Creative Director Simona Suman is taking a giant step for womankind in Romania. Dismayed at the tiny number of women in creative leadership roles in the local advertising industry – and the fact that when she joined the Romanian Art Director’s Club in 2016 she brought the number of female members up to three – she decided to do something about it. Together with her friend Sandra Bold, she set up Lady Steps, an initiative to support the country’s ambitious female creatives by providing not just inspiration but management training.
LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Simona to find out about her experience with Lady Steps so far and her plans to grow it beyond Romania.
LBB> What was the catalyst for setting up Lady Steps? And why was the Art Director’s Club of Romania the right platform to launch Lady Steps with?
SS> I joined the Romanian Art Director’s Club in December 2016. Before my joining, there were only two women in the club and this got me thinking about women in Romanian creative leadership: Where were they? Why weren’t they more visible? How many even are there?
So I got together with Sandra Bold, a fellow member and friend (now Senior Creative in Publicis London) and we decided to set up a plan to launch an initiative to showcase the success stories of female creative leaders in Romania and inspire women at the start of their careers to dream big and make it big.
Art Director’s Club is the ideal platform to do this because it’s an organisation that unites the highest number of Romanian creative leaders and thus best represents their interests, and one that works together with every institution or company interested in creativity and creative resources.
LBB> I’m curious to get your view on what the situation is like in the Romanian industry when it comes to women in senior creative and creative leadership roles?
SS> As a nation, we are quite conservative and patriarchal, so there is a lack of women in senior management roles across every industry. The numbers are even more alarming when it comes to creative leadership and that’s why I think opening up this discussion was long overdue. I have worked in agencies where there were absolutely no women in charge of creative, and this is still currently happening in some places. Fortunately, in McCann Romania this is not the case, we have a healthy 50%/50% ratio of women to men in creative leadership positions. Also, our CEO, Deputy CEO and CFO are also women. This is a noteworthy fact, considering our industry, and it’s just one of the things that makes me be proud to work here.
Thanks to the global and now the local conversation, I think people are starting to be more conscious of their decisions and maybe their biases when it comes to hiring and promoting talent. So I’m hoping things will be moving in the right direction and that we’ll see some more significant changes in numbers in a few years.
LBB> When you first started thinking about setting it up, what was your vision? And how have things evolved?
SS> The initial idea was to promote the successful female creative leaders and their stories, through a series of conferences and networking events. We were quite successful with this in 2017, with nine events and about 800 attendees. Having a full house and a waiting list at each event just showed us how much need women had to be exposed to strong role models in the industry.
In 2018 we decided to focus more on actual leadership skills, so each event is now designed to teach and inspire guests through practical tools and advice which they could actually apply during their day to day if they’re looking to grow their careers.
LBB> Who else is involved in running Lady Steps?
SS> Sandra Bold and myself are in charge of the vision and planning for the events. A big part of making it happen is attributed to the Romanian Art Director’s Club, they are the project management and PR masterminds of the entire story.
LBB> In 2017 it looks like you did a LOT! Nine conferences, over 800 attendees. What were your personal highlights from last year?
SS> 2017 was great, although it was a learning year for us too, as much as it was for our guests. We’ve heard from women from various fields, from creative directors to film directors, brand and marketing managers, stand-up comedians, designers, journalists and leadership coaches. Each of them had something new and inspiring to bring to the table and I can truly say that each event has been an enriching experience in its own.
LBB> And looking forward to 2018 it looks like you have huge plans to grow Lady Steps – what are your aims? I’m really interested to see that, in particular, you want to move ‘from inspiration to applied learning’ this year – why is that important?
SS> Having been an active promoter of women in leadership from some time now, I realized that one of the biggest setbacks we are facing is the lack of management training. Of course, this also applies to men, but because there are more men in leadership positions right now, it is easier for them to find and follow a mentor than it is for women. That’s why we decided to try and turn each Lady Steps event into a learning tool for women, where they can actually feel they’re acquiring useful pieces of knowledge.
Of course, we also plan to bring more and more prominent speakers and to turn Lady Steps into THE event for women in the industry, maybe not only in Romania, but in the region.
LBB> What have you learned about yourself having worked on Lady Steps?
SS> I learned that being a Creative Director is a totally different job than being an Events Manager!
Obviously, it’s been a pretty powerful journey. During the past year I’ve learned a lot about gender biases, the power of mentorship, learning by doing, different leadership styles and stories, and I’ve tried to pick up what I felt was most valuable from what we’ve learned and apply it to myself.
Hopefully these events can inspire everyone, including myself, to become better people and thus better leaders.
LBB> Do you foresee Lady Steps going outside of Romania?
SS> If the Art Director’s Clubs outside Romania feel that such an initiative is needed in their countries, we would be more than happy to share our insights and knowledge and to help them set up a sister event.
LBB> Last year you spoke at a panel in Eurobest with folk from She Says and Girls Talk – what interesting or useful insights came up when talking to other people running networks/ groups for creative women in other countries?
SS> It is always inspiring to meet people who share the same values and are passionate about the same things as yourself. It was definitely interesting to observe the differences in cultures between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, however, I was glad to be able to bring the Romanian conversation to the table and to find new ways to improve what we are doing here.