Recent Advertising Association data shows that although women outnumber men more than 2 to 1 at entry level in our industry, by the time you get to C-suite there are still 50% more men than women.
Sadly, that does not surprise me either. Before moving into advertising, I spent 5 years as a teacher where I saw girls consistently outperform boys academically at school and at university but be frequently underestimated and undermined.
That is why I also work to accelerate gender-equality in our industry as an Exec member of Women in Adverting and Communications Leadership (WACL)
I never really had a fixed plan – my career changes, including teaching, management consultancy, working at the BBC and in advertising, have all been driven by me searching out and seizing opportunities quite spontaneously. But they have all been driven by a clear strategy: I want to do work I enjoy and find fulfilling.
That sounds obvious, but I am not sure we always invest proper time and energy in working out what kinds of things in life we find fulfilling and where our own strengths lie. Recently someone recommended Clifton Strengths Finder to do just that. I loved it – and it is such a confidence boost too, which I find really valuable as I’m one of those women who judges herself way more harshly than I’d ever judge others.
There are massive systemic challenges for women in business. That’s not whingeing, it’s fact. From being objectified, to being silenced, to being punished if we are too competent or not likeable (i.e., gentle and accommodating) enough. If you have not read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez or The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart, I recommend you do so. You cannot fix it if you can’t see it.
Helping to grow and nurture two magnificent daughters is my proudest achievement. I am never ashamed to say that, in any business context. And they make me better at my job too, not worse. So why not celebrate that proudly?
When I was young, my success was down to naivety. Growing up on a council estate in Dagenham, I simply had no idea that certain things were not deemed appropriate for people like me. If I thought something looked interesting, I would just blithely give it a go. Like applying to study at Oxford, even though no one in my family had ever gone to university before.
Now I am more worldly-wise, it’s support and inspiration from people around me that’s helped me achieve every success. Life is a team game, so it’s vital to have people around you who lift you up.
From my days as a teacher to today as a Founder, I’ve always loved mentoring the next generation of women. That’s partly because I have a responsibility to share what I’ve learned from the barriers I’ve faced and the privileges I enjoy. But it is also because I learn so much from them too. The Talent Mentoring programme we offer through WACL is a brilliant example of this.
Getting more men involved.
Just as accelerating racial equality should not only be the work of people of colour, and we shouldn’t expect the LGBTQ community to fight homophobia and transphobia alone, so too with gender equality. We need men to stop sitting on the side-lines, whether out of apathy, self-interest or simply a fear of getting it wrong. After all, studies show that gender equality will benefit them too!
“Don’t believe that you need to channel your inner bloke to succeed!
Experts, including Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, have identified that leadership traits that are proven most effective are ones that women tend to over-index in. In fact, if leaders today were promoted purely on the basis of those proven-effective leadership qualities – empathy, humility, vulnerability, integrity and collaboration – 70% of them would be women.
If I had known that sooner, I might have spent less of my working life trying to fit in with a dominant-male culture and more of it trying to encourage the men to be more like the great women around us.
I want the next generation of women, including my daughters and their friends, to have to face fewer of the systemic barriers that hold back women, and that damage us all. So, I spend more and more of my time working to address that, in the work that we create and, in the media, and creative industries more broadly.
And because I know that it is harder to undo things that it is to do them right in the first place, I have also published a story for young children teaching them – especially boys – that “kindness to others brings kindness to you”. It’s funny, brilliantly illustrated by a good friend and has some lovely reviews, so check out A Hog’s Tale on Amazon and let me know what you think.