The Art of Being a Boss Lady in Creative

It was kind of terrifying.

I’m not shy by any stretch, but when I saw the rather large audience that had gathered in the Digitas Health café, suddenly this idea VivaWomen had to “host a panel discussion of female creative leaders” didn’t sound so great.

I had zero worries about the abilities of the panelists*; they were are all accomplished powerhouses who were sure to have plenty to say.  My big concern was what I would say. How, as moderator, I would successfully guide a conversation among five people.  On stage.  In front of lots of people.  Some of whom could, theoretically speaking, fire me the next day.

But as the discussion began, and the panelists started talking, a funny thing happened.

I stopped worrying, and I started listening.

Because what I was going to ask next suddenly became a non-issue. These women were sharp, and empathetic, and engaging, and had intriguing perspectives on virtually every topic we hit on.  It was almost hypnotic.

As I listened, they talked a great deal not just about finding your voice in a male-dominated industry – but about finding the courage to use it.  And it occurred to me that, as women, we spend so much of our careers struggling to earn the opportunity to talk that we start to lose the ability to listen. To truly hear what the other person is saying. (Not just wait quietly for them to finish their point so we can make ours).

Sure, finding your voice is crucial.  Helping young female (and male!) creatives find ways to use that voice is just as crucial.  But while we’re at it, it’s good to stop being so wise and seasoned and full of opinions – and hear out the rest of the “boss ladies” who probably have just as much to say as we do.

Here are a few things I learned when I stopped and listened:

Work/life balance is a myth. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Maybe it’s the industry we work in, maybe it’s the level of responsibility at the top, but no one on the panel felt like they’d totally figured this one out. However, they did agree that it’s critical to draw a line in the sand. When you’re home, you’re home.  When you’re at work, you’re at work.  Keep those boundaries firm and it will make both lives easier.

Don’t apologize for who you are. Women tend to say “sorry.”  A lot.  But the panelists agreed that you shouldn’t apologize for being yourself — even if some people feel that self is too aggressive, or too direct, or maybe just the opposite, that’s okay.  It’s who you are. If you’re not actually hurting someone else or being unprofessional, own who you are, and make it work for you. 

Having a Mentor doesn’t have to mean officially having a Mentor.  We’re all being mentored, every day. By the people we work with, our clients, our friends.  Two of the panelists cited their kids as their greatest Mentors (cue collective audience “awww”).  Point being, if you don’t have an “official” Mentor, that’s ok.  When you have a problem at work, seek out the person you trust the most to help you work through it.  Boom!  You’ve been mentored.

Men are NOT the enemy.  We opened the panel with a single ground rule: no man-bashing.  And as we wrapped up the discussion, I looked around and realized for the first time that there were many men in the audience – including senior leadership. Which means that we were being heard by those who are in a position to really impact the role of women in advertising.  And I can only hope that they were listening.

*A huge shout-out to our “boss ladies”:

Lora Luken, SVP, Group Creative Director, Digitas Health NY

Carolyn Oppenheim, SVP, Group Creative Director, Razorfish Health NY

Collette Douiahy, SVP, Group Creative Director, Digitas Health

Cali Capodici, Senior Art Buyer, Digitas Health

Violet Philips, VP, Group Creative Director, Digitas Health