What does being a people-centred leader mean in practice? And why should we all be embracing tech? Ahead of this year’s B&T Women In Media Awards, Audience360’s managing director Jenny Parkes shares her biggest career lessons to date.
We hear a lot of talk about people-centred leadership but what does that mean to you and what does that look like in practice?
For me it’s people first always. We work in a people-based industry, so you need to be vested in your employees, their aspirations and genuinely want to help them succeed. I love Richard Branson’s quote “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
In practice, it’s about building a business with a strong culture as the foundation and for me that always starts with organisational values. I’m a big fan of an inclusive approach, as opposed to top down as that delivers team buy-in and ownership. At Audience360 our entire team co-created our values and we’re totally invested in them. They’re kept front and centre and celebrated through our reward and recognition program, and we also lean on them when we make decisions. So, if a decision doesn’t go someone’s way, they understand why that decision was made.
Placing people in roles where they thrive is a passion point for me. I love putting the organisational jigsaw together where the focus is on maximising strengths. I find that people tend to really step up when they already have a sense of achievement, and that confidence makes them more open to working through development areas.
On top of that a diverse workforce enables different thinking. Innovation comes from an alternate lens and traditional thinking being challenged. I’m very proud of the diverse and inclusive workforce we’ve created at Audience360 across gender, demographic and ethnicity.
Finally, people-centred leadership is about taking the time to understand what someone’s motivations are. Once you get to the heart of that you really are managing to the individual to maximise performance.
I think utopia is creating a culture of high performance, high support and high reward.
You’ve supported women returning to work after maternity leave, how can the industry support mothers past maternity and the pre-school years?
Thankfully as an industry, we’re now pretty good at supporting a return to the workforce after parental leave. Looking back now I had some pretty funny conversations trying to get flexibility to work from home when I was coming back from maternity leave.
Retaining parents and especially women in our industry is about supporting them through different stages as their family grows and that’s achieved through good family-friendly policies and providing true flexibility. This can extend to hours, part-time and providing choices for where employees work from.
As a mum of three, with teenagers in high school, the flexibility I’m looking for now is different to when they were infants. School hours are different to daycare hours and sometimes we want to be the mum at the school gate and be able to attend the concert or the parent-teacher interview, even if it’s during business hours. I schedule school appointments in my diary like any other meeting and I’m very open with the staff about going to a school commitment. Role modelling these behaviours and normalising being a parent, as well as an employee who’s equally committed to their career, is one way to show our employees that we’re serious about supporting parents through their careers.
Open and proactive communication with regular check-ins for all parents is the key. The more we’re in-tune with our staff the more we can put the right support around them as their needs change.
After starting out in sales you moved on to roles such as general manager, what advice do you have for women in the industry who want to move up a step?
Firstly, your career is a marathon and not a sprint, but try telling that to a millennial! Seriously though there’s something to be said for ‘time in the chair’ and what I mean by that is it’s easy to get quick wins when you first walk into a role, it’s harder to beat your achievements in the following year. There are some roles from a development perspective where it’s beneficial to get the full gambit of the experience and all the challenges that go with it. Jumping from role to role doesn’t always achieve that and I would say that’s especially so for first-time leaders.
Seek out opportunities to ‘act up’ in a role if you can when someone is going on extended or parental leave. I did that twice in my career and my learning skyrocketed from those experiences. They also cemented my thinking of what I wanted my next role to be.
There are two questions worth exploring, ‘what am I good at’, and ‘what do I really enjoy’. We spend a lot of time working so you want to have a good time doing it. One of our values at Audience360 is ‘We Enjoy the Journey’, so find a company you can not only grow with but equally where your values are aligned, that you’ll enjoy.
Nurturing relationships and finding a role model that you identify with is helpful. It enables you to visualise being in that role and gives you an indication of what you may need to do development-wise to work towards a more senior or broader role.
There are some great industry mentorships so seek them out too. I’m part of the iab mentor program and it’s been an equally rewarding experience.
There’s lots of research that women in particular won’t put their hand up for a role if they don’t think they’re 100% prepared for it, as opposed to a male who’ll confidentially apply for a role if they’re ticking 65% of the JD. With any new role, you’ll bring your experience and skillset and there should be some component of learning and development for you. Having a plan on how you’ll fill in the gaps will help build your confidence to push forward. Sometimes you just need to have a go.
When you started out in the industry did you encounter gender barriers?
More so that there were limited female role models in leadership positions. After I had children I did get cheekily asked once if I would be able to ‘travel’ for work when I was interviewing for a senior Sales Director role. I don’t know that all the candidates were asked the same question.
What do you consider to be the most valuable skills that women in the market can nurture right now?
There are probably three valuable skills that I’d recommend focussing on in general. Firstly, being a good communicator so you can effectively get your ideas across and communicate how you can help a business grow. Secondly, solving problems – you’ll always get noticed if you can assist to find solutions for a business and its clients. Finally, in any role some level of commercial acumen is important. Everyone who comes into contact with a client in some way is the face of that business and can uncover an opportunity.
B&T: Do you have to be tech-minded to thrive in media tech?
My background was in sales and commercial roles in traditional media organisations and I made a conscious decision to look for opportunities to expand my experience into Digital and Adtech. I think it’s about transferable skills to start with and for me that was my people and commercial skills.
We often hire from non-technical backgrounds and try hard to create a culture of learning. ‘We are Curious’ is another one of our company values and it means that we should share knowledge, be comfortable with the unknown and always ask questions.
What is your biggest career lesson to date?
I don’t think there’s just one however there’s a few things that ring true for me. People like working with people they like, invest and innovate in a down market and just keep showing up. Despite being in a broader role for some time now it’s the salesperson in me I can’t shake – I’m kind of the eternal optimist where I think something exciting might happen tomorrow.
There’s still time to buy tickets for this year’s B&T Women In Media Awards taking place on Friday.
The awards night will take place at 5:30pm-11:00pm, Friday 25th of August at the White Bay Cruise Terminal Friday 25th of August, so – buy your tickets HERE.
As well as the winners of these awards, we will also be crowning the People’s Choice Winner and revealing the B&T Women In Media Power List.
Big thanks to our sponsors for making the awards happen!
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