At a session entitled “Sheroes” at the 3% Conference in New York City, global chief executive of CP+B Lori Senecal, Wieden + Kennedy’s global chief creative officer Colleen DeCourcy and Morgan Stanley’s vice-president and managing director Carla Harris discussed what it’s like to be a female leader in an industry that, despite making strides, is still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Moderated by FCB’s worldwide chief executive Carter Murray, the women discussed topics including work/life balance, what it’s like to be a woman in a leadership role and dealing with criticism.
Below are some key tidbits from the session.
On being a woman in a leadership position
Historically, men have been the ones who have been the recipients of leadership positions within the advertising industry. While the tables have started to turn in recent years and more and more women are filling top leadership roles, women certainly haven’t been encouraged to go for top roles and take on challenges in the same capacity that men have.
“Men have been trained and identified and brought along to lead companies,” said DeCourcy during the session. And since men still make up a majority of the senior roles in ad agencies, she added that she sometimes finds herself asking, "how can I be a hero in a company full of men?’”
However, she said that men at Wieden + Kennedy have been overwhelmingly supportive of her as a leader at the agency (she was recently named global chief creative officer after serving as global executive creative director). She said that one male co-worker told her that her leadership style is different from his past bosses - not because she is a woman, but because she has a “unique worldview.”
On dealing with criticism
During the session, Murray asked each panelist how they handle criticism in what is decidedly a male-dominated culture.
Senecal, who served as global executive chairman at KBS before joining CP+B, said that because of the nature of the roles she has had throughout her career, which have often involved helping agencies transform and write their next chapter, she is no stranger to criticism.
“The last two jobs I’ve had have been fairly dangerous missions in that they were agencies that required transformation,” she said. “When there is that need and desire for transformation, inevitably change needs to come with that. And change is really hard. Restructuring has to take place, personnel changes have to take place, and all of those decisions are incredibly hard.”
When faced with hurtful comments about her decisions and management style, Senecal said she relies on support from her fellow co-workers.
“The way that I cope with it is really with the people,” she said. “Your responsibility as the leader is to create an inspiring company and really build a bright future for these people, and in return, when you have those difficult moments, it’s amazing to see how they rally around you.”
On work/life balance
On the topic of work/life balance – something that women are often asked about – Harris said balancing life and work doesn’t necessarily mean balancing work and family. Instead, she said it’s about “living intensely” and finding time for passions, no matter what the circumstances.
“I believe you should have something in your day every day that brings you joy,” she said.
As a gospel singer, Harris said that she will sometimes use her time on long flights to learn and prepare for upcoming concerts since planes provide with her an uninterrupted string of time where she can focus on what makes her happy.