Lessons in being fearless – The Drum’s top Girl Guide interviews of 2014 featuring Mondelez, Levi’s, The Guardian, Facebook, Google and more

By Jessica Davies | News Editor

December 30, 2014 | 10 min read

This year The Drum has interviewed some of the media and marketing industries’ leading female figures from brands including Levi’s and Mondelez to media owners such as the Guardian, Channel 4 and tech giants Facebook and Google.

Each aired their views on a variety of issues from the gaping gender divide in the market, to the war on talent, and what has most inspired them most in their jobs, as well as what they have most feared.

As we circle in on another new year The Drum has rounded up some of the best interviews and quotes from these brilliant ladies, who were featured as part of the Girl Guides - a series created to champion senior female leaders, particularly in the digital industry as a means of encouraging young girls to pursue digital and tech-focused careers.

Dana Anderson, CMO, Mondelez

FMCG giant Mondelez’s new chief marketing officer Dana Anderson, spoke to The Drum on the importance of being fearless. Anderson, who in her new role oversees the company’s global portfolio of advertising, media and marketing, described its ‘Fearless Fridays’ in the office, during which staff are encouraged to talk about how to be fearless, “because it’s almost like you have to ask it, you have to ask people to be fearless,” she explained.

In her role she acts as the conduit between internal brand teams and agencies as they shape the public image of brands including Cadbury, Oreo and Toblerone. She also referred to the agency/client relationship as a Skalespearean play, rife with misunderstanding, but which both sides can overcome with bravery and honesty.

Jen Sey, global CMO, Levi's

Global CMO of Levi’s Jen Sey flew to Europe to promote the brand’s $96m (£56m) global campaign aimed at putting it “back at the centre of culture”, earlier this summer when she was seven months pregnant. She met with The Drum in Paris at the time, for a UK exclusive, to speak about the launch and the brand’s global strategy and to speak about how she went from a career as a US Olympic gymnast to her current role as the global CMO of Levi’s.

At the time she told The Drum: “When you look at how many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women it’s paltry, it’s embarrassingly small. But when you think of the amount of women who are at graduate school, they outnumber the men, so it’s inevitable that they are going to be equal in positions of leadership in the future.”

Abi Ellis, group creative director, DigitasLbi

Abi Ellis, group creative director at DigitasLbi told The Drum that people in the advertising sector need to “rock the boat” more and be braver – resisting the temptation to replicate previously successful ad models and creative ideas.

“There is a lot of imitation rather than innovation. Of course we are clearly driven by our work being successful, so there are times when we may want to borrow attributes of things that have been a success, and yes we have to be accountable, but there has to be magic involved. You can’t just use pseudoscience – you’ll end up making a monster.

“Everyone in the industry needs to be a bit braver in how we approach projects, clients, everything – to rock the boat a bit more...everything has got a little bit safe,” she said at the time.

She also was one of the first to call out Google Glass as a socially unacceptable device, swearing that anyone who went on a date with someone wearing a pair would run a mile.

Tanya Cordrey, chief digital officer, The Guardian

"People said it couldn’t be done and that we were crazy to even think about it.” That’s how Tanya Cordrey described reaction to the news it was overhauling The Guardian website to become a global brand. She spoke to The Drum earlier this year about the fascinating changes taking place within the publisher as part of its digital transformation.

She described this time in her career as nail-biting, and one of the toughest challenges she has ever faced in her career. "Our domain move may seem like a relatively small thing but it was a massive engineering task, and one which we have since been told is the biggest in internet history," she said.

She also called on the industry to work harder to attract female talent, saying there are still far fewer females who apply for the more technical roles within the industry as a whole, a reality which she described as “depressing”.

Yonca Brunini, VP of marketing EMEA, Google

Turkish-born former Unilever marketer joined Yahoo in 2002 after realising her calling was the internet. And then, encouraged to explore new opportunities by Fru Hazlitt (former Drum Girl Guide and head of commercial at ITV), Brunini left the “familiar” world of the FMCG giant to carve a career out of the internet in the post dotcom crash era, ending up at Google.

During her career she has had a few odd experiences caused mainly due to her being female she felt - one being a time when at a conference in Switzerland she was mistaken for a coffee waitress.

“The gentleman wanted an espresso – I told him ‘can you please get me one too?’” Yet she believes that the bigger issue is women holding themselves back, or “unconscious bias” – the concept of women being treated differently even by those purporting to be committed to equality.

She also regaled the story of the kidnapping of a colleague in 2011. Read the full article to find out more.

Fidji Simo, product manager, Facebook

Facebook’s product manager Fidji Simo believes companies need more women at all levels if they are to stay competitive and encourges young girls to "dream big" when it comes to their careers. She told us how she comes from a family of fishermen, an industry which in itself never changes - the very fact which spurred her to seek work in an industry that does precisely the opposite - whose only tradition is change.

She spoke of how she landed the job at Facebook, where she oversees all mobile products, and of how Sheryl Sandberg inspires women in the company.

When asked what advise she would give young women going into digital-focused careers she advised: “Don’t be afraid of failing. In the digital industry in particular, the barriers to entry to testing new ideas are so low that there is really no reason not to try. And when you dream big you are more likely to inspire people who will support you and are less likely to fail in the end anyway.”

TIffany St James, ex government socil media chief and founder of Transmute

Strategist and entrepreneur Tiffany St James, who in her life has worked alongside the founder of the Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, told us her secret in life was to “do it until you’re told not to”.

After 14 years as digital consultant to the government, during which time she held titles including head of communications, government digital policy, and head of public participation (social media), she was among those to help steer No. 10 through the establishment of its open data strategy.

She confessed a large part of her drive to push herself in the digital industry was due to her becoming fed up with feeling out of her depth at dinner conversations centring on digital evolution.

She speaks often of the digital skills gap – a subject she is passionate about addressing. “We have a 10-year skills gap, because if you look at generation Y, the gen Z and C coming up underneath are groups of individuals. 16 year-olds today have been brought up in a recession, and while social networking was highly sophisticated. They understand intrinsically how to collaborate, redesign things – how to get their views heard on social media.

“When they come to be our leaders there will be transformation change across every single part of business – head policy, government services, and all businesses, because they will come into a work structure and say ‘we’re not doing it like this’.

Now she is consultant to the Abu Dhabi government on its digital transformation strategy.

Gill Whitehead, director of audience insights and technologies, Channel 4

Last but by no means least we have Channel 4's Gill Whitehead who heads up the broadcaster's viewer engagement programme and registered user database.

She started her career as an economist at the Bank of England, and likened it to the scene in Mary Poppins when the children get taken to the bank by their father.

“It was full of grey haired white men wearing bow ties who all addressed each other as Mr Smith or Mr Jones,” she said. Needless to say she decided it wasn't the job for her, and moved on to a variety of other roles before coming to Channel 4.

She conceded that she does know what it is like to be the only female voice in the room, having spent time on the YouView board alongside Alan Sugar, and believes that the experience can be an empowering one.

“In those situations I’ve personally found that, almost because your voice is so different from the rest of the room, people will actually stop and listen in a way that they might not listen to each other,” she says, encouraging women not to shy away from these moments and to instead find the confidence to embrace them precisely because they’ll be thinking in a slightly different way to the rest of the people in the room.

More generally, she encourages women to try and have a long term career outlook and think about where they want to be in five and 10 years’ time.

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