Acronym was formed in 1995, and women have held leadership positions here from the start. Flash forward 27 years, and you see an agency that has a workforce in North America that is 52% women (48% on a global basis). In addition, the majority of Acronym’s Senior Leadership Team (63%) is made up of women. Building on this legacy of empowered women, and in honor of Women’s History Month, we decided to ask some of these women to share some of their own experiences building successful careers and what advice they have to offer others.
Have you worked with a female business mentor? If so, what were some of the lessons she taught you?
Kristen Gonzalez, EVP, Agency Operations, stated that she has “had informal business mentors who gently course-corrected me when they were aware of ways in which I was undermining myself. Even those who were not that gentle taught me some great lessons. Sometimes growth is painful, but the reward is in applying those lessons forward and the results eventually speak for themselves. I’m as grateful for the lessons in what not to do as I am for those in what to do.”
Kristen then spoke of some of the challenges she has faced, saying “It’s hard for me to say that the challenges I’ve faced personally have directly been about gender. I’ve worked with many men who were solid advocates for me and treated me with respect and consideration in each encounter. Women are often expected to be in opposition to each other at work and in personal relationships; it’s a competition mindset that does not need to be there. We can all be better advocates for each other. In fact, the women I work with every day here at Acronym inspire me. Age, experience, and title are not always correlated with being inspiring. You can find great people doing great things at all levels of an organization.”
Kristen closed with a valuable piece of advice for all women in the workforce, recommending that they “adopt a lifelong learner mindset. When you focus on learning as much as you can, you move your perspective from one of lacking to one of gaining.”
What women inspire you and why?
Jennifer Jones-Mitchell, SVP, Marketing & Communications said, “The first and most enduring inspiration is my mom. She was an entrepreneur when women weren’t allowed to be business owners in the U.S. At a time when women couldn’t even have a credit card without their husband’s or father’s permission, she opened and ran a small chain of home décor stores. She endured unbelievable indignities on merchandising trips and overcame so many obstacles as she built her career as a successful retailer. I once asked her why she didn’t protest in the streets for women’s rights in the 1970s and her answer was, ‘I wasn’t about to ask for permission to start my own business. I just did it.’ It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the confidence and courage she had.”
Jennifer explained why that kind of confidence and courage matters by stating “one lesson I come back to often is that fear is good. Early in my career, I’d been successful in a position for a few years when I had the opportunity to take on a larger role. I told one of my mentors I was a little scared to leave the comfort of my existing position for this new challenge. She said, ‘if it makes you scared to do it, then it’s worth doing because that means you are growing.’ I followed her advice and haven’t looked back since. This advice drives me to embrace change, to try new tactics and explore future trends. No one learns anything new doing the same things they’ve always done. No one forges new paths by being comfortable. Fear is good. Fear drives us to succeed. That fear you feel when taking on a new challenge is how you know it’s worthwhile.”
Jennifer also added this final piece of advice for other professional women. “Don’t water-down your sentences with words like ‘just,’ ‘actually,’ maybe,’ or ‘sort-of.’ Some examples include ‘I
just want to add a thought,’ ‘I actually have a question,’ ‘That sort-of makes me uncomfortable’ or ‘ Maybe you should leave