Why it's important for women to 'walk the talk'

Female business leaders have an exceptionally important role to play in mentoring other women, writes the worldwide CEO of Maxus

I was recently asked which quality I think is most crucial to being a leader.  It’s a tough question, and the answer, no doubt, will vary from person to person. Sincerity, conviction and transparency are my top three. And most crucially, if the behavior of the person in charge does not match their words, why should anyone listen to what they say, let alone believe or trust in them?

Just 11% (up thankfully from 3% a few years back) of creative directors at US ad agencies are female. While media agencies are doing better than this in terms of women in top and executive management roles, I think our report card would still read, "could do better." So, it feels important now to "walk the talk" in every way I can.

But what does "walking the talk" mean, exactly? I often talk to people starting out in their careers about "stepping in front of the work" and saying yes to every opportunity. Being visible. Having a voice. Building confidence and building a profile. This often means pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone. Even though this place can be hugely uncomfortable.  

Women in senior roles have an exceptionally important role to play in giving other women a leg up the career ladder. Ensuring companies at least shortlist women for executive management and heads of department roles is one way, and then practical changes for progressive flexible working and shared parenting policies to enable us all to work smarter day to day is another.

Every woman in a senior role should be encouraged to become involved in mentoring. National Mentoring Month, celebrated in January in the United States, flagged how invaluable the mentoring relationship can be to a generation of rising talent.

It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of positive role models. Personally, I’ve been lucky to have had some fantastic female trailblazers providing buckets of inspiration throughout my career journey — from Charlotte Beers smashing the glass ceiling in the mad men era to Linda Yaccarino, America’s most powerful media vendor.

So at Maxus, I’ve now launched "Walk the Talk," a two-day life-coaching program in three regions, designed to empower about 200 of our senior women with the confidence to excel in their careers. The hope is that this will have a ripple effect, as participants extend the learning and attitude to colleagues across the business. At the same time, we are rolling out "Mind the Gap," an initiative that will review pay, flexible working, maternity and paternity policies.  

The aim with any equality initiative should not be to create an undue advantage for women, but simply a level playing field. The world I hope for — and I’m sure all men would agree too — is one where women stand side by side with male counterparts to drive business success together. After all, the business case for doing so is explicit: just one example, a McKinsey study found a direct correlation between top-team diversity and financial performance, with a 53% higher return on equity for companies ranking highest for executive board diversity.

I’m very conscious that I now do everything I can to "walk the talk," to create a more inclusive culture and champion equality at my workplace — and to be vocal and visible about this whenever possible. And when it comes to smashing entrenched bias (labelling it unconscious is no longer a viable excuse) I hope that every leader, regardless of gender, will be involved in creating a more progressive "talk" for us all to "walk."

Lindsday Pattison is worldwide CEO of Maxus.

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