At a time when sexual harassment at large corporations is making headlines, and life and death decisions on women's health care options are being decided by all-male panels, it is affirming to note that there are several female empowerment initiatives taking root both nationally and globally, especially among media organizations with the power to amplify that message. Lifetime, for example, is launching Open Road, which is traveling state to state to take the pulse of national sentiment on women's issues. And, for global impact, Mindshare, in partnership with Charlotte Beers, recently announced the launch of Community X to up gender equality in the ad industry.
According to its press release, "What's different about Community X is that it brings Mindshare executives and [the agency's] clients together, making it more unique than standard female leadership training or retreat programs." Helen McRae, Mindshare U.K. CEO and chair of Western Europe, is heading up the effort with Charlotte Beers, former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. I had the opportunity to ask them the following questions:
Charlene Weisler: What precipitated the formation of Community X? What was its path to implementation?
Helen McRae (pictured at right): It was a conversation in China with our global CEO Nick Emery, our China CEO Amrita Randhawa and a few clients. The group was talking about leadership and gender balance. There were a lot of shared experiences and learnings and Nick suggested that we do something as a community -- clients and agency, all leaders and all women. Charlotte runs the X-Factor for WPP and has always been keen to expand this leadership course to a wider group. And so the idea of Community X was born!
Charlene: What are the challenges to gender equality in the advertising industry?
Charlotte Beers (pictured at bottom): The most pressing gender issue starts fairly far along in a woman's career. It is that threshold where she is one of several choices to take a leadership role. Men are chosen more often because they are easier to read in terms of potential. This is not a bias; it is simply the fact that men can read one another more easily. The problem needs to be solved by the women who are contenders. This means they have to develop their skills in communicating who they are and particularly how strong, relentless and fierce they can be in making good decisions. My experience is that women at these thresholds have all these qualities but in the work they are presently doing such attributes may not be on display. It may not be fair but it is up to our women to make it clear that we have the potential to be leaders and put it in terms that a man can read -- because it's usually a man who is making that crucial choice to cross the threshold to the highest level.
Charlene: Do you see differences in U.S. efforts versus European efforts for Community X and, if so, what are they?
Helen: It's a global effort. There will be perhaps some differences but think they will be nuanced differences. We won't just stop at the U.S. and Europe but intend on having these communities in every region.
Charlene: What advice would you give a young woman starting out in the industry today to achieve the greatest success?
Charlotte: I would urge young women coming up in the business to think and study who they are so that they can bring forward what makes them unique, what excites them and the kind of tasks they do exceptionally well. This understanding is part of how they learn to find meaning at work, but it also guides everyone around them as to where they will be most productive and successful. This is not easy because there's so much pressure on the new members in the business to learn the culture, to follow the directive of their immediate boss and to search for evaluations. While these pressures are real this other somewhat more interior homework has to be done at exactly the same time. In studying yourself as your master of your work you will learn to keep your own scorecard and present your own capacity. That's the beginning of learning to be a leader.
Charlene: Where would you like to see this initiative five years from now?
Helen: Ideally it should be redundant and focus on diversity in leadership irrespective of race, gender, etc. Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes and it is diversity which adds depth and scales opportunity.
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