5 takeaways from Ad Age’s Women to Watch Conference and Awards
For more than 20 years, Ad Age has honored female ad and marketing executives with its Women to Watch program. This year, it was expanded into the Women to Watch Conference and Awards, with the addition of panels and keynotes addressing the barriers women still face in the industry.
Throughout the day-long event, industry leaders took a closer look at what, if anything, has changed for women in marketing and how individuals can better advocate for women, especially those of color, to fill leadership roles. The 3% Movement’s Kat Gordon, Publicis Groupe Chief Inclusion and Experience Officer Renetta McCann and ColorComm Media Group’s Lauren Wesley Wilson were among the event’s speakers who discussed the state of female representation in ads, the importance of mentors and more.
It was also a day filled with celebrations as Ad Age celebrated the 2020 class of Women to Watch U.S. and Europe. Past honorees Ann Lewnes, executive VP and chief marketing officer at Adobe; NBCUniversal Chairman of Advertising and Partnerships Linda Yaccarino; and Dara Treseder, senior VP and head of global marketing and communications at Peloton, spoke about their experiences in their careers so far.
Ad Age also named the esteemed Carol H. Williams, the CEO of Carol H. Williams Advertising and the first African-American female creative inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame, as this year’s recipient of the annual Vanguard Award for her lifetime of achievements. Williams reflected on her more than 30 years in the industry and what guided her successes.
If you couldn’t make it to the September 15 virtual event, here are five key takeaways:
Be kind to yourself
In her keynote speech, Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO of Pernod Richard North America, says women need to liberate themselves from the pressure they tend to place on themselves so they can focus and feel empowered. Brains, she says, always needs some relaxation.
Mukherjee uses little tricks to keep her work-life balance in track. She says she shuts down her phone as soon as 5 p.m. on Friday rolls around and doesn’t turn it on again until Monday at 7 a.m. when she returns to work. For her, it’s all about making sure she spends time with her family, which has taken priority throughout her career. Her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia when she was only five years old and it took five years until she recovered. That could have derailed Mukherjee’s career, she says, but she still became a chief marketing officer and got to the point she wanted in her profession. She says being clear with employers is key. “For the moments that mattered, I put my family first,” she says.
Advocate for yourself and others
Multiple studies have looked at how women tend to get passed up for promotions because they tend not to speak up about their accomplishments to persuade their employer to get the job. Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, says women can empower themselves by learning how to persuade and persuade well, an important trait, especially for marketers.
“Learning the art of persuasion has helped me navigate around the boardroom—never taking ‘no’ for an answer. You need to be persuasive to sell through the value of yourself and your capabilities,” she says.
Treseder says women should extend their persuasive skills to advocate for other women to get them in the rooms that matter. But it's also important to understand that everyone is on their own journey. Lewnes says that although women can rise through the ranks by advocating for themselves, companies must still have a strategy to bring about change, especially at tech companies.
Bring the ‘activist’ out of an ‘ally’
For many advocating for racial justice and women’s rights, “ally” has become a very general term: Anyone can say they’re an ally without actually taking measures to combat gender or racial stereotyping or diversify their leadership. Jenna Lebel, CMO at Liberty Mutual Insurance, says the word needs to be changed from a noun to a verb. “We need to take an action-oriented approach to it.”
“Ally has become synonymous with passivity,” says Abu Ngauja, associate director of talent and culture at The Martin Agency. “Activists ask 'What can I do?'... Yes, we’re in the business of words, but until we take those steps and look internally, nothing is going to change.”
Part of being an activist rather than an ally, is to make sure your language is as inclusive as possible, says Lebel. “Language has the power to either build barriers or create a sense of belonging,” she says.
Think of women as the ‘superset’
Kat Gordon, founder and CEO of the 3% Movement, raised a fact often oddly overlooked in the ad industry: The female consumer is the dominant purchaser of all things in the marketplace, and yet women are not the main targets of ads.
“There aren’t marketing agencies dedicated to marketing to men, but there are marketing agencies dedicated to marketing to women,” says Gordon, who says it’s a backwards way of marketing.
Gordon says women need more representation in ads, and the process to include them has to start with the brief and needs to look at even the subtle things like whether it’s a man or woman who provides the voiceover work. “Why wait until these ads are out in the market? It’s so preventable,” she says.
Be willing to take risks
This year’s recipient of the Vanguard Award, Carol H. Williams—the first-ever African-American female to be named a VP and creative director at Leo Burnett Co.—says courage and conviction in herself led her to take important risks that allowed her to achieve success.
When she was selected to work on Procter & Gamble’s Secret antiperspirant line in the 1970s, she envisioned a campaign that really represented the hardworking women she knew in her daily life. She gave the woman in the campaign a voice and showed her as the power behind her household, not as a victim. Williams chose the tagline: “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.” When it came to the TV commercials, she cast a Black couple in one ad, but was told that Procter & Gamble would not accept a Black cast. However, the brand approved all the spots and Secret went from No. 9 in the market to No. 1 within six months. She believes it was the first national spot of its kind.
“It’s always about recognizing who you are and what you bring to the table,” she says. “How you turn obstacles into assets. How you make it work for you. It’s never easy, but it’s a way in. I tried very hard to recognize and make others recognize the uniqueness of my Blackness. Yes, we are extremely creative. Yes, I have a voice. And yes I am very proud and happy to be a Black female and no environment can take that away from me. It makes me a more powerful creature.”