With Advertising Age's Women to Watch franchise moving into its 20th year, we thought it opportune to invite a handful of groundbreaking past honorees for a discussion. Editor Ken Wheaton and outgoing Publisher Allison Arden led a conversation that covered sexism in the industry, advertising's ability to shape society, how to get more women into the field, and the biggest challenges facing adland in the upcoming years.
This text has been edited for brevity; to see the video of the full roundtable, visit adage.com/w2wvideo2016.
Allison Arden: As a role model in the industry, what do you want to share with the industry at large or with women who are coming up in the business today?
Cilla Snowball (Women to Watch class of 2012), group chairman-group CEO, AMV BBDO: Whilst women are all reluctant role models, if we're to attack the issues of gender equality in the industry, we have to see it to be it. It's really important that we do our best to bring the next generation of women through.
Lori Senecal (2014), global CEO, CP&B: I always encourage people to create their own leadership opportunities, because there's not always a leadership opportunity available to you. But if you look at the organization and you see a way that you can show your leadership skills even in an informal way, you'll be able to demonstrate to the organization that you have the ability to lead and you'll get those opportunities.
Lisa Mann (2015), founder and CEO of Think Marketing, a boutique advisory firm: A lot of women need to know that they're in charge of their career, the importance of always planning but not having a specific plan. Serendipity, opportunity unfolds, and saying yes to an opportunity that may not have been on the plan can be the greatest thing for your career.
Tamara Ingram (2007), CEO, J. Walter Thompson Co.: We have an absolute duty to really make sure we have women in the industry, that we support them, that we get them in, and look for a diverse community to represent all communities. For me that's very important: not only in where people come from ethnically but also actually to look at inclusion to get people from different communities in different ways. And we have a duty to seek that and not just expect it to come for us.
Carolyn Everson (2011), VP-global marketing solutions, Facebook: My message to young women and men who are thinking about this industry is there's never been a better time to shape the future. It's intellectually stimulating. It is creative. It is challenging. You meet an incredibly diverse set of people. And when marketing is done well it actually drives economies, whether it's small businesses in local communities all the way up to the world's largest brands, and you can play a significant role in that. From a female perspective, we want more females in this industry. I mean the way we're currently tracking, it'll take over 100 years to fill and get women 50% in C-suite positions. Now you can go to the planet Pluto back and forth many times over that period of time, and so I would say to young women that are thinking about it, you've actually never had a bigger opportunity. We want you in, and it is our duty as senior women in the industry to pay it forward and ensure they're nurtured and they believe anything is possible.
Arden: Work-life balance is still an amazing conversation, and we would have expected to have made more progress, right?
Marisa Thalberg (2012), chief marketing officer, Taco Bell: Perhaps many of you share the same sort of irritation with the idea of work-life balance because it's so artificial. No one lives in a state of perfect equilibrium. You can make those daily choices and navigate it and still have your career and still be absolutely unapologetically committed to your family. But it does take women and men at senior levels to send that message.
Ingram: Creating a workplace, however, I do think we have to recognize that, particularly nowadays, we have to create great experiences for people. So that has changed. I wouldn't call it balance. I'd call it enabling people to be the best they can be, so they bring their talents and their creativity back to the workplace.
Senecal: It's important that we also shift how we view success, because often if you look at the legacy measures of success and you walk around your office late at night to see who's still working, that's not going to be a good indication of who's succeeding. You really have to think about the outcomes. They can have flexible schedules. They can do it on their own terms.
Jackie Hernandez (2007), chief marketing officer, NBC Universal Telemundo Enterprises: I don't think it's about face time anymore. It's about how much people are bringing to what they're inspired by, and we can all be on all the time, but also if we inspire ourselves we'll be even better at what we do.
Arden: I've always thought that the advertising industry has a tremendous opportunity to put forth wonderful work in the world and make positive change. Madonna Badger has recently been talking about "#WomenNotObjects," about the objectification of women in the work that we do. How can we change that?
Snowball: At BBDO we're really proud of some of the work that we've done to show the change we want to see. We've just done some work for Ariel in India on "Share the Load" [about household chores]. We looked at labels and objectifying women for Pantene. We did the Glass Lion winner last year, again in India, "Touch the Pickle," [challenging taboos around menstruation]. We can bring about change by showing in our work the change that we want to see, and that's a tremendous privilege.
Cindy Chen (2015), global head of e-commerce ventures at Mondelez: I would say simply for me, take a stand. When I was very junior level, the thing that we learned from the agency is that sex does sell. Now I'm more mature in my life. We need to respect ourselves, and when we see that kind of work, you should say no. Simply say no.
Lisa Donohue (2006), global president of Starcom Worldwide: To build on this whole theme of purpose, we're finally starting to see that come together, where there's a greater understanding of purpose that does drive the bottom line. Whether it's Secret and "Mean Stinks" or Always and "Like a Girl," it's very powerful statements but understanding that was equally good for the brand, for the community, for business. There's no separation here.
Ken Wheaton: Sexism in the industry, have you experienced it?
Mann: I've had wonderful moments in my career and challenging moments in regards to that subject. The most challenging moment was when I was the only woman in the room. So when there are other women, it just feels like it's less of an issue. Sadly, there are still moments when you're the only woman in the room, and something very weird happens to all these men who have wives and daughters. Something happens. They suddenly don't hear a woman speak the way they did before.
Wheaton [to Ingram]: You're obviously coming into a tough situation. What are you telling your people that work under you and even clients about this?
Ingram: I'm actually very clear. We deal with creativity and brand ideas that come out of consumer insights and people insights. We absolutely have to have the talent to represent the community we live in. It isn't just a personal moral imperative, but it's a business imperative as well.
