By Carla Eboli, CMO
The interest in “women in leadership” positions has never been so en vogue worldwide as it is right now. A quick look at Google Trends shows a growing number of searches for articles and news containing the term “women in leadership” in the last five years – with relevant peaks during March, when the world celebrates Women’s History Month. The growth in searches coincides with the recent avalanche of studies pointing to the fact that women’s presence in leadership positions improves companies’ performance overall, including financial results.
“Diversity has to be part of a company’s DNA if you are going to be successful long-term,” says Omnicom SVP and Chief Diversity Officer, Tiffany R. Warren, in a recent announcement of the expansion of the Omniwomen, a global organization within Omnicom (NYSE: OMC), dedicated to championing the number and influence of female talent within the company.
- Eschew All Notions Of A Career Path
“This might sound crazy”, says Michele Markus, Worldwide Enterprise Lead of OmnicomAccelerator. And it kind of does given the fact that she was professionally raised in management consulting and in advertising – both industries traditionally rooted in deep hierarchy and career paths.
She says it all started thanks to a client/mentor who saw how Michele enjoyed and thrived in ‘roles with ambiguity.’ “While this might be a less certain and solid area, it meant I could define my path myself, and be open to new and intriguing opportunities.” She added: “I stopped worrying about coloring inside the lines and instead starting to follow what I was passionate and curious about.” On a personal level, Markus says that this way of thinking even led her to choose an untraditional path of how she became a parent. “It was when adopting my son years ago from Korea. Without the courage to see what might be possible, I could have never seen that path for our family. Not feeling I need to conform to norms has led me some of the greatest adventures and rewards in my life.”
- Go Big Or Go Home
This is Sally Williams’s, Global President of Business Development & Client Relations DAS Group, mantra both in work and in life. “It was said to me by my grandfather, who overcame all sorts of obstacles in his life to be a successful business leader. It means do as much as you possibly can or try your hardest or you might as well just leave or stop what you’re doing. For me it’s about inventing, leading and jumping into opportunities – sometimes with heart-pounding trepidation. But I know, with the right people around you, you can achieve anything, so why not have a go and throw yourself all in!”
In the case of Stacie Davis, Dieste CFO, going big meant leaving home. “I was leaving a small college in a small town with a brand new accounting degree in my hand – and all I knew was that I wanted more,” says the executive that joined Dieste 22 years ago. “I love the industry and the culture. I linked arms with the right people, the right leaders and the right team. These were (and still are) people I trusted and believed in – and who, more importantly, believed in me. It’s really about whom you surround yourself with, and whom you choose to trust.”
- Use Your Interview Wisely (hint: interview the company)
This is what Jacqueline Indelicato, Vice President, Innovation + Development DAS Group, recommends based on her own experience. “Do your research online, in person, in the news and when the time comes be certain to “interview” your future company/boss. Do they inspire growth of their employees? Were there signs of healthy upward mobility/happy employee engagement?” I asked for personal examples as well as professional illustrations of how they inspire a growing culture, so I could get a sense of whether growth was in their DNA.”
- Follow Your Gut Instinct
This is what Karen van Bergen, Chief Executive Officer at Omnicom Public Relations Group, learned when she had to make a decision early in her career between “a high profile career for life in an FMCG company and a junior consultant role in the largest PR/PA agency in The Netherlands.” She tells me “I did not even understand what PR and PA were… But the vibe at the agency and the energy felt so much better than at the FMCG company that I still decided to go there. And here I am now.”
- Don’t Be Afraid Of Taking Risks
Van Bergen tells me that another crucial point in her career was when her then boss chastised her for her attitude when she was offered a new position. “Typical female thing: this is what I know I can do, not sure about this and that… He told me to shape up and go for it – and that was the last time I ever hesitated. It became a huge success. You have to believe in yourself and know that you have a whole network to help with the parts you are less familiar with!”
Taking risk also helped Kathleen King, Vice President Learning and Talent of OmnicomHealthcareGroup, to shape her career. “Having gone to school to work with chimpanzees, I quickly discovered that my passion was with humans and in helping them connect with opportunities for professional and personal development. Today, I remain unafraid of changing my mind and find that, in turn, I am more open to hearing others’ perspectives and input.”
- Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
After 10 years as a college professor, Nina Manasan Greenberg, PhD and Managing Partner Executive Creative Director at Entrée Health had “the guts to think: this isn’t for me anymore.” It was when a friend of hers offered Nina a freelance job at his advertising agency. “I said yes to something completely out of my comfort zone. That gutsy “yes” turned into 17 successful years, and counting.”
Being open and willing to challenge yourself and your teams is key for a successful career, according to KayAnn P. Schoeneman, Senior VP, Practice Director of Public and Corporate Affairs at Ketchum. “At Ketchum, there have been many times I raised my hand for assignments I knew were outside of my comfort zone or kept me awake at night, but I also knew the key to career development and growth is getting uncomfortable and successfully rising to the challenge.”
- Find Your Own North Star
When Rita Rodriguez, Executive Vice President Omnicom Group Inc., was promoted to a CEO position several years ago, she decided that it was the perfect time for her to create her own personal mission statement, summarizing succinctly, “Why I do what I do.” “I started by gathering input from those I had worked with, managers, subordinates, and clients. Once I had the information, I worked with my executive business coach to distill the information and create what would be my north star. And since then, my personal mission statement has been my guide in helping me select roles where I know I can best contribute and continue to grow. And now that I am telling this story it may be time to check in with my new stakeholders and make sure I am still living up to it!”