The Token Man: TBWA\Chiat\Day's Rob Schwartz talks to Rebecca Rivera, CEO of Speed Mentoring about talent, listening, and working for the work

In a new initiative from the founder of Creative Social, Daniele Fiandaca, a series of prominent women from across the marketing industry interview male figures about their views on gender imbalance and diversity in the industry.

In the third interview in the gender diversity series, Token Man , Rebecca Rivera, chief executive of Speed Mentoring, speaks with one of her favorite #manbassadors, Rob Schwartz, chief executive of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY.

Rebecca Rivera: It’s become more fashionable to be a #manbassador. But given that (as Kermit once said) it’s not always easy being green, why do you stand up for gender diversity and do interviews like this one?

Rob Schwartz: First, I want to go on the record as saying that I was a #manbassador long before it was fashionable. I’m an old-school #manbassador.

RR: Why is gender diversity important?

RS: This might sound very erudite but I read a Harvard Business Review case study on Lehman Brothers back in the 80s. In it, there was a great quote from a guy who took his research department from number 16 to number one, in a highly competitive world. When he got there, he saw there were no women. So he asked, “Why are there no women here?” There was a lot of hemming and hawing. So he said, “You mean to tell me we’re going to ignore 50 per cent of the talent pool?”

That really illuminated everything that I believe. I’m a slave to the talent. I want the talent, and not everyone who’s talented is a man. My first and foremost priority is very pragmatic. We want talented people and there are a lot of talented women.

RR: Do you ever get pushback from your male colleagues?

RS: Less so now. And I don’t think it’s so much pushback as being conscious of certain assumptions in the past. For example, when we’re talking talent, they might use language like, ‘Find a guy who can fix that, run this, do that’.

It sounds sexist and like they’re not considering a woman – which they are. So I wouldn’t call it pushback. How I’d put it is: in the past there’s been an unconscious neglect (or unconscious prejudice).

I have to add that I do think though there’s kind of white-guy fatigue (I’m off-white because I’m Jewish, I get a hall pass - HA). I think there’s white-guy fatigue because there are so many issues and assaults on the establishment of grey-haired white dudes that I think there’s an understanding that things are changing; they must change and it’s good to have them change. Whether every grey-haired white guy agrees with it, I don’t know.

But I think everyone agrees that change must happen and is happening.

RR: Why do you think gender diversity is important to senior management?

RS: I’ll use the Venus and Mars trope. What’s interesting is you need these different natural or organic proclivities. What I mean by that is typically with men if there’s an issue on the table, men rush to solve it at the table. There’s something about the male DNA that says, ‘Oh, that’s the problem? Then we should take these three actions to solve it.’ You have split seconds of understanding and absorbing and then immediate action. I think with women (and I’m generalizing) it’s more natural that when there’s a problem to be solved, there’s an absorption time and a time to be very thoughtful about it. There’s urgency without the rush of the solution on the table. And I think this is what really helps you in senior management to move an organization forward.

RR: Do your male colleagues realize on a day-to-day level how tough it can be for women in senior management? Do you think they really understand?

RS: Well the understanding of the female plight is what’s very powerful about this Token Man initiative. The empathy. But to answer your question, ‘do men really know?’ I would say by and large, no. But a good manager, male or female, understands that empathy is such a crucial part of leadership.

RR: What do you think are the hardest challenges women face in senior management?

RS: There’s a lot. I think maybe I can give you some perspective of what I’ve heard over the last few years working with senior managers.

One of the things I heard was that if a woman is forceful and strident, the perception on the male side is she’s bitchy. But at the right point in time, in a given situation, somebody needs to take the lead. So at times, there’s a disconnect between forceful leadership and a stereotype.

Another challenge, and this might sound superficial, but it’s optics. I’ve heard from some women colleagues things like: should you wear heels to be eye-to-eye; do you wear a more professional conservative suit and does that make you seem more male-like; do you celebrate your femininity; does that undermine your credibility? If you have long hair, what do you do with it? These are things I’ve heard from female colleagues that have to be considered that men don’t have to think about.

RR: Time to do some math. What’s the male to female percentage of TBWA\Chiat\Day staff?

RS: 51 per cent female, 49 per cent male.

RR: What about the senior management team?

RS: 30 per cent female, 70 per cent male.

RR: The TBWA global network?

RS: Across 11,000 people, it’s 55 per cent female, 45 per cent male.

RR: TBWA Network leadership?

RS: 75 per cent male, 25 per cent female.

And I have to mention that we have this 20/20 Take the Lead Program led by Erica Hoholick, the President of TBWA MediaArts Lab. The goal of 20/20 is to increase women’s leadership roles across the network by 20 per cent over the next five years. This is something that’s happening now and is on everyone’s radar.

