Women in Media | Five pieces of advice

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I’ve worked in the media industry for over 30 years and I’ve witnessed how the industry has changed, grown up, and become much more aware of the need for women to take up senior positions within the agency environment.

Things are changing and the portrayal of women has evolved over the years. Research published in January this year by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) found that less than a third of Chair, Chief Executive, Managing Director and other executive management positions in agencies are occupied by women. The percentage has climbed from only 23.3 per cent 10 years ago to 30.2 per cent in 2016.

The industry is notoriously hard-working, young and fun. The creative environment attracts enormous interest. From graduates to middle management the gender split is well balanced, but when it comes to senior management we are still not seeing enough talented and capable women stepping up.

I recently delivered some training on Women Stepping-Up, and out of the 30 women attending, nearly half claimed that they simply don’t want to move up the ladder to senior management positions for a variety of reasons. Immediately we negated 50% of the potential just by them being honest.

Here are five tips I would give to women who work in media.

Be clear about how far up the career ladder you want to go

Clarity and being honest with yourself is key. Look at how senior women at your company live their lives. Is it for you? Do you want to make the sacrifices that they do? Spend some time thinking about where you want to be in five or ten years. Imagine the environment, your life, where you will be sitting, will you be running a team and let that guide you into what level you want to be. Be open to changing your mind but have clarity where you are in your career now.

Coping with unconscious bias

The industry is changing, it’s much less alpha male and more intellectual in its behaviour.  In the old days, it was all about drinking, entertaining clients and a bit of work (quality of course) thrown in. Unconscious bias still plays a role in business, as women we are still often judged by how we dress and behave. If you automatically pour the tea in a business meeting are you betraying today’s powerful women by being a ‘mother’? Think about all these things, and if you want to be perceived as a powerful woman sitting at a table of strong men, then match them on their own turf.

Being confident negotiators

Men are notoriously seen as better at negotiation. Women are perceived as being aggressive or emotional. A negotiator is a negotiator in my opinion and good negotiating skills are preparation, having a strong business case, knowing how far you will go, and building a relationship and outcome that benefits both parties. Stay in your warrior power, which is strong, protective energy and be confident in your ability, then you can negotiate as well as, if not better than men.

The B Factor

I call the ‘hubby’ and the ‘baby’ influences as the B Factor. Whatever way we cut it, they are big influences in women’s lives and affect career decisions. A lot of women feel they must reach their career potential before they have children, as they will be overlooked if they don’t. This is a myth; a great company will encourage talented women to come back to the business and support them in managing both a family and a career. When I had my second son, I went back to work after ten weeks as they didn’t have decent maternity leave in those days. That’s not the case today, and it’s important we see how much this has changed over the years. We as women need to change our belief systems and stop feeling guilty for wanting everything.

The power of a group

Working with other women can be very empowering. In most work places, I have encouraged companies to set up a women’s network. This network is about empowering each other and realising the power of a group collectively can create positive change and offer great support. It is never about gender bashing. Find a strong female mentor and ask them to guide and advise you through your career.

I will close by saying everyone is different – yes, men and women share common traits, but I would encourage everyone to think of themselves as individuals, rather than a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ and all the baggage that entails.

About the author

Cathy McPherson is the Marketing Director at The Specialist Works. Cathy has over 30 years’ experience in the media agency world, having worked at Board Director level since the age of 26. In 1995 she was responsible for setting up the first ‘direct response/performance’driven media agency in the UK All Response Media.  She has worked as a Marketing Director running sales and marketing teams of over 60 people within financial services. Cathy is also a trainer and a qualified business coach. She is extremely passionate about empowering women to reach their full potential. She runs regular workshops focussing on soft and hard skills including personal development.

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