Meet the Female Superhero
Some Marvel movies reveal a brief clip after the credits. These late surprises tease the faithful with what’s to come in the fanciful cinematic universe. After the credits in the quirky but charming The Ant-Man, viewers get a sneak peak at genius Hank Pym and his daughter Hope Van Dyne as they enter a secret lab to open a hidden safe. Inside is “The Wasp” super suit; the reveal is a symbolic transfer of next-gen super hero responsibility. When Hank tells Hope that it’s for her, she responds…
“It’s about damn time.”
Female baby boom generation marketeers know too well the glass-ceiling limitations in their own career quest to prove themselves a worthy heir. Many have weathered macho-cultures, enduring obstacles like double standards, inequity in pay and sexual discrimination, to prevail (I hear your nodding–you know how far you’ve come).
Despite the efforts of this hopeful generation, when it comes to executive leadership roles in our industry, women are still vastly underrepresented. Marketing Magazine tells us “Top marketing jobs are more than three times more likely to be held by a man than a woman …” Should a She reach a more senior role, the relative pay gap actually increases. Per Fast Company, only 3% of creative directors at advertising agencies are women (and women control over 80% of consumer spending).
With few women in the executive suite, the junior ranks find it hard to imagine their own climb.
The reason might surprise you.
The McKinsey study Women Matter surveys more than 1400 managers from a wide range of industries. Importantly, the study establishes that women are just as career-oriented as men and aspire to top management positions to the same degree. The key difference between the sexes is their belief in being able to get there: women’s ant-size confidence is not about self doubt in talents and abilities but attributable to the cultural environments in which they operate.
Women Matter establishes that “corporate culture is the most important driver in women’s confidence in their success, twice as much as individual mindsets”.
Corporate culture, the environmental model in which we are ask to operate, varies widely between companies, industries, and even advertising industry agencies. Either there is alignment between an individual’s leadership and communication style and that of the prevailing cultural model, or there is not. We all know the feeling of belonging, feeling respected and valued by others. And we know the knot in our stomach when it isn’t so.
Despite the female boomer adaptation to prevailing cultural models, the cultural values women prefer are distinctly different than the norm.
In Women Matter a full 40% of women did not think their leadership and communication style were close to compatible with the top management styles of their company. For example, Women favor participatory styles of decision-making, often mis-perceived as an inability to drive a decision or lead others.
So what do women want? Women thrive in cultures that are supportive, enriching, flexible, fair, respectful; ones that value synergetic vs transactional models of communication.
Not the Problem
A full 75% of men agree or strongly agree that diverse leadership teams with significant number of women generate better company performance, per McKinsey.
Cultural change that is good for women may be good for men. In particular, millennial males articulate the desire for cultural change to allow for better work life balance.
For an industry that thrives on creativity, ideation and collaboration, it’s time to cultivate our own marvelous Female Superhero.
“With great power comes…”
The New Year is a great time for leaders to reevaluate an organization, agency or team dynamic. Q: Does the culture support the notion that hard work, creativity and performance will be rewarded, regardless of gender? Do formal and informal reward systems motivate all?
Beyond institutionalized or corporate gender diversity policies, there is a micro-scale way for individuals at middle and executive levels to launch an attack against overarching cultural norms within their companies:
Choose to mentor a next-gen super heroine.
Get started. Participate in a formal Mentoring program, or informally pick an individual to inspire.
Set the bar high. Encourage female ambition and drive. Executive Coach Carrie Wilkerson, when asked about the difference between men and women, says that women seem to slow down and back off when they think “it’s enough”. Quite simply, if you tell your mentee that you expect greater things, she’ll likely deliver.
Take a risk. Give a highly visible, juicy new assignment to a newbie. Invest the time it takes to teach towards the outcomes desired.
A marketing warrior of many notable corporate and agency accomplishments, Dawn Hudson shared her wish for her own legacy in Adweek, September 2015: “How 6 Powerful Women in Media and Marketing Redefined the Rules of Leadership.”
“I’d really rather be known for being a mentor and a leader—of men and women, somebody who galvanizes teams to achieve what they didn’t think they could be doing.”
For next-gen leaders, architect your future and become the catalyst for cultural change. Take these actions:
- Find your Mentor. This is a person of character and accomplishment whom you respect; it can be a person outside your current employer.
- Seek a Sponsor. A Sponsor is someone in power within your company whom you also respect. Build a relationship and ask for his/her advocacy in your interests.
- Invest in a Coach. This can be more meaningful early in one’s career vs later when you think you can afford it. Two goal-setting sessions a year are enough to get started.
- Be Brave. Say “yes” to more responsibility. But shift to more strategic work vs tactical and administrative tasks.
It’s about damn time.
2016 starts a new year full of heroic possibility. The marketing, media and advertising industry should be the beach head for societal change, with diversity hard-wired into its cultures. Our purpose and quest is to leverage the full scope of human experience ~ to produce inspiring, innovative, and highest value content for our clients, customers and consumers.
This Super Hero Series Post includes a Shout Out to my still amazing, early career mentors: Bob Killian and Linda O’Bryant.