March marks Women’s History Month. Amid the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements that are confronting sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, this annual recognition of the vital role of women in American history feels more important than ever. Our industry has begun to take greater stock in how we treat female leaders and staff, and challenge those who act inappropriately and put our people at risk—via internal agency initiatives and industry groups like Diet Madison Avenue and The 3% Movement.
But what else can we be doing on the ground and in our offices?
I challenge agencies and brands to develop their own in-house dedicated mentorship programs. Mentorship is a passion point of mine. I’ve experienced its powers, not only in terms of business success, but also in terms of personal growth for the mentee and the mentor.
My mentor was my father. I had recently graduated from college when he opened a direct-mail printing company and suggested I join him as a salesperson. His approach to mentorship (which I’ve used as well) was a combination of high expectations, assurance, direction and support. But the best gift he gave me was a belief in self: that no matter what, I had the skills and determination to make it work. That is what mentorship provides—not merely lessons, but a confidence instilled as a result of a respected leader choosing to invest in you. I know that my experience is unlike most others in the industry, but there are key lessons for all of us to take away:
Show up, dig in, and be bold.
Bravery has become an imperative in the workplace, especially for young women. Owning your confidence has effects that will earn you respect with customers and colleagues alike, and even reverberate beyond you. Get uncomfortable, work outside the confines of your role, do more than the competition. This will help you to stand out and make your voice heard.
Work on the best interests of your customers, and don’t forget the power of meeting in person. That handwritten note or lunch date goes further than you think, especially in our email-and-text world. And as for showing up, I always bring coffee to a meeting, personalizing the order to the participants as much as possible. It’s a simple gesture that can’t be done via phone or email.
It was during my college years that I first noticed people often have a hard time admitting that they struggle, particularly when faced with the potential for failure. There’s a great TED Talk from Brené Brown on the subject. A traditional school of thought is that in order to succeed in business, you need to be perceived as bulletproof. But that kind of thinking dampens creativity and the ability to problem-solve. Know that your hesitations and vulnerability can be your strength. It shows that you care—more than others—and that’s a good thing.
Empathy is essential.
It is important—both in elevating our own staff to be empowered to produce great work and in the client services we provide—because it allows us to firmly grasp the needs of others by being good listeners, showing compassion and more. Ask yourself: "If I were the client, what would I want to know today? What are my concerns?" The next step is answering these questions proactively. Not surprisingly, women in business tend to understand problems and work to solve them.
Read Carol Dweck’s book, "Mindset."
The author’s insight and articulation of the "growth mindset"—the desire to learn and develop new skills—reaffirmed to me that we are all works in progress. Welcome feedback and be appreciative of those who give it. Know that there is great potential in all of us. And it’s the ability to learn and grow from our mistakes that enables real opportunity.
As my father always told me, "Business is a matter of relationships." And it’s obvious that great relationships fostered between our industry’s female leaders and its up-and-coming stars can only work to our benefit.
Jill Gwaltney is the founder of Rauxa, the largest women-owned independent advertising agency in the US.