RR: In terms of departments, where are women having the hardest time becoming and remaining senior managers?

RS: I think we have a math issue on women leaders in creative departments. There are just not enough female creatives. It’s sheer attrition – whether it’s other job opportunities or other interests in life, we don’t have as wide or deep a pool to choose from. It’s a frustration and a challenge.

We have a lot more female senior management in the account group. We have a lot more female group account directors, by a measure of 6:2 (female/male). When I look across strategy, we have more balance. Project management is almost all female but we have diversity within that department, with strong African American leadership and staff. And what’s nice about New York is you have a strong Latin American culture – so we have more diversity that way.

RR: Getting more specific about female creative directors. What single piece of advice do you give female creative directors who want to get and stay ahead?

RS: The best advice I give is really to focus on the work, focus on the creative. At the end of the day the creative product and the work we do on behalf of brands sits above any skirmishes, squabbles, or problems.

There are issues that we sometimes have with creative directors, male and female, that are at a very personal level, very ‘he said/she said’, if you can raise the conversation up to what’s right for the brand and the creative product, those skirmishes tend to go away by themselves. So, in summary, the piece of advice I would give any female creative director is: you work for the work and you’re there to deliver something amazing.

RR: Getting women in senior management in the door is one thing… how do you keep them around?

RS: That is the $64,000 question of the moment. Retention in general is a real challenge in our business for all the reasons we already know. We’re not the coolest kids on the block anymore. So I read this thing I’m starting to adopt and I think it could work fairly well for female leadership. Treat your employees as though they were your clients. In a lot of places I’ve worked, and you hear about others all over the world, once they come on board, employees become indentured servants on your pirate ship.

There’s just a sense of unbelievable commoditization of humans, of human capital. So if you treated female leadership as if they were your clients, what would you do? You’d be super committed, unbelievably in tune with what’s going on with them. If they had problems, you’d immediately prioritize those problems. Suddenly (without playing favorites) your antenna would be really up and I think you would consider it more of an investment than something that was just another item on your to-do list.

RR: What are TBWA’s maternity and paternity leave policies?

RS: We’re very respectful of people’s decisions to have families and support them in their desire to flourish in their careers after that life experience.

Of course, TBWA is a global network. So the family leave policies range, depending on the laws in each country and in some cases, the locale.

In general, we uphold whatever the laws are in that country. For example in the US, FMLA gives new moms or dads 12 weeks off. But depending on how long you’ve been at the company, you might be eligible for up to two additional weeks of parental leave.

RR: What about a gender gap pay policy?

RS: TBWA has an equal opportunity employment policy, which covers compensation.

RR: What have you done as a leader to help solve the gender diversity in senior management issue?

RS: I’ve gone out there and supported things like The 3% Conference. I lend my time and whatever Twitter influence I can use to dent the universe ever so slightly for the force of good to celebrate female leadership. The other thing I’ve done that I’m very proud of is I’ve worked to grow female leadership at TBWA. Starting in LA, where when I was chief creative officer, we very consciously put six really strong women in place to run our pieces of business.

I put Margaret Keene in place to run our most important, highest-revenue generating piece of business. We had Robin Fitzgerald running the Energizer business. And then Xanthe Wells of course was our creative director on Pepsi.

She and I developed a very close working relationship and while I’m her mentor, I text her on a weekly basis and she’s become a consigliere for me. It goes both ways now. A lot of times she’ll give me a piece of advice or perspective and I’ll think 'Wow, I just would not have thought of it that way – you’re really right.' So those are some things I’ve been doing.

RR: What would you tell every man in the industry about gender diversity; what should they do and why should they want to?

RS: Let’s start with the why. I go back to the Lehman Brothers story. 50 per cent of the best people who are out there are women so if you’re not thinking about that, your talent pool is half the size it could be.

So from a very pragmatic standpoint you’re going to open up an entirely new area where you’re going to find the talent. And if you’re trying to run a creative enterprise, it only runs on talent. So that’s the why. The why is the talent.

The what/how? I think it begins in your agency. Start in your agency. Look around and see who are the women who are driving the agency and start to celebrate them in some way.

RR: What’s the one thing (if any) you commit to as a result of doing this interview?

RS: I'll commit to doing the thing I have committed to doing for a while: looking to hire and grow the best female talent.

RR: Last question: who would you like to nominate for the next Token Man interview?

RS: I’d love to hear from Tor Myhren over at Grey, who used to work for me at Chiat LA and has become one of the best chief creative officers in our business today. In fact, I introduced Tor to his wife who worked for us in Japan at TBWA Hakuhodo, and I bet he’d have a really interesting perspective on the power of female leaders in Asian culture. He’s really seen just how strong female leadership is in Japan, not just in businesses but the power of women in Japanese culture.

More information on the Token Man initiative can be found at the dedicated website.

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