Wheaton: At the 4A's conference, gender diversity became a big thing, but you look around that room in particular. … It was pretty white. You look around this room …. How do you fix the diversity issue in advertising and in tech as well?
Everson: You have to be deliberate about it. For every opening now at Facebook, when you get to the finalists, if we don't see a diverse slate of finalists, we tell the hiring manager to go back to the drawing board. Go back to the recruiter. You haven't tried enough. Because the truth is they're out there.
We're doing a lot of work with historically black colleges in the U.S. We're bringing more interns into the program. The fact of the matter is all of our companies need to represent the fabric of the community we serve.
Wheaton: But the people who work at agencies could probably tell you they've been doing this since the '70s, and the numbers for racial hiring haven't changed that much. Are we seeing changes now, in the last five years?
Snowball: To drive change we've got to count. We've got to set targets and timeframes because the pace of change is too slow. So in the U.K. we've doubled the number of women on boards in four years. We've doubled the number of women in leadership positions in agencies in 10 years. All great but not quick enough.
We can't empower women without involving and engaging men. We've got to do it together. We've got to celebrate success. We've got to name and shame the offenders, and we've got to get on with it, and that applies to gender diversity, age, ethnicity, disability, all the areas that as an industry we recognize we've got work to do, but we've got to do it together.
Hernandez: It has to be deliberate. It has to also really be embraced as a business imperative. If you're reflecting the complexion and the mindsets of the audiences and consumers that you're trying to reach, it's going to work.
Chen: If you look at the advertising industry or even marketing industry at a junior level, the percentage actually is quite high. The problem is when you move up. So hopefully we have a mentor, but more importantly, sponsorship in place. In my mind, a mentor is for the education, to say, "Hey, I'm holding your hand. You've come to this company. This is the culture. You need to do this." Sponsorship is so important, which is opening the door, giving you a seat at the table and showing you the new path.
Thalberg: We have to be more self-aware that there are some inherent gender differences and they can be the greatest strengths for women as leaders, but we can turn them upon ourselves or they can be turned upon us.
It doesn't have to be these really rare but high-profile cases of overt discrimination or sexism. It's the insidious little subtle ways that your employees might expect something differently from you or judge a decision that you make differently, and that's where I think we have to constantly navigate this individually, but we have to be aware of the cues we send to each other in support.
Senecal: At CP&B what's been really interesting is pairing a man and woman together. So Chuck Porter and I are a mixed pair, and then our largest office in Boulder, Colo., we have Danielle Whalen and Devin Reiter as a pair. What we've been noticing is even more so than just having a woman in charge, having the two people learning from each other and seeing each other's perspectives and also representing role models to everyone in the organization that they're comfortable with -- they can all see the path to the top -- has been even more effective than just having one or the other.
Wheaton: We talked about the past 20 years. What is going to be your biggest business challenge in the next 20 years?
Snowball: The biggest business challenge for us in our company for the next 20 years is the same as the biggest business challenge for the last 20 years. It's the onus on us to create big behavior-changing ideas that will resonate with people.
Everson: Mobile is the most significant change in terms of how we actually reach and communicate with consumers. And honestly, from our perspective, we think video is even going to be a bigger new format, and it is going to be personalized, and it's going to demand the level of creativity and ideas to be more exceptional, I would argue, than they've ever had to be before.
Mann: I am now spending all of my time thinking about how to grow and scale small and emerging businesses. And I think the biggest challenge is going to be, how do you achieve scale in this day and age when there are so many disruptors, there are so many new businesses? It is so expensive. While technology has enabled us to truly meet with our consumer and have a better, more authentic dialog, how do you achieve scale when small and emerging businesses are not going to have giant budgets?
Hernandez: We've gone from a platform-centric world to a consumer-centric world, and the biggest challenge for our industry moving forward is staying ahead and keeping up with the consumer as we look at even just how we're measuring, how we're connecting on traditional and nontraditional and through digital and new platforms.
Chen: I actually think about three key challenges, so not only for the company that I work for but as an industry. The first one is talent. Particularly for a traditional company, how do you get talent? All the talent is moving to the Facebook type of work. So how do we make sure that we get talent both promoting from within but also maybe steal the talent from outside.
The second piece is, I'm so perplexed by the idea of a CMTO. The modern CMO needs to be CMTO, which is how you combine the marketing and technology. How do you make sure marketing people are exposed to the ever-expanding technology stack? Last but not least, how do you create this omnichannel, which is a frictionless omnichannel, so that you can close the loop and make sure consumers' shopping experience is as pleasant as possible?
Donohue: The biggest challenge is that we don't know what our biggest challenge is for the next 10 years. We don't. We certainly have a lot of challenges right now. I would agree with everything everybody said, but we don't know our biggest challenge. We have to recognize that we don't know that, and think and focus on how do we prepare ourselves and our organizations to understand that when it comes along, identify it and know what to do with it.
Senecal: Convention won't challenge itself, and if you do have a culture that is all about challenging convention as things come down the path, you'll be better equipped to handle them.
Thalberg: Putting it through the lens of marketing, I'd say the biggest need agency partners need to help us with and we as client leaders need to figure out is going to be managing through the complexity. We have to somehow stop trying to create the smoke and mirrors that more is better, because more is overwhelming, and it's really overwhelming everything.
We can start figuring out how to enable the right, best choices for what the marketing task at hand is, using all these great emergent technologies and opportunities, but they can't all be applied all the time. I'm finding this is a huge stress point in my organization. Do we have to do all those things to be successful in a campaign? When can we just do one thing well? I don't think there's a clear answer yet, but I think we need to identify this as an incredible imperative for business organizations and the partners that support us.