Lead like a girl

As more women are finally beginning to take on senior roles in the advertising industry, Caroline Pay, Deputy ECD at BBH London and one of our Creative Leaders 50, examines what a new – perhaps more feminine – style of leadership might look like

I believe that this is a pivotal moment for our industry. The noise around gender diversity, especially in creative leadership, is now deafening. And it’s not going away until the status quo is significantly shifted, once and for all. Let’s start with the good bits:

While I’ve been a CD, the ratio of female CDs has risen from 3% – 11%. Baby steps, but progress all the same.

I’m lucky enough to have just enough peers to feel that, between us and our colleagues, we can inspire younger creatives to believe that it is possible to have it all. Here’s to you Vicki, Hollie, Ray, Kate, Elouise, Rosie A, Rosie B, Chaka, Ana, Ali, Alex, Alice and the one or two I may have missed. And when arguably the finest director in the country today has boobs, changes are most definitely a-foot.

Lastly, the gender split in the BBH creative departments, across all offices, is now 50:50 at the junior level. So there might be some hope on the horizon. I was always concerned that school-aged girls had no clue about this career, but maybe that’s less of an issue now.

Sadly, those are about all the good bits I can scrape from the barrel of equality. The rest is terrible. This isn’t a girl problem, this is an everyone problem.

Even though I despise the word ‘Manbassador’, I bloody love the sentiment behind it. The men currently leading our creative departments should be making just as much of a difference as we are. Our new Worldwide CCO, Pelle Sjoenell, is a self-proclaimed feminist and beats the equality drum just as loudly as I do.

Sadly, on the flipside, I’ve heard a number of men (and women) complaining that we should stop banging on about diversity and get on with making great work. As if the two are disconnected. The point is that one drives the other. The more difference we have in our departments, the more difference we will have in our work.

For the last 20 years, I’ve only been bossed by men. Wonderfully talented and generous men, some of the best our industry has ever known – Robert and Mark, Kim and Tony, Dave and Naresh, John, Sir John and Nick. My god, I’ve learned so much from them all.

And don’t get me wrong, I am constantly inspired by so many of the brilliant women I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and am very proud to work alongside some of the most extraordinary female talent in our industry today. But what a shame I’ve never ever actually had a lady boss. A female ECD.

I love the idea of leading ‘like a girl’ (thank you, Always).

I like to walk into a room smelling fabulous, big hair, all the make up, heels, frock, the lot. I’m not ashamed of my femininity. I’m old enough and ugly enough now to be confident in who I am. For years, we had to ‘man up’ and be ‘one of the lads’, god forbid we ever dared to be girly-girls. Even now, when I walk into that room I often feel dismissed in the minds of new clients. But then we lady bosses open our mouths, sell our great work and kick arse in a way they’ve only ever really witnessed men do before.

My husband says I use something called ‘soft power’. One (brave) business director tells me I’m an absolute dragon sometimes. To be honest, I’m just me. I feel my way. Emotional intelligence is a pretty strong weapon and we must be proud to use it. I often embarrass teams with heavy praise, catching them off guard. I ask pretty personal questions, and share very personal experiences. And I open up difficult conversations because I know they have to be had, as painful and upsetting as they can be. Be emotional. Be open. Be honest. Talk it out, get it sorted. Care about the people as much as you care about the work.

On the sticky subject of having it all, I believe it is possible. Extremely hard work, but possible. This goes for parents and non-parents alike. When you lead like a girl, you let people know that your family, your friends and your life outside work is more important than your job. It’s not weak, it’s crucial. Lead by example. Balance by example. Be proud to look after your family. To look after yourself. As a fantastic, feminine, emotional and incredibly powerful woman once said, “You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.

So that’s my starter for ten. I may not have all the answers by a long shot, but I do have a way of doing things that I feel works for me, and for the people I work with. I hope that inspires at least one other creative to feel that she can find a way that works for her too.

Caroline Pay is one of our 2016 Creative Leaders 50

The Creative Leaders issue of CR, June 2016 is out now.  

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