I'm excited to end this 'Advice for Newbies' week with a post for young women featuring an interview with Nina DiSesa, Chairman of McCann Erickson New York and Ale Lariu, "mother superior" of SheSays.
Last month, Ale, Associate Creative Director at AKQA NY (in addition to the whole mother superior bit), reached out to me about an event sponsored by SheSays in New York.
Ale explains the big idea behind SheSays this way: "The world is pretty much half men, half women. So why are there hardly any women in the creative department of most digital ad agencies? We decided to stop chatting about it and do something - like hold events where top women in the industry share their thoughts and help people to either get started or work their way up."
Last month, the event was keynoted by the enviable Nina DiSeso, a hands-on creative leader who worked her way up to the very top of "Madison Avenue" and just published a great book called Seducing the Boys Club.
The book is at once mentorship (on success and management) and the story of life lived in an ad agency. Nina has taken what she's learned from male behavior and her own missteps to create a guidebook for getting ahead. If you're just getting started, it's truly a sneak peek into every interaction you'll have for the next 40 years.
Talking with Nina:
Q: Even at this stage in my career, I've been in plenty of meetings where I'm the only woman in the room. I've been thanked for the refreshments and complimented on my shoes, but, generally still end up with the respect and the attention of the room by the end. Do you have any tips for people just starting out on how to win respect / attention in tough environments?
Nina: It’s always best to be needed and essential for something. Not for serving coffee or doing “women’s work” but needed in an indispensable way. This can be accomplished at any level. If you read the story about Harold in chapter seven of the book you will get a good idea of what I’m talking about. There are a lot of ways to get clout in an organization, find the ones that work for you.
Q: Writing a book like this and even speaking at SheSays seems very controversial for a women exec. Particularly one at an ad agency. How did you decide to go for it?
Nina: Actually, I was hoping I’d be retired by now, but it doesn’t look likely, at least for another year or two. It wasn’t much of a risk. My mission is to reach out to women of all ages and help them get in control of their lives, their careers and their own happiness. But this also applies to anyone who finds herself or himself in an environment where they are different from the majority and are having a tough time making progress to the top. McCann Erickson has been behind this from the start and they are proud of the book and me.
Q: How have your colleagues and clients responded?
Nina: With delight. Although the clients always want to sit next to me now so they can see how I am trying to “seduce and manipulate” them.
Q: What are your #1 pieces of "do" advice and "don't" advice for young women working in agencies that could fairly be called "boys' clubs"?
Nina: Well I wrote a whole book about this but to bring it down to the simplest terms: “do” whatever it takes to win, “don’t” resent the men or anyone else who appears to be unsupportive – learn from them. And always remember the most powerful question in the English language: “What’s in it for me?” This doesn’t mean what’s in it for YOU; it means you have to find a compelling tactic for the person who you want to influence. You want something from someone – what’s in it for them to help you?
Q: In Seducing the Boys Club, you talk about "How Men Listen." I love the part of the story where the two embattled ad guys bemoan your feedback with "That's the trouble with this agency..." Have you found any great ways to create more positive environments? Or, at least quell the "this agency sux" happy hours?
Nina: I have never tried to stop the whining and complaining of the creative people. They have to vent and it’s a natural part of the creative process when someone kills their “babies.” We all do it. We get angry, we vent, we believe the person who killed our work is a hack and doesn’t know a great idea from a lousy one, then we get over it and do something so much better it even shocks us. As long as better work develops from this process I don’t mind it and they always forgive the creative director who forced them to dig deeper and get better work. Creative people complain. It’s part of our nature. Allowing us to this and having a sense of humor about it is what makes for a more positive environment, strangely enough. Also winning helps. When we sell good work and win the respect of our peers it makes us happy. It’s a fleeting happiness, but it still feels good.
Q: Can I say - you look gorgeous? The stress doesn't seem to have gotten to you. Do you have any great tips for maintaining perspective?
Nina: Thank you for the compliment. Actually, I do look younger since I handed over the New York creative director responsibilities to Joyce King Thomas and she thinks that she’s starting to look older. (She’s not.) Once on the elevator she announced that she could actually see the stress traveling down my body, slithering across the floor, then climbing up her own body until it lands on her face. Stress does age us but the good news is that when the stress lessens our muscles relax and we look better. At least that’s what I think. You happened to catch me at an unstressed moment. Up until a month ago I was very stressed out and it showed.
Q: How did you get involved with SheSays? And, do you think it's a good idea for young women to join women peer groups in the workplace?
Nina: I was introduced to the group by Alessandra Lariu, who I met at McCann (we were trying to hire her, I believe). I was so captivated by her I decided to speak to her group. I do think it’s a good idea for women of all ages to join up because we often feel so isolated and it’s good to know that we are not alone. Also, women are bright and when we relax we can also be a lot of fun. This isn’t a bad characteristic to develop.
Talking with Ale:
Q: What is your best advice for women starting out in the industry?
Q: What about women in career transition?
Q: What do you wish you knew when you were a rookie?
Ale: Not to waste so much time doing one thing
Q: What's next for SheSays?
Ale: In the UK we've started to run free presentation courses. In the US, we'll continue free monthly meetings showcasing amazing women in digital/advertising. We'll also set up our mentorship program called 'Who's your momma'.
Last words: Don't forget to order the book.