current role as CEO/Founder of Clever Creative I do not find myself impacted by my gender or family situation. On the topic of gender, I work hard to identify clients and colleagues in our agency that are not threatened by or carry an opinion of my abilities as a women, I am grateful that my team looks to me as the “bosslady” and my clients, male and female as a creative leader with top level ideas and solutions. I carry myself with confidence and positive self worth in all that I do. And on the topic of familyhood, my family empowers me and when I hear my daughter tell her school friends that “my mom is a Clever gal” it makes me glow with happiness.

Have you or anyone you know, ever experienced a disparity or career setback that you felt was based on gender or decisions centered on family situations?

I have not.

What do you think are the most damaging cultural norms about women or issues that affect women in the creative industry? What do you think the creative industry has to gain if these things change?

I would say that one that I come across often, is that we know how to brand for female consumers or brands that are targeted to us. And I don’t think we can ignore the lack of female creative executives in advertising and design.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges to women’s careers when it comes to the creative industry?

I would say it would be less about specific creative talents and more about securing client accounts of brands that are categorized as more masculine. When, Clever recently was chosen to take on the IronMan triathlon branding and packaging guide, it was a testament that great design is gender neutral and that not being a consumer of a specific brand does mean you cannot translate and design for that brand successfully.

In your community, who stands out to you as a leader and advocate on the topics of equality and diversity? Why?

I am very inspired by women in both our design field but also the entertainment field as it is a very male dominated environment. It is hard to ignore this massive industry in our backyard. Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment stands out to me as a trailblazer in our Los Angeles community and a key player in the entertainment industry. She is a powerhouse high profile Latina executive, and one of very few who has the power to greenlight series in network television. I heard her speak at a broadcast event and her talk resonated with me as a working professional and mother. Nina just edited a book titled What I Told My Daughter, an incredible collection of essays from noteworthy women in a variety of fields written to empower the next generation of girls.

How has your career or perspective as a professional working in a creative industry been impacted by working with women?

There is the good, the bad and the ugly when working with women. I have seen it all and have encountered all 3 of these instances in my creative journey to date. Some of my greatest bosses and leaders have been women while some of my most difficult clients have been women. I feel it is difficult to lump or stereotype why, but I will say that we carry a great deal of emotions and dare I say, take things personal when in reality it is just work. There have been several instances in my career when my successes and promotions bred ineffective and unfair gossip trails, and when healthy competition between female designers turned into an invitation to comment on personalities rather than the work being presented.

Of the women participating in our upcoming panel how do you feel their leadership has impacted your career or professional community?

I would say that Sue Mathews Hale’s career and professional contribution to brands, rebrands and our consumer marketplace is most relevant to the work that I have done and continue to do. As I have never met her or interacted with any of these women in my career or community it is hard to say how their work in our field has impacted me personally or professionally. But I will say that I appreciate seeing female partners like Sue Mathews Hale take on executive roles at very dominated agencies.

Who are you most excited to hear speak?

I am excited to hear the younger perspective of Jessica Hisch. As part of a different generation I am curious her experience on women’s issues.

Any further comments on the upcoming panel and the topics?

It would be interesting to hear from our panelists if they preferred in their career working for a woman or a man. There is a statistic that women prefer working for men, which intrigues me in regard to the topic of discussion.
Published September 14, 2015
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.