2013 Opinion Issue

Why Women Are Uniquely Suited to Lead the Ad Industry Into the Future

Gender Has 'Inherent Qualities' Needed to Guide Millennials Shaping Work Force

By Published on .

Millennials are a cultural tsunami. The largest generation of people this country has ever seen demands that we behave differently not only as marketers, but as employers.

I've heard many an exec in the ad business lament how this group is hard to understand and even harder to manage. Luckily, our industry has a potent but underused asset for grooming the next wave of leaders in this business: women. Here's how millennials are reshaping the workforce, and why women's inherent leadership qualities are exactly what's needed to cultivate the best of what this generation has to offer.

Millennials constantly want to talk about how they are doing, what's next and … everything else. Having experienced ample, continuous praise as they've grown up, feedback and recognition are two of their top greatest motivators. By opening the channels of communication, leaders can provide praise as well as criticism in a constructive, beneficial manner. They must provide the necessary tools for this generation to succeed -- and saying "thank you" and "good job" goes a long way. Women are masters at over-communicating and sharing successes.

They often ask why simple things are so complicated. Technology has provided instantaneous answers and solutions for millennials, reducing their patience for doing the same thing the same way twice. They want to work smarter, not harder. For this reason, managers should be flexible, responsive and open to change from the "clubby" rules that dominate corporate leadership. Women have had decades of experience changing the rules of the game and challenging conventions in fields where they used to be the minority.

Millennials are adamant about crowdsourcing and group approaches to everything they do. Having grown up in an environment with unlimited discussion and interaction, they expect to work "with" not "for," and they see the benefit of shared ideas. Collaboration and a sense of community help effectively harness their creativity, so building, celebrating and supporting team projects is key. Women are naturally more collaborative.

It's imperative for millennials that work, family and life complement one other. Have you ever met a millennial who had leftover PTO days at the end of the year? While they're game to work hard, they expect to play hard, too. And PTO is seen as a means to an end. Leaders need to help them prioritize -- to understand their personal priorities while not letting the balls drop. Women are experts at the constant juggling and trade-offs that work and life require.

Three screens aren't enough for millennials. Overstimulated from day one, this is a group that thrives on multitasking and chaos. Leaders should not fear the chaos, but rather nurture and support millennials' need to be simultaneously connected and involved in multiple activities. Women are superb multitaskers -- it's ingrained in their DNA.

This is a game-changing time -- we have a generation that will not put up with "all talk and no action." They're yearning for leadership styles that are flexible and nurturing and that foster collaboration. They demand transparency and open, frequent communication. They're seeking role models who know how to juggle and achieve richness in both work and life.

Yet taking a look at 93 agencies with revenues over $100 million, only 15 have women CEOs, which is a red flag for our industry at large. (This figure applies to advertising/PR/media/digital agencies only, based on Ad Age estimated revenue for 2012.)

There are plenty of reasons why the ad industry should embrace a better balance of gender diversity, and why I'm hopeful we'll get there. But the millennial factor is a big one: This generation will be the trigger that forces a change in our industry's gender stats at the top.

As well it should. Our future depends on it.

Linda Sawyer is CEO of Deutsch North America.
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