Susan Credle cries at work and is not ashamed of it.
In fact, when FCB’s global chief creative officer first started working with the agency’s global CEO Carter Murray, she told him that when she gets teary-eyed, it is out of exhaustion or frustration, and it means she is really passionate about something.
"If I start crying it means I care a lot, and you’ve got to listen to me more," she said, recounting the exchange on Thursday at the 3% Conference in New York, where she shared the stage with Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and partner of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, for an afternoon talk simply titled, "Legends."
Women are usually discouraged from getting weepy at the office, no matter what the circumstance, with the conventional wisdom being that it is a sign of weakness. "Why," asked Credle. "It’s an emotion as powerful as anger. It is just an emotion and it is not a weak emotion," she said. "We have to understand people express themselves in different ways and being teary-eyed is no different than having a loud voice or a little anger attached to something."
In a wide-reaching conversation about creative leadership, the differences between men and women, the work they create and the corporate cultures that they build, Credle and Goodby often referred back to a single theme: the humanization vs. dehumanization of people.
"It’s treating people as individuals," said Goodby. "‘What is it that incentivizes this person?’ Because it’s different in every case, among women and men. It’s important to treat people as individuals and to think about, what is your company telling people about the possibilities?"
For Goodby Silverstein & Partners, naming Margaret Johnson, a longtime veteran of the San Francisco agency, chief creative officer has made a significant difference, said Goodby. "Having a female leader really changes things," he said. For one, "it’s easier to hire accomplished women," he said. "They see a way forward."
The agency is also acknowledging the biases affecting women and offering tools to help overcome them. For example, the agency now offers classes on negotiating skills to help women overcome the bias against females making strong arguments in their own favor. "Having that in the culture makes people feel they can go up and go forward," he said.
The encouragement and acknowledgement a woman receives throughout her career, from the smallest hellos to big promotions, shouldn’t be underestimated, said Credle. While she didn’t have a top female creative to look up to while working her way up the creative ranks at BBDO, where she started as secretary, she did have Chairman Phil Dusenberry. "When we are in leadership positions, we don’t realize just saying hello and knowing who someone is gives them the confidence to try something that they didn’t think they were going to do," she said. "I think that he meant a lot to my early success, not because he was my creative director, he just recognized me."
"The first time you knew who I was, it made me more confident to get to the next level," Credle said to Goodby. "Words of encouragement to each other, you don’t realize how valuable they are," she said. "And how the exact opposite, when a man completely dismisses you, can crush your spirits." She’s experienced both, including an interaction (or lack thereof) with "a powerful man" who walked off stage at an industry conference and talked to everyone but her. "In those acts, you can bring them up, or tear them down," she said.
The pair also addressed the idea that often a woman’s greatest enemy is another woman. "Women can oftentimes pull the ladder up behind them," said Goodby, asking Credle if it is something she’s experienced in her career.
Credle admitted that she initially felt threated by Lauren Connolly, now evp/executive creative director, when she first arrived at BBDO, because she was young, beautiful, smart and accomplished. "My first thing was ‘I gotta take her out,’" she said.
Such behavior is rooted in the perception that there is not enough room for more than a handful of women at the top, she said. "You naturally go into survival mode to protect your place," said Credle. "Lauren taught me there is room for everybody."