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WMN LDRS ROCK: a Q&A with Razorfish Health President and MM&M "hall of femme" honoree, Kara Dugan

by JohnMark Conklin

July 12, 2021

Publicis Health knows our #WMNLDRSRCK but you don’t have to take our word for it. Each year, the healthcare industry trade publication “Medical Marketing & Media” (MM&M) highlights female executives and ‘up-and-comers’ to its elite class of “Women to Watch” and “Hall of Femme.”

On Tuesday, April 6, MM+M unveiled its 2021 class and several women rock stars from across Publicis Health were on the list. Kara Dugan, President, Razorfish Health joins previous Publicis Health honorees Alexandra von Plato, CEO, Publicis Health; Susan Manber, Chief Patient Officer, Publicis Health; Kathy Delaney, Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Health; Janelle Starr, EVP, Marketing, Heartbeat, Andrea Palmer, President, Publicis Health Media, and Nadine Leonard, Co-President, Heartbeat, into the MM&M “Hall of Femme.”

Additionally, Michelle Edwards, VP, Human Resources & Operations, Heartbeat and Erin Fitzgerald, VP, Group Director, Account Management were announced among this year's “Women to Watch.” You can find the entire list online here.

I sat down with Kara to discuss the state of women in the workforce, what mentorship means to her, and what she’s looking forward to doing after the pandemic ends.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Women are now leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men. What needs to be done to alleviate this?

Yes—the “she-session” is totally real! Unfortunately, the high rate of women leaving the workforce can reverse the progress we’ve made toward gender pay equity and women in leadership roles. The first step in addressing the female workforce exodus is empathizing with the reasons why women are leaving the workforce and then addressing them.

Companies can start by offering quality, affordable child care and giving women permission to work flexibly in the ways best suited for them and support greater work-life integration. That may be black-out times for women to support remote learning for their children, or to take time for mental/physical wellness breaks (to get on that Peloton!). On a more practical level, individual managers can sit with their teams and construct a coverage calendar that flexes to everyone’s individual needs in a “living at home” environment.

Who was your mentor and what are you now doing to send the elevator back down?

I met Marjorie, my mentor, at an agency and followed her to Publicis Groupe more than 27 years ago. She guided my personal and professional development and taught me: “80% of the time an employee rises to the occasion—they just need the occasion.” I’ve taken that to heart and I’m passionate about providing emerging talent occasions to shine. While not a mentorship program directly, I recently participated in our early careers forum where I was able to share career advice to more than 400 of our young talent across Publicis Health. Referencing the lesson that Marjorie taught me, I encouraged them to “go make their occasion.”

I also love volunteering outside of work and have been involved with the “Big Brothers Big Sisters” program in my community. It’s a little cliché, but I always find that I inevitably learn more from them than vice-versa.

What is your golden rule at work?

I’ve always been a “glass half full” type of person but 2020 put my usually sunny and optimistic disposition to the test.

Losing my Dad in January right as I was starting a new job was the first of many heart-wrenching challenges. The personal stories of my friends and colleagues losing loved ones to COVID and then the murder of George Floyd last summer was crushing.

In my holiday note to the agency, I shared that in an effort to practice gratitude and not despair, my family highlights a silver lining of quarantine each night before bed. On the days we couldn’t find one, we would make one—like playing virtual games with our family in Wisconsin or making a humiliating TikTok during a work break.

Professionally, I realized my new role and my agency team were the greatest silver lining of all and I’ve carried that familial habit with me into the workplace. I’ve asked every manager at Razorfish Health to start their one-on-ones by asking, “what’s your silver lining today?”

So, my golden rule at work (and in life) is to find a silver lining each day and on the days you can’t find one—make one, however small.

How have you coped with the unique challenges of the past 12 months?

While challenging, we’ve been incredibly blessed to be healthy and working. Practicing gratitude and generosity have been helpful and we’ve used this unique time to continue supporting causes that are important to us such as donating to food pantries or our local Front-Line Appreciation Group.

As soon as I realized quarantine would be a long-term reality, I replaced old routines with new ones. My 90-minute morning commute to the office gave me an hour and a half to take my son to school and ride the Peloton. I replaced work happy hours with virtual cocktail couriers—drink mixes sent to teams’ homes. Agency parties became virtual events, including all-agency virtual escape rooms, trivia night and scavenger hunts. Additionally, at work, we instituted an internal “respect the purple” initiative, which encourages employees to regularly block “out of the office” time for themselves on their Outlook calendars; this shows up as a purple block of time.

In my personal life, my family Christmas dinner became a parking lot gift exchange in 32-degree weather and indoor get-togethers morphed into fire pit gatherings. As a family, we created Saturday afternoon tourist time, where we travel within an hour from home to visit a town, a monument, or my favorite: a trip to the house where my dad used to spend his summers. It was a lovely way to connect with my late Dad and to remember him on his birthday.

What are the first things you plan to do when the pandemic ends?

I know it’s strange to answer that question by saying I’m going to miss many things about quarantine—but it’s true! The pandemic was traumatic for all of us but there will be things I miss on the other side. My high school friends and I were so disciplined about Zoom calls that we actually saw each other more often than before! We bonded through divorce, cancer, covid and our kids’ heartbreaks as they missed graduations and playing sports. My son scheduled mobile game night every Tuesday with my mom and brother—it was pure comedy to teach my mom virtual beer pong!

I’ll miss how quarantine brought me closer to family and friends but there are two things I’m looking forward to on the other side of COVID-19. First, I became President of Razorfish Health at the pandemic’s peak and I’m looking forward to meeting colleagues I’ve only seen on Zoom and “elbow bumping” with others I haven’t seen in ages. Microsoft Teams simply can’t replace that human connection.

Second, I’m excited to travel again. I feel like I’ve spent half my life at O’Hare and never thought I’d say I missed flying, but I miss traveling both for work and for pleasure. We’ve done a lot of bingeing during quarantine and the first thing we’ll do when it's safe is visit some of the places the kids have seen in movies and shows on Netflix!

About Razorfish Health
Fueling the Practice of Modern Medicine

Razorfish Health (RFH) is a full-service creative agency with deep roots and expertise in healthcare providers (HCPs) and the patients that they serve. As the first digital healthcare agency, we are passionately on the forefront of fueling the practice of modern medicine, helping to shape how it is practiced today and how it will be taught for tomorrow. Our driving purpose is to develop inventive, data-driven communications that help HCPs and patients make better connections for better outcomes. Visit Razorfish Health’s website, and follow RFH on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


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