Girl Guides retrospective: What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

What advice would you give your 16-year-old self? That’s the question we put to some of the inspiring female leaders who have featured in The Drum over the years as we wave goodbye to our Girl Guides series and get set to extend the debate to the wider issue of diversity in the industry. Here are their words of wisdom for young women looking to emulate their successes.

Since its launch in 2012 The Drum’s Girl Guides series has featured some of the most high profile women in the digital, marketing and media industries. Originally focused on women blazing a trail in the world of digital, it has since expanded to champion female powerhouses from across the industries, from publishing to advertising and beyond.

While women remain under-represented in many sectors, the series has demonstrated that one needn’t look far to find female role models serving as a leading light for girls looking to build a career in this industry.

Now The Drum is marking the end of the series by revisiting some of the Girl Guides interviewed over the years. We asked them they would tell their 16-year-old selves, and what piece of advice they’d give young women looking to emulate their successes.

Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB Global

Hey, Susan, you know how you think you are shy? And a little girlie? Get over it. Well, not completely over it, but get your little girlie self out there. Stop thinking your world should be filled with people just like you. Fill it with as many interesting people and places that you can. Embrace diversity with an open heart and mind as soon as possible. Like now. Your life will be richer for it, your mind will be opened, humbled, awed, stupefied, mesmerised, challenged and grateful. Oh, and always default to being kind and generous. And try to expect those same two things from others.

To young women entering the industry, this is a business where women have an incredible opportunity to be successful. Now, say that over and over again. Keep saying it to yourself and out loud. For too long we have put the opposite thought out there. And when one states something over and over again it becomes true. The very fact that we have said this is a tough place for women made it so. Where are the women in advertising? Never ask this question again. Instead, lose the ‘w’. Say ‘here are the women in advertising’.

In 1985, I chose advertising because it appeared to be an industry where women could get to the very top. Mary Wells, Diane Rothschild, Nancy Rice all had their names on agency doors. Yvonne Smith, Diane Cook-Tench, Penny Hawkey, Charlotte Beers, Shelly Lazarus. The names were everywhere. I chose advertising because I believed women were more than welcomed; they could be incredibly successful. And do you know what? Despite the numbers today, I still believe that’s the truth.

Justine Southall, publishing director, Marie Claire

I’d tell my 16-year-old self not to be constrained by age, stand up and be heard, go for it, you have nothing to lose, and be persistent... and stop worrying about the size of your bum. To young women looking to enter the industry, I’d tell them to be persistent and thick- skinned, and by that I mean you cannot allow yourself to be put off by a lack of response or rejection.

Make yourself useful and add to the discussion wherever possible. There was never a time when the voice and knowledge of the young was more valued and ready to be heard. You literally are the future.

Jean Lin, global chief executive officer, Isobar

To 16-year-old Jean Lin I would say believe in yourself. Be braver and dare to explore the world outside of your home country as soon as you can. The world isn’t just what you can see outside your window, it will become truly borderless and you will benefit so much from mastering more languages, and understanding and experiencing different cultures first hand (so stop missing your French and Japanese classes).

To young women looking to enter the industry I would also tell them to believe in themselves and

to not let the expectations of others interfere with their own plans for the future. Be inspired by other great leaders, but have the confidence to have your own style of leading and managing people, and be creative. Be the person with all the masculine and feminine traits that you were born with; you will be the most creative when you appreciate yourself and the most insightful when you see the world through your unique personal perspective.

Do not believe in the glass ceiling: your only limit is yourself and your imagination. Do not focus on being different; focus on being great.

Tiffany St James, co-founder, Transmute, and Bima board

To my 16-year-old self I would say you can do anything in life you choose. Your chosen work has not yet been invented. Believe in your dreams and pursue them, nothing is insurmountable, but do break down actions into manageable steps and set realistic deadlines.

You may need to justify your ambitions to gain the support of others, so find evidence to back it up and paint a compelling picture: get people excited. It’s okay to revise your ambitions as you grow but make sure they stretch you. Never say never, you can change direction any time you please, never hang on to outmoded ideas if their time has come or live up to others’ ideas of what you should be.

To those looking to enter the industry all of the above apply, as well as, make sure you network. Seek out interesting people, however you define interesting. Seek out events, meetings and spaces (online and offline) where you can find like-minded individuals who stretch your ideas, people you can have fun with, supportive communities.

Understand how to present yourself. If someone searches for you online, what will they find? Does it reflect you, your interests and what you stand for? If not, work out best how to weave your personal story and personality into your digital communications.

Finally, stand out, be interested and interesting.

Care about your industry and demonstrate your competences by getting stuck in personally and professionally. Give back and showcase what and how you are giving back.

Amy Kean, head of futures, Havas Media Labs

My advice would be to ‘read and write’. It’s really that simple! I’d tell my 16-year-old self to read more – anything! Newspapers, textbooks, philosophy, Smash Hits, chick lit, the Bible... Nothing beats a broad vocabulary and when you work in media, especially in creativity and innovation, you need as much cultural and intellectual fodder as you can get. We all know that the internet has destroyed the modern attention span but reading actual books and magazines (made out of paper!) can benefit the brain hugely and act as a release outside of a hugely hectic occupation. Reading makes you more thoughtful, more interesting and more accepting of different perspectives.

My 16-year-old self didn’t read nearly enough, so now I’m left with a list as long as my arm of all the essentials I never got round to – including Nineteen Eighty-Four, the modern marketer’s handbook, apparently!

And my advice to young women getting into the industry is to write. Show people you have an opinion, write a blog, put yourself out there and build up a strong profile for all the right reasons. Writing will set you apart from every other planner or account manager and it’s an excellent way to punch above your weight – especially in social media where no one knows how much work experience you have.

Michele Tobin, senior vice-president of brand partnerships, Rovio

Young women starting in the business, make sure you are always doing something you love, and working with people you like and respect. We spend a lot of time at work and life is just too short to do otherwise. When you are passionate about what you do, and align yourself with good people, success is much more likely.

The best thing you can do is to develop strong relationships early in your career. People want to work with someone they like and respect – it’s human nature. I find myself doing deals with the same people, even as we all change companies and roles.

Lastly, no matter what your role is, always strive to go above and beyond, and do more than is expected of you. It’s the best way to learn and to grow.

To read all our Girl Guides interviews from the past three years, visit our dedicated hub.

This was first published in the 5 August issue of The Drum.