The women creating the brands of the future

07 March, 2019 Share socially

What’s the single biggest challenge facing women in leadership today?

Kate Fulford-Brown - Managing Director, FutureBrand London:

It would be wonderful if we could respect and celebrate that effective leadership comes in many forms and styles. There are still so many gender stereotypes flying around that it’s sometimes hard for new ways of doing things to break through and be given a chance to work. The best female leaders I know are fearless in pushing for change. And they’re not afraid to roll the best of the stereotypes together in one phenomenal bundle – caring, fierce, intuitive, decisive, assertive, kind. Setting new standards and expectations of great leadership.

Alessandra Iovinella - Managing Director, FutureBrand Milan:

Even though gender equality is now an accepted topic of discussion, it is still the case that women have to work harder than their male peers to gain the same recognition and reward.

Nerida Murphy - Executive Creative Director, FutureBrand Australia:

I think it is getting a seat at the table. Women are still dramatically underrepresented at CEO and Board level, and in other spheres for example in politics they are still in the minority in parliaments across the world.

Sophie Cheng, General Manager, FutureBrand Greater China:

In my view the biggest challenge is how to balance your career and family. This is not just about time, but also about the seamless switching of roles, trying to find the balance between your work and private persona.

Marie–Thérèse Cassidy - Executive Creative Director, FutureBrand London:

Our biggest challenge is a hesitance to self-promote or to ask for what we want. It's not enough to be in a role or to sit at the table. We must speak confidently, share our voice and perspective regardless of the odds faced. Make your presence known as a leader and a collaborator for good.

Enshalla Anderson - Chief Strategy Officer, FutureBrand North America

Being heard. Sitting at the big table. So few women are senior leaders. Still. And that lack of diversity at the senior level merits attention.

Kari Blanchard - General Manager, FutureBrand San Francisco

Unconscious bias continues to be the biggest challenge for women in the workplace. The stereotype that men “take charge” and women “take care” puts women in a challenging position, especially for women leaders. Women are often judged as being too hard or too soft…rarely is it just right. This unconscious bias tends to result in women leaders being seen as competent or liked but rarely both. And in truth, excelling in one dimension (competent or liked) often serves to undermine the other. It’s a hell of a paradox that women actively work to overcome—the desire to ‘prove’ that we can be both.

How do we unlock the power of women at work?

Kate: Let them show up at work 100%. Women are still pushed every day to make binary decisions which involve so much sacrifice, guilt and distraction. It will never be perfect, but until we break some of the gender assumptions, use technology to work smarter and celebrate the role models out there, women will still be stuck ‘trying to have it all’ and feeling like they’re not nailing it anywhere!

Alessandra: I’m passionate about unlocking the power of professionals regardless of their gender and I deeply believe that gender diversity inspires overall harmony, cooperation and performance – hence a culture of inclusivity.

Nerida: I think having a long-term focus on career progression is key. There is a great deal of uncertainty for women as we progress through our career and start families. A very real challenge that women often face is the question of “how do I continue to focus on progressing my career when I know I’ll need to take maternity leave at some point?”. Often women find it easier to step down, or settle at the level they are, rather than taking a longer-term view to climbing up the ladder. (I’d also add that this equally applies to men who also would like to take short-term leave to focus on family). We all know Sheryl Sandberg's “lean-in” mantra around this issue – but businesses could do more in this space, to help transitions during this time so that career momentum is maintained.

Sophie: All aspects of support are important. Understanding and encouragement from family members, as well as from company policy, leaders and colleagues, in both emotional and work arrangements is crucial. This love and support can help women in the workplace overcome difficulties and reduce the stress and anxiety caused by life imbalances.

Cristina: As women, we need to believe in ourselves more. We have to be strong and confident but truly believe that we can make it to the top of our chosen profession. If women are given the same opportunities as men to demonstrate that they can do it then there is no stopping them.

Marie–Thérèse: I’d like to open this up as to how do we unlock the power of all members of the organization at work. Through building confidence and offering support we can encourage colleagues to share their unique perspectives with every facet of the organization. With respect for everyone’s backgrounds, perspectives, contributions and points of view, there will be trust. Everyone can feel empowered to be their true self. And we are all at our most powerful when we are just us.

Enshalla: Several things come to mind: mentorship, equal pay, equal opportunity, and, in my particular case, support for working parents. But mentorship is a big one - help with career navigation is significant. You can't do it alone.

