Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

Ours for the Taking: It’s an Evolution Not a Revolution

Advertising Agency
Denver, USA
The third feature in this series sees business leaders lay out the most effective ways to overcome existing barriers in order to bang the drum for other women sharing the space
Left to right: Ana Cravioto, Erin Allsman, Stephanie Frisina and Sara-Beth Donovan 

Worldwide Partners (WPI) is a network of over 75 independent marketing agencies from all over the world, composed of the most progressive, creative and diverse marketing talent in the world. The network offers brand marketers and agencies a global platform for reimagining growth. In this series with WPI, LBB will explore how women-led independent agencies are reshaping the advertising industry and charting new territories for the next generation of talent.

For this third instalment, LBB speaks to Ana Cravioto, CEO of ActivaMente; Erin Allsman, president of Brownstein; Stephanie Frisina, managing director and partner at FUSE Health; and Sara-Beth Donovan, president of media at Mintz + Hoke. Talk turns to common misconceptions and unhelpful stereotypes, as the four market leaders discuss why leadership is all about mindset and how the same basic challenges affect all business leaders, regardless of gender.

LBB> In your experience as a female leader in advertising, does the industry encourage women-led businesses?

Sara-Beth Donovan> After more than two decades in this industry I have seen many female leaders across practices or disciplines but it is rare to see them get all the way to the top.

Erin Allsman> It's been my experience that women-led businesses in our industry are still few and far-between – they are surprising exceptions in a male-dominated space. So while I haven't found it to be purposefully discouraging, the industry certainly still presents permeating barriers to the growth of women-led businesses.

Stephanie Frisina> Although the tides have been slow in shifting, I do think we are seeing an increased encouragement of women-led businesses as the industry in general shifts to more collaborative leadership. This begs the question - which is the cart and which is the horse.

Ana Cravioto> In my experience, marketing and advertising has been an example of openness to female leadership.

LBB> What is the biggest misconception affecting women-owned agencies?

Sara-Beth Donovan> That they work well for brands aligned to a female target audience but not broader targeted initiatives.

Stephanie Frisina> Perhaps that we are anti male-led agencies. It's an evolution not a revolution!

Ana Cravioto> A few common misconceptions come to mind. The first one being the idea that women only inspire other women which is inaccurate. Take Jane Goodall: the British primatologist and anthropologist, who is best known for her long-term study of chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her research revolutionised our understanding of chimpanzee behaviour and led to greater awareness of the need for primate conservation. Many of her former research assistants became prominent primatologists in their own path, and many male scientists have cited Goodall as a key influence on their work.

The second misconception is that women’s challenges are different from men's challenges. While there sure are challenges inherent to the female condition of being a business woman, and vice versa, we should not forget that the basic challenges for business people are the same no matter the gender: global or local economic uncertainty; technological disruption; intense competition; talent acquisition and retention; sustainability and social responsibility; and personal balance.

The final misconception that women are faced with is the idea that we are only placed in leadership positions to check diversity boxes. While some women in business may receive advantages or considerations, due to historic inequalities and a growing recognition of the value of diversity and inclusion, those are hardly recognised. For example, some companies may actively seek to hire women or include them in leadership positions as part of their diversity and inclusion initiatives. This can provide women with additional opportunities and advantages in the business world.These advantages are not universal; we all know many women still face significant barriers and challenges in the business world. Additionally, these considerations are often intended to address systemic inequalities and promote equal opportunities, rather than to give women an unfair advantage. Ultimately, women in business should be evaluated based on their skills, qualifications, and performance, rather than their gender.

LBB> In relation to people, performance and processes, how does your business operate differently, as a women-led venture?

Ana Cravioto> We have a people-first approach to our own team and to our clients. We find ways to integrate people in our team that may have some special needs and circumstances, making our environment more human while remaining high performers.

Sara-Beth Donovan> For me, leadership is all about mindset, regardless of gender. I believe in empowering people by setting expectations, while giving them autonomy to do their jobs. All employees should feel elevated, motivated and supported in the work they do. When we put a lens on people first, it inspires their performance – encouraging them to be and do their best every day. From this place of trust, the free flow of ideas happens naturally, fostering new ways to improve all aspects of the business from the heart of the organisation up, rather than the other way around. It’s a model of true employee engagement and in a creative workplace, this is how you thrive.

Stephanie Frisina> Many women-led businesses are more in tune with balancing business and life because many of them are or have been the family jugglers. It’s not uncommon for conversations with staff - especially in this post-COVID era of remote working - to be about what can we do to make this work for you and your family obligations. For example, letting parents know they have “permission” to block time in their calendars for school drop-offs and pick-ups. “Permission” is actually an acknowledgement for them that we view it as every bit as important as other things on their daily calendars. I believe engaging with what’s important to your people ultimately leads to better performance and satisfaction all round.

Erin Allsman> I believe women-led businesses are more likely to lead with empathy and focus on the whole person when it comes to issues related to people and performance. As leaders we have a responsibility to employ policies that benefit the business, but we understand that more often than not, a people-centered approach is equally as beneficial to the business as it is to employees.

LBB> What are your hopes for the next generation of female leaders?

Stephanie Frisina> That they feel they have an equal voice at the table based on their talent rather than their gender.

Sara-Beth Donovan> That we stop calling them 'female leaders'. I don't call my CEO a male leader. If we keep making the distinction, one will be accepted by the market. Our business is all about communication and perception so we need to reshape the narrative.

Erin Allsman> I agree. I hope that the next generation of female leaders will just be known as great leaders, without the gender modifier!

Ana Cravioto> That they do not resent male leaders.For the next generation of female leaders I wish reconciliation with males. That they do not have to group in female gangs but work seamlessly with any gender.

In next week’s final instalment of Ours for the Taking, LBB speaks to four more WPI members, learning how the network has assisted in the amplification of female leadership among their members

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