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Woman in the workplace

Last week, Omniwomen UK held its second agency-led event in 2016 hosted by Proximity London; it was a robust session filled with lively panel discussions, mentoring and its first ever “speed-networking” segment. (Omniwomen UK, an initiative started by Omnicom, is aimed to champion female leaders throughout its global network, has been producing events since its’ May 2015 inception and many of Wolff Olins’ male and female leaders are heavily involved in the initiative).

The topic of lack of female leaders in the creative and marketing industries is not new; from women such as Cindy Gallop and organizations and conferences such the 50/50 Initiative from the Art Directors Club and the 3% Conference (not to mention shadow organization 97% Conference and its evil plan to #Maintaintheratio), the understanding of and sentiment towards the issue alongside its implications to consumers, business and society is oft-discussed and highlighted.

Alongside the need to advocate for more women in the industry and specifically within leadership roles, the additional perspective of supporting, mentoring and coaching women to ensure proper infrastructures are in place to promote them is one very much backed by our global COO, Sairah Ashman. While Sairah’s point is about the importance of coaching in general, the Omniwomen event featured discussions addressing specific attributes and actions women could focus on, individually and as a group, to ensure they feel equipped and confident to make their voices heard within their organizations.

The four main panels focused on: Confidence, Managing Conflict, Goal Setting & Beating Imposter Syndrome, and Turning Wise Words into Daily Actions.

In the first discussion, moderated by our Senior Strategist, Zami Majuqwana and included our Global Head of Business Development, Rose Bentley alongside Deepa Shah, CFO of Hall and Partners and Rajeep Dey, MBE and CEO/Founder of Enternships, the topic of confidence was tied to recognizing the human element in us as individuals and daily interactions with one another. In short, the group concluded that confidence was earned through experience and the journey to achieve it began with accepting that we are all human; at one point or another, regardless of role or gender, we will feel thrown off but we should use the hesitation not as a hurdle but a driver.  Learn from each situation and seek out help. And importantly, as Rose stated, “Cut yourself some slack.”

With earned confidence, hopefully, should come ease with handling conflict.  In the night’s second panel, panelists Jayne George, Director of Fundraising for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Tony Miller, Head of CRM & Digital for Disney EMEA, gave frank assessments of how successfully managing conflict comes from a perspective of patience, self-reflection and feeling supported. In the beginning of the session, they were asked whether they believed a persons’ gender impacted how he/she were judged on handling conflict and both answered no; interestingly, when the female-dominated audience was polled, more than 50% believed it did. It was insightful, albeit not entirely surprising, to hear most women believed there was a difference in how the genders faced prickly issues and scenarios. When “imposter syndrome” was discussed in the third panel, speakers Hayley Mills, International Strategy Manager from OMD and Sarah Blackman, CIO Proximity voiced their belief that men and women handled it differently. In our industry work environment, where different challenges are presented day-to-day, both admitted to each experiencing imposter syndrome themselves- due to a spectrum of factors ranging from age, experience to appearance- and believing as women, with our sometimes heightened tendency to worry, its more sensitively dealt with than men. However, Sarah may have captured it best with her statement, “You have to remind yourself that you know enough. I think creative people should feel confidence in their ability to be original. Feeling like an imposter can come from feeling like you’re on the outside or don’t belong; but that can be a good thing. Use creativity as a strength.”

In the evening’s last session, Alison Chadwick, Executive Coach and Founder of growpeople, had the audience split into pairs and ask one another to reflect on the lessons they’d take forward from the evening. Alison gave the three following tips: Be responsible, be authentic, be realistic.

Stressing the importance of owning your actions was integral in her first two tips. The first, taking responsibility’s for your mindset and how you choose to address situations put in front of you- both emotionally and executionally- were tied to the second tip of remaining your true self while pursuing your goals. She advised to “put effort into self awareness and skill-building” as attempting to be someone, other than yourself, is simply exhausting. Her last tip was, which ended the night by bringing the conversation full-circle, to be realistic and accept that human-ness in ourselves and one another. Accepting that setbacks will occur and we have imperfections and will continually grow and change, will better position us to achieve our goals. But to be realistic about it as well. 

Women in the workplace, whether it be the lack of them in leadership roles or how we do/don’t (and should or shouldn’t) behave will always be an interesting, insightful, and sometimes contentious topic. It’s ambitious to say we’ll be able to solve the problem any time soon; but it’s important we continue to explore different facets of the subject and perpetuate the dialogue; in doing so, we ensure the issue is top of mind and not a fad subject to debate.  If we’re not speaking about it, we’re not thinking about it. Which would be the ultimate shame.

Illustration by Erika Baltusyte

Krisana Jaritsat is the Global Head of Content Strategy at Wolff Olins. You can follow her @krisanajaritsat