How to Find a Creative Mentor with Katarina Matic from The Aunties

To celebrate Women's History Month 2023, we chatted with The Aunties' Katarina Matic to learn how they're empowering creative women* through mentorship.

How 'The Aunties' is Empowering Creative Women* Through Mentorship, with Katarina Matic
Portrait for Kelsie RimmerBy Kelsie Rimmer  |  Updated March 20, 2023

Katarina Matic is a true creative powerhouse. By day, she works as the Senior Art Director at Bullfrog – a progressive, independent advertising agency paving a new way of working within the creative industry. She’s also a co-founder of The Aunties: a support network that uplifts and empowers creative women* through mentorship – including non-binary, a-gender, gender-nonconforming, and all marginalized genders.

Starting her career in Political Science before returning to study Graphic Design, Kat always dreamed of combining her passion for politics and social change with the transformative power of creativity. Today, The Aunties is doing just that – breaking down the harmful stigmas and stereotypes creative women* face in the workplace while empowering them to succeed. 

A passionate advocate for young, underrepresented creatives from the get-go, Kat co-founded a design magazine, The Young Ones, in 2013 – an educational tool and resource for fellow young creatives entering a competitive industry. She was also named the Next Creative Leader (APAC region) by The One Club for Creativity in 2021 and has been a speaker for Women’s Health Victoria’s ‘ShEqual Bold & Strong’ panel, LockerRoom Talks, AGDA’s ‘First Five Out,’ RMIT’s ‘Hungry Talks’ & ‘Alumni Masterclass,’ and General Assembly’s ‘How to be a side hustler.’ Needless to say, she’s an inspiring role model who’s talking the talk and walking the walk.

To celebrate Women’s History Month 2023 and women’s incredible impact on the world, we chatted with Katarina about her career journey, the importance of mentorship, and the incredible work The Aunties is doing for women* in the creative industries. 

Hi Kat! What’s your background, and what’s been your career journey so far? 

Katarina Matic, Co-Founder of The Aunties

I started with a Political Science degree and went on to study graphic design. From thereon, I was always interested in how my two passions could inform each other; I wondered how the power of creativity could drive social change and how understanding social systems could make creative outputs and spaces more diverse.

With that goal in mind, I’m always working on a side project that aims to move that needle. My first was co-founding the design magazine, The Young Ones (TYO) back in 2013 – a creative educational tool to help young graphic design graduates enter a competitive industry. 

After publishing three editions, I put the magazine on the back burner to focus on building my career in the advertising industry. I’ve spent the last eight years working on advertising campaigns for some of Australia’s biggest brands. Some highlights include a viral ‘Vote Yes’ campaign, a t-shirt campaign that ignited a conversation around consent, and a Guinness World Record-breaking “hairy suit” to encourage men to discuss their mental health. 

Most recently, I co-founded The Aunties, a mentorship and support organization that works to connect, educate and inspire women* in our industry, bringing together 400+ women* through mentor programs, events, and seminars in Melbourne.

What does an average day look like for you as a mentor and an Art Director at Bullfrog? 

I love working in my industry because every day is so different. Some days I’m talking to human hair artists, on set with sports superstars for health insurance content, in editing suites, or bunkered down in a room with sticky notes and only the wildest, blue-sky thinking allowed. On other days I don’t leave my desk, putting hours into creative presentations. It’s a whirlwind of ‘pinch myself’ moments that this is my job, combined with high-pressure moments and working to deadlines to deliver the work. 

We have flexible working hours at Bullfrog, so I can balance morning coffees giving career advice to young creatives with afternoons focused on my side passions, such as recording podcasts, hosting events, and of course, The Aunties – which is made possible by volunteers who contribute full-time, after hours, and on the weekends. 

Tell us about The Aunties! What’s its mission, and what inspired it?

The Aunties was co-founded in 2021 by Phoebe Sloane, Lauren Eddy, Huei Yin Wong, and myself with the support of Melbourne’s Advertising and Design Creative (MADC). Since launching, we have created a community of like-minded creatives who have come together to make a change for the betterment of the creative industries. 

The advertising industry, in particular, has been traditionally male-dominated. Although we’ve come a long way from the ‘Mad Men’ days, in 2021, women still weren’t valued at the same level as their male counterparts. Despite having good gender parity within the workforce, men are still disproportionately represented in senior and executive leadership roles. Furthermore, the industry has had a history of being so fast-paced and competitive that working conditions tend to favor people who can dedicate a lot of overtime, resulting in the low retention of mothers and caregivers. As a woman in this industry, I was extremely passionate about doing something.

During the lockdown of 2021, we founded The Aunties out of our bedrooms. We noticed that women had fewer opportunities to connect, learn, and find employment during the pandemic. We all knew how important and helpful mentorship is to progress in the industry, which is why we started The Aunties: to inspire and champion women* and marginalized genders, particularly the next generation of women who might need an experienced shoulder to lean on.

What kind of support does The Aunties provide? 

We develop various initiatives to support and champion creative women, with mentorship at the core of our work. We run a Junior Mentorship Program for women with less than three years of experience or recent University and AWARD School graduates entering the industry. Mentees are paired up with a mentor or ‘Auntie’ from their preferred discipline and then undergo a one-on-one mentorship, which involves monthly catch-ups over six months. The aim is to give young women entering the industry as much support as possible.

