Carat’s national executive leadership team is 50 per cent female, so B&T sat down with five of these talented women to pick their brains about why Carat’s so invested in gender equality, and what advice they’d give their 18-year-old selves. Here’s part three of our conversation with Catherine Krantz, general manager of Carat Melbourne; Gabrielle Merrick, managing director of Carat Brisbane; Sarah James, chief digital officer; Georgie Nichols, general manager of Carat Sydney and Adriana Colaneri, chief marketing officer of Carat Australia. Part one of our chat can be found here; part two here.
If you could give your 18-year-old self some advice entering the industry, what would you say?
Colaneri: I always say ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’, because being really persistent is important. Also in our industry I think it’s important to be incredibly resilient and adaptive to change, because there is so many things that have changed over the past 20 years that I’ve been in the industry. I often think that it is survival of the fittest.
Krantz: I would say ‘trust your instinct’. I think that instincts are a really underestimated business criteria and something that can glean a lot of success in that it’s your guiding principal built over time. Often it’s your first thought that’s the best thought, but sometimes people second guess and double judge. I think more often than not if you listen to that, it’s the right way to go.
This was key in some of the decisions I made about returning to work after having children; decisions I made about my role progression, things I thought I was capable of whilst maintaining my work/life balance, moderating what I thought I could take on successfully and not taking on too much so as not to upset that balance. I think that’s a really important part of knowing who you are and what you’re capable of.
Merrick: If I had the chance to talk to my 18-year-old self, I would continue with the theme of, ‘It’s about not trying to be somebody that you’re not. It’s about being authentic and trusting your gut’, because at a point as a female in this industry you try and be all aspects and think, ‘Can I be more like a bloke? Can I do this?’
Then you have to say, ‘No, no, no, just be yourself, trust your instinct and go with yourself and things will work out’. You’ve got to carve your own path, you mustn’t try and be somebody else. Take elements from people that you admire, but don’t try and be like anyone else.
James: I would say follow your passion. Coming from a digital specialism for me by following that passion has really lead to my success because there’s always been a fire and I’ve been driven by that. That fire is something that I’ve continued to follow now, and I’m really passionate about it. That’s key for me.
Colaneri: I agree; I don’t think there’s ever been a day that I’ve woken up in the morning where I’ve not wanted to go to work. I’m really proud of that. That’s how you know you’re in the right place.
You can see it in the people you manage, the ebb and flow – some people will exit the business or the industry completely. It’s almost hard to empathise with how that feels because quite honestly this is what I was supposed to do.
Merrick: I lucked out landing in an agency almost 25 years ago as a media assistant and realising that this side of the business actually exists. Then probably within about a day and half thinking, ‘How lucky am I that I happened upon this! This is the best thing since sliced bread’ and it just grows on you.
For me it’s the perfect balance of being analytical, logical and creative all in the same vein. It’s wonderful.
James: I was going to build on that and say, how many people do you [B&T] interview that say the just fell into media? So many people fall into media.
Merrick: Especially 20-something years ago it wasn’t a part of the industry that was at the forefront, it was the creative or full service, then all of a sudden it’s the media thing.
Krantz: I think it’s exactly that, it’s the balance between art and science. You get to do a little bit of everything, it’s a combination of all of those things. You’re not necessarily going down a singular path.
Plus, the people – that’s what it is when you get down to it – working with clients, working with teams. Once you graduate out of the technical side of what you’re doing, essentially what you’re doing is working with people. That’s something I’m particularly really passionate about.
Colaneri: We’ve all worked at a number of different agencies over the years. I’ve been at Carat over the past 11 years. I’ve worked with a number of managers and CEOs and it’s been incredibly supportive of my career path and helping me find the role that maybe I was born to.
I think that’s been the case for many of us; understanding our strengths and weaknesses, working with that, and finding the roles that work to those strengths. It’s really paid off; we’ve had our most successful year this year so we’re really pleased but it wasn’t an overnight success.
Merrick: It was the guys too.
Colaneri: There are some amazing men who are incredibly supportive of us, a lot of them are dads as well and they get the same flexibility that we do as women. It works, it just works.
