Media agency execs across WPP, IPG and Dentsu discuss the future of female leadership

"Women are called feisty versus determined," said Wong. "They're called ball-breakers, as opposed to confident.

Three powerful women from some of the largest agency holding companies put aside any competitive rivalries this week discuss how to further encourage female leadership in the media planning and buying industry. 

IPG, WPP and Dentsu Aegis Network were represented by Amy Armstrong, CEO of Initiative; Amanda Richman, CEO of Wavemaker; and Louisa Wong, COO of Carat, respectively, at a panel hosted at Initiative’s NYC office on Tuesday.

The topic: The future of female leadership in the industry. 

Being inspiring leaders themselves, the trio had interesting insights into how to encourage the next generation, and ensure that their agencies and holding companies are as inclusive as possible. 

For Richman, one of the most concrete ways to ensure a more inclusive workplace is for agencies to put their money where their mouths are.

"How does Wall Street value us? Do they put more value against companies that are more diverse and act more inclusively? Can that diversity and inclusion impact the profits of the company? I think that change will happen, and I think it will have to do with those numbers and valuations," she said. 

Richman added: "For us, we see this is not only good business but as the future of media agencies to be the leaders around diversity and inclusion. We don’t want to be doing it for diversity headcounts and recording KPIs, we want to actually encourage more inclusive behaviors."

And those inclusive behaviors can be small changes, including a shift in how people talk about others in the workplace.

"Women are called feisty versus determined," said Wong. "They’re called ball-breakers, as opposed to confident. You would never say a man is a ball-breaker. I don’t believe that women have to behave like a man in order to succeed in the boardroom."

According to Armstrong, real change can be made simply by thinking outside of the box, and not allowing old schools of thought to stifle more inclusive behaviors. 

One perceived barrier to increased representation of women and minorities in leadership roles is the fact that those roles are already filled, but is that a real barrier? Or is it an imagined one? 

"Stop following the old structures and make room for new ones," Armstrong said. "If a leadership team only has six or seven people, make room for an eighth or ninth. We have more power to change things than people think."

"There is a lot of good momentum behind diversity issues in the holding agency world, but there’s still a lot of work to be done," she added. 

And while everyone should be looking to reach back and uplift those who will follow in their footsteps, no one should be expecting a free lunch, according to Wong.

"Never have an expectation that someone will help you - man or woman," she said. "If you have the expectation that someone will bring you along for the ride. Don’t. Competition is competition, friendly or not."

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