Kari: There are actually a few that I'd like to mention. Close the gender pay gap: I mean, it’s time. Vocally and visibly support the value of different styles and perspectives: there is no one right way to address needs 100% of the time. Providing visible and vocal support that encourages different approaches helps to ensure the whole team (men and women) feels included, valued and able to make a meaningful contribution. Ensure women have access to career-making roles: Not all leadership opportunities are created equal, and not all jobs provide the same degree of career advancement. Today, women still get offered fewer of the high visibility, mission-critical roles, and international experiences that are important in order to reach the higher levels of leadership. Allow flexibility of style and schedule: Once seen as an employee benefit or an accommodation for caregivers (primarily women), flexible work arrangements are now an effective tool for organizations to attract top talent as well as a cost-savings measure to reduce turnover, productivity, and absenteeism. Provide role models: You can’t be what you can’t see.

What advice would you give to young women in our industry?

Kate: Relationships and networks are more important than ever – real life and online. Make sure you have a great set of people around you that you can learn from, share challenges with, get advice from or just offload to. Seek out people at work, mentors, an industry group – if you can’t see what you need, create it. Don’t be too shy and don’t be too proud – say yes if you’re invited to an event or group. We’re all better at what we do if we get the perspective, sounding board moments and inspiration from these networks.

Alessandra: I give the same advice to both young women and men…be prepared, be curious, be brave, be a challenger, speak up and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Nerida: Be creatively curious – ask questions, research and form your own opinions, attend events, start conversations, work on personal projects. Be enthusiastic – bring fresh perspectives to work.

Ask for help & advice – it may seem daunting to ask for advice from women you admire, but more often than not you’ll find women in senior positions are more than willing to answer your questions. Social media means you can be closer to both your peers and industry thought-leaders than ever before – reach out and stay connected.

Cristina: You have to believe in yourself and just keep trying.

Marie–Thérèse: You own your career but no one owes you anything. Skip into work wearing the metaphoric big hat and enjoy the thrill of doing something you love everyday. Demonstrate your courage by living by your own unique style and approach.

Enshalla: Don't fall into the perfectionist trap that many young women do. It does not have to be 100% right to be a suitable answer. I would not sacrifice quality but don't be a slave to that final 2-3%. Have the confidence that your good enough is likely to be pretty amazing. I have come to realise more often than not it is about progress and not perfection.

Kari: Expect more and ask for it: women are notorious for not being comfortable asking for things. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Operate with clear perspective: Get the reference points you need to operate with a relative understanding of your worth and the value you contribute. Amplify your voice: as women we often silence ourselves. We expect a lot of ourselves and of the work we do and hope that our contributions will speak for themselves. Guess what? It’s never the case. Speak up, establish a presence and ensure that it’s felt and heard throughout your organization. Embrace your style: an authentic voice and approach is key to your success. Trying to be something you’re not is ineffective and not sustainable. Take calculated risks: In general, women are more cautious about risk than men and often question their own judgement. You’ll never move forward if you’re not prepared to take a calculated risk on occasion. Remember, you’re taking it for a reason – to achieve an outcome.

What brands are leading the way for women and equality?

Kate: I don’t know about ‘leading the way’ – that’s quite a big ask, but I absolutely loved the Smirnoff / Spotify graphic equalizer campaign last year. A smart and thought-provoking way of challenging our (and the music industry’s bias) in a way that was easy to relate to. If we want to change behaviour we need to show it in the everyday – not just big grandstanding statements.

Nerida: The obvious one is Nike, which has been very vocal in this space – declaring 2019 the year of the women. Not only are they giving women a voice and challenging the double-standards women face in sport, but they are challenging gender equality more broadly. The Dream Crazier campaign is emotionally charged, and incredibly powerful – it is great to see brands bravely having a point of view. Most importantly, the Nike declaration isn’t just a surface-level marketing claim, it reaches deeper and is driving the brand to develop products specifically for women to perform at elite levels.

I’m also going to stretch into “personal brands” here, to include Jacinda Ardern. The Prime Minister of New Zealand is an inspiring leader. Her brand is authentic, vulnerable, relatable but also determined, steely and committed. In terms of leading the way for women and equality, she has crashed through the glass ceiling and shown everyone that you can determine your own path.

Cristina: Iberdrola in Spain is doing some fantastic things for women in sport.

Marie–Thérèse: If you look at global brands leading from the front within their own enterprise structures, then Kering is a standout – if women see women at the top, they can rightly expect they will have an equal chance to progress. At last month’s #WeSeeEqual Summit, P&G announced some hugely ambitious targets for a women-only engagement programme across EMEA businesses sectors.

Enshalla: I also fell in love with Nike’s Dream Crazier ad narrated by Serena Williams. I am a fan of the unapologetic boldness of the Nike brand—it is always out front on issues of gender and race even when it makes them a lightning rod for controversy. Secondly, I am not a member, but The Wing is a communal work space for women. You have the feeling that the next generation of young women are conceiving great start up ideas there and that excites me!