In this opinion piece, the head of innovation at independent creative content agency Red Engine SCC, and B&T Women In Media nominee in digital category, talks about why we are at such an important time for females in the media industry.
On Friday I am squeezing my six-month pregnancy bump on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney for the B&T Women in Media Awards. I may or may not win on the night, but the fact I have been shortlisted (whilst being pregnant) at such a prominent time for women in the industry is very important to me.
While we have come so far since the days of Mad Men, when it comes to female leadership in media and advertising (as highlighted by the recent and well-publicised comments by Kevin Roberts of Publicis), we’re simply still not at the level of impact we should be.
This event celebrating the contribution and leadership of women in this industry is a key part of a positive shift towards that. I’m going along with my bump in tow because I believe it should be the norm to be able to be a prominent leader in our industry without having to sacrifice family.
For me and others like me, to be successful there are a number of things that do need to change for professional Mums (and Dads) to be able to reach their best potential. The obvious ones are the expectations of late nights, meetings that don’t start until 8pm, flexible working hours and many other practical things about our current culture that just make life outside of work extremely difficult. But before we can change any of that for the long term, I believe there is a much bigger issue around attitudes and judgement that is holding us back from taking charge of the situation.
“To be frank, I think this is a function of the fact that at the top of our industry and every industry is a closed loop of white guys talking to other white guys about white guys,” Gallop says. “Those white guys up at the top are sitting very pretty — they have their gigantic salaries, huge bonuses, stock options and expense accounts. Why would they ever want to rock the boat? The system is working for them just fine as it is. So this is a way of post-rationalizing why there aren’t any women up there, by saying, ‘Oh, no, no — they don’t want to be.’” Cindy Gallop
What this statement by Cindy Gallop says to me is that one of the biggest things we need to change is the expectation that things will just alter for us. Yet why would those at the top bother when these leaders are so comfortable? It’s actually up to us to be the change we seek.
There is undoubtedly a desire there amongst our community, but it’s crucial that we also believe that we can do this. I have observed many incredible women curtailing their ambition and holding back on their potential for greater impact; not believing they can successfully do a more senior role until they know they can do it perfectly.
Why do we protect ourselves from jumping too far too soon? This attitude is something that has been looked into extensively by social researchers like Dr Brene Brown and Professor Jim Mahalik. Their research has found a surprising belief that even today, to be a success as a woman we believe we should be seen to do it all perfectly; look good and always keep a smile on our face. It is considered failure and unfeminine if you allow others to see you struggle. Like the old saying goes, ‘Women don’t sweat – they glow’.
Despite having many great opportunities, at times I have been personally plagued by these voices of judgment, stopping me from doing what I want to do, in order to protect myself from people thinking that I might not be able to hack it, or worse still, that they might not like me! If I have learnt anything from taking on bigger challenges (that I thought I may be capable of), it’s that I should do it more. Each one has taught me important lessons that have progressed me further as a leader. If I had played it safe I would have missed out on that.
To change this belief, it is also critical to be more supportive of each other as we take these daunting leaps. For women and men to be empathetic, not critical, of each other’s struggles, acknowledging that we all sweat sometimes and that’s okay, it’s a part of the journey.
This refreshing kind of support is something I’m seeing more and more in Mum’s Communities, with bloggers like Constance Hall showing the harder and less spoken about realities of motherhood in a humorous way, helping millions of mums around the world to not beat themselves up about their tougher days.
We are at such an important time for females in our industry. Let’s put fears of judgement to one side, tune into our true ambitions and give challenges a go, including the blending of family life and career, because within those experiences are the lessons that will help make us the great leaders of an evolved industry, hopefully inspiring the next generation to make even bolder and better change.