How Women Can Thrive In The Male-Dominated Ad World

Women who have broken that 3% barrier to climb to the top of the business world have had quite a journey. Sexist bosses, wage inequity, brutal online comments. Carla Harris, vice chairman, managing director, Morgan Stanley, Colleen DeCourcy, global executive creative director, Wieden + Kennedy, and Lori Senecal, global CEO, CP+B joined moderator Carter Murray, worldwide CEO, FCB to discuss the unvarnished truths about their triumphs and setbacks during the 3% Conference in New York City last week. 

It's hard for women to succeed in a world that isn't always fair, says Morgan Stanley's Harris. She advises women to understand the concept around currency, both performance and relationship. Performance currency is "delivering what was asked of you and a little bit extra. It works just like a stock market. It will create a reputation, early on, it will get you paid and promoted. It will attract a sponsor. That is the person spending their capital on you."

However, performance currency starts diminishing once "you created a new standard of excellence." There is no longer a premium when you work harder and longer than others since that is expected of you. “

Relationship currency, on the other hand, is the currency generated by "investments you make of the people in your environment," says Harris. In other words, your professional network. This currency is the function of somebody's judgements on whether you are ready, whether you will advance, and whether they will follow you. "How many people use their currency on who they don't know?" asks Harris. People need both professional and relationship currency in order to ascend at work. "Performance may get your name on the short list, but when your name is called behind closed doors, if no can speak on your behalf, you aren't getting the job," says Harris. 

Panelists advise women need to stop being eager to appease everyone. As FCB's Murray notes, ambition is used as a positive for men, but negative for women. 

"A willing creative is a B-player at best," says WK's DeCourcy. "You will always be reliable. You will always get pushed out on the okay briefs." She recommends that women take risks and focus on one stunning piece of creative each year that will "kill it." She says to sit back and wait for it rather than chase after mediocrity. "Fear has no place in your success equation. If you take a risk and you fail, it now gives you experience," says Harris. 

There are critics watching from sidelines, says CP+B's Senecal. Even last week, someone called her charm-free, steely, and heartless. "Your responsibility as a leader is to create a bright future. It is amazing to see how they rally around you," she says. 

Women need to encourage other females. "It is one thing to not post mean things," says DeCourcy. "But please go in to support [with positive comments]. It will drown out assholes who are bitter," she says. 

Women can't let ingrained expectations discourage their career aspirations. "Every time you come into a company, you really have to earn trust and respect of the team," says Senecal. She tells how she was the first female to join a board of directors and the initial piece of communications was 'good morning gentlemen.' Change doesn't happen overnight. "You have to work at building those relationships, she says. But setting the mission and vision for a company will bring both men and women towards the same goal. “

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