We support all women* in the creative industries, including non-binary, a-gender, gender-nonconforming, and all marginalized genders of all ages and backgrounds. Our community comprises art directors, copywriters, producers, client managers, executives, strategists, designers, and founders.

Last year we launched a Senior Mentorship Program designed for women with around 5 to 10 years of industry experience looking for wisdom, guidance, and support as they navigate their leadership journey. This program is for mid-level career women to learn from a diverse range of people, shape their leadership styles, and support them through work situations.

Beyond the mentorship program, The Aunties run events with expert panelists exploring broad themes like confidence and providing networking opportunities. Last year, we also launched our Mums on Call podcast to support working mothers in creative industries. 

What made you want to create a podcast for working mothers? What’s it all about? 

Mums on Call is a podcast co-hosted by my creative partner at Bullfrog, Lauren Eddy, and myself. We wanted to create something that would be beneficial for mothers, but we were conscious that they were time-poor and could only devote little to one-to-one mentorship meetups, so a podcast was the perfect medium. 

We wanted to understand how mothers in advertising make it work, juggling career progression in a demanding industry while, in most cases, being primary caregivers. To us, as non-mums on the outside, it seemed like an impossible task. We were curious to hear from different mums at different career levels speaking honestly about their journey and sharing realities we rarely hear about. The podcast acts as a resource to provide advice and support for mums and positive modeling for future mums, showing all women in the industry that they can do it. We cover topics like mum guilt, IVF and fertility, and navigating non-linear career paths.   

Why is mentorship so crucial for budding creatives? What are the benefits of finding a mentor early in your career?

You can’t be what you can’t see. It’s easier to envision yourself in a role if you can see someone like you modeling success in that role. Minorities in senior and executive roles must learn to advocate for themselves and navigate traditionally underrepresented spaces. When someone with this lived experience mentors and uplifts the next generation by passing on their wisdom, it’s powerful. Through this process, we can achieve change. 

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

– Katarina Matic

Building a trusted rapport with someone within your industry is beneficial; they understand what you’re going through. You can vent, workshop strategies for promotions, ask for interoffice relationship advice, confide when things don’t feel right, and develop a strong connection with someone who can become your biggest fan and ally. Mentors aren’t there to give answers but to guide you to find the right answer.

How did finding a mentor benefit you? 

Mentors have been significant throughout my whole career, especially earlier on. As a junior creative, I saw very few women in senior positions or people of color in the workplace. I remember looking up to senior creatives and feeling like that could never be me.   

I was lucky to find a few people who advocated for me. They had my best interests at heart and genuinely wanted to see me succeed. Feeling worthy must always come from yourself first, but I can’t deny how powerful it was to have someone senior validate my experience. They helped me feel confident in myself and my work, form plans for the next level of my career, have the right conversations to get the career progression I was aiming for and develop my style and technical skills with trusted feedback. They also inspired me to be like them – from their work ethic and how they treated others to approaching problems. 

The Aunties has already accomplished so much! What are you most proud of? 

Last year, The Aunties was named ‘Mentors of the Year’ and highly commended in the ‘Champions of Change’ category at the B&T Women in Media Awards. While this title is usually awarded to one woman, we entered the names of all the Aunties from our Junior Mentorship Program. This was a proud moment for our mentors, many of whom hadn’t mentored before – having 96 women from our community recognized by the industry was pretty special!

Why is supporting women* in the creative industries so crucial? 

Creative output is reflective of who is making the creative. If a particular type of person is overrepresented in an industry, only one kind of story gets told. Due to the same people with the same worldview repeating the same stories about women, we see narrow depictions of women in advertising and the media. 

While one advertisement depicting a particular type of woman is not necessarily harmful, these repeated depictions create and reinforce stereotypes, defining us as only homemakers, mothers, people pleasers, and pretty, passive, hairless, perfect creatures. It’s very limiting. As advertising and media shape mass culture and attitudes, we are responsible for ensuring we get it right.

If a particular type of person is overrepresented in an industry, only one kind of story gets told.

– Katarina Matic

The creative industries must support women*, women of color, and other underrepresented and marginalized groups to create diverse and inclusive workplaces that output a diverse range of work representative of society as a whole. Supporting women* has a flow-on effect and can profoundly impact culture and the greater community. 

What’s your advice for women* in the creative industries looking for a mentor? 

  1. Be proactive. Take stock of who’s in your immediate and extended circles – you probably already know your soon-to-be mentor. When I was a junior, I found senior women in the office who I looked up to, even outside of my department, and asked them if they wouldn’t mind having a coffee every month to chat. I would also take my work to senior designers I admired and ask for their opinions, even if they weren’t on my brief, to learn how they think and approach the task.
  2. Reach out to those you admire and ask them to review your work and provide feedback. Advice is a great, authentic reason to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. If they give you feedback, make the changes and check back with them in a few months. If you gel and build a good rapport based on these occasional catch-ups, you’ve found yourself a mentor. 
  3. Find your people: who you surround yourself with is extremely important. Find an environment where you feel supported and comfortable being yourself with people who empower, uplift, and want the best for you.
  4. If you identify as a woman* or non-binary, apply for our next Aunties mentorship round! For more info, give The Aunties a follow on Instagram or LinkedIn.

And that’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed this inspiring interview with Katarina Matic of The Aunties. While you’re here, check out our interview with world-renowned designer Jessica Walsh, or catch up on the top Graphic Design Trends for 2023

*The term women* includes people who are non-binary, a-gender, gender-nonconforming, and all marginalized genders.

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