Nichols: I think I would tell my younger self to take time out to keep learning. I think that’s a massive part now because you get so caught up in the day-to-day and I think, particularly now with the rate of change in digital and technology, you need to making sure you’re continually educating yourself.
We all get caught up in our day jobs and for me it’s about making sure you set yourself two or three hours a week to take time out to keep up to date with what’s happening in data and technology and digital to see where the industry is going and not get caught in your day-to-day clients and the work you’re doing, and make sure you’re continually pushing yourself and driving yourself forward.
Why is Carat is so invested in female leadership in the industry?
Colaneri: We’re supporting the Women In Media awards this year because it’s a fact that women in this industry aren’t given the same voice as men. We don’t get as much coverage in the trade press, we don’t get as many speaking opportunities and panel inclusions. So I think it’s really important that we have things like Women In Media that celebrate all the incredible women in the market and give them a voice.
For us we really believe that a big secret to our success has been in the diversity of our team, things like flexible working hours probably wouldn’t have come from a man.
I think we as women do think differently and bring different thoughts to the table and that’s been a part of Carat’s success. But the fact that we are a 50 per cent female leadership team was purely based on what our track records and what we have delivered to the business, many of us for a long period of time.
It certainly wasn’t due to a gender quota or anything like that, we all earnt our positions and have added a huge amount of value back to the business.
What do you think of quotas?
Merrick: I think it’s a balance of that because I think merit is one thing but then there’s a proven bias that people will choose to work with people who are exactly like them. So if you then don’t give them a reason to think about somebody else then they just won’t do it, because as a human being that’s just the easier thing to do.
Would I as a woman like to know that I got promoted because of a quota because I’m a woman? I probably wouldn’t feel great about that; I want to feel like I’ve earnt my position because I have a proven track record of delivering on the KPIs of the business over the past four or five years.
But I think there’s got to be a balance of that, people have got to be prepared to say, ‘Okay there’s got to be a couple of different people around an executive table, it can’t just be everybody like us’. Whether you formalise that or not, it’s a hard one.
But I think business is one thing, but you’ve got areas like public life and politics where that’s slightly different. Here it has to be based on merit.
Colaneri: We’ve been lucky because there has been a lot of females in leadership roles, but I think in some industries they need those quotas because whatever they’re doing now it’s not working.
James: For us, we’ve been quite lucky in that coming up the ranks in Carat having senior female leaders to look up to. I think it’s self-fulfilling because now there’s so much more of us in senior leadership roles. So the women coming up through have many of us to look up to. So it’s promoting from within as well.
Colaneri: When I joined Carat there were only 12 people in the Sydney office and Catherine was one of them. So we had each other to look up to.
In my career I’ve worked with a lot of very strong female role models like Anne Parsons who ran MediaCom for many years, she’s brilliant. So I think I did have some really strong females, the difference is that they weren’t juggling family as well as career.
James: It’s also about Adriana’s point – about finding a voice, and how these awards really help to do that. I think that’s part of it for me, it’s that constant reminder that I have a strong voice and it’s quite a noise marketplace so being able to come to market with the right voice and confidence.
It comes back to having the confidence to have a seat at the table, that reminder that why shouldn’t we have that seat at the table? We have every right to and we get the opportunity to. That’s something that I constantly think- hang on, push yourself forward, keep pushing yourself forward because it’s so easy for us to take a step back. There’s no reason, we’ve been blessed with wonderful management and opportunities to push ourselves forward.
Merrick: That’s the point about diversity to. You feel confident that you fill your own shoes, you don’t have to fill somebody else’s shoes or a man’s shoes, and you don’t have to act like a certain other person. The point of diversity is that you fill your own shoes because you offer up your own voice and opinions. There’s a strength in that. I suppose support of other people around you who also have different points of view, no one is wrong around a table.
Colaneri: Even though we’re all women, we’re all very different and complementary of each other. It’s about giving us that voice, early this year we partnered with another event and Cindy Gallop was the keynote speaker. I think she’s done wonders for the industry and pushing women forward and putting pressure on the industry to say it’s not good enough to have all male panels at conferences.
Even in my role as CMO in Carat, when I’m working with people like B&T and your competitors, it’s really important for me that if we’re going to be associated with something there needs to be a 50/50 gender split otherwise we don’t want to be involved.