Arriving at Starcom’s Farringdon office on Monday evening, there is a large welcome sign to SMG: WACL’s Speed Mentoring Gathering. I am there to be inspired by women who have achieved power and status in the industry and learn from their stories. I’ve been to women-only speed mentoring events before and even managed a couple but none as renowned as a WACL gathering.
The venue is large and open plan with a bar, canapes and lots of brightly coloured seats set up to encourage mingling. Soon the wine is flowing and people are beginning to chat. Most people are dressed informally and have come straight from work. The atmosphere is relaxed yet lively which makes introductions easy. In our immediate group, we have a mixture of backgrounds – media agency, client side, creative and one student. Everyone is eager to introduce themselves and discuss the mentors they would most like to meet.
The evening is hosted by Pippa Glucklich, VP of WACL and co-CEO of SMVG. It is the tradition for every VP to have a project and Pippa’s is ‘Speak Up’, which promotes the female voice and is about getting women heard. Pippa's introductory speech highlights WACL’s challenges of becoming more accessible and connecting with women they have not historically touched – particularly young women starting out in their careers.
There’s a great turnout of around 70 mentees, aged between 20-40, with varying degrees of industry experience and knowledge. There are 15 mentors so we have to form groups of five or six and rotate around the room. It’s in no way intimidating and the mentors are all open to being questioned and seem incredibly honest in their replies.
Our first session is with mentor Jane Frost, CEO of MRS. A legend within the club and within the industry, she has an impressive corporate background working for Unilever, Shell, the BBC and HMRC. She is clear about the importance of developing your own personal brand and living by it. If you can’t be yourself at work, then how can you get any joy out of it and how can you expect others to love working with you? She believes in the benefits of lateral thinking and in having the confidence to move within your company and not be confined to linear progression. Her advice, if asked upon to manage a team, would be enforced participation in the MBTI personality test.
Second round is with Kate Waters, partner at Now and ‘reluctant entrepreneur’. She was called upon by her former client and now partner, John Townsend, to join him in setting up their own communication agency. Kate cites the agency as one of her biggest achievements and admitted "once you have worked for yourself, you won’t want to work for anyone else again".
Next up is Merry Baskin, planning consultant at Baskin Shark and published author. Her advice is interspersed with literary references to Malcolm Gladwell and Charles Kingsley’s Mrs Do – As – You – Would – Be – Done – By. Merry told us to think about our LinkedIn contacts. How many of those people could you depend on? Nurture your friendships, in particular those who have mentored you. And whatever you do, be a winner not a whiner. There are only drains and radiators in the workplace and no one wants a drain.
And finally we are joined by Diana Tickell, CEO of NABS and Pippa, who remind us they were once in our shoes and that their experience as account handlers has been essential in getting where they are today. Pippa’s advice was honest and simple: work for someone you admire and for a business that embraces change.
All too soon it was 8pm and the speed mentoring was over. We were all invited to linger for more wine and conversation before heading home. It was a fun evening and a rare opportunity to chat to a group of very funny and clever women. However, I came away feeling that although each mentor’s advice was from the heart, some of it was aspirational rather than practical and it would be helpful to talk to them again.
I wanted to know about the trials and tribulations of their first four years in the industry. Whether they ever doubted this was the right place for them and how they felt when they were first starting out. As this was a gathering focused on women just starting their careers, I would have liked to have heard about their lives before they became CEOs and marketing directors.
With that in mind, I look forward to my upcoming 1-2-1 mentoring session with another fabulous WACLer.
Lauren South is key account manager at The Drum. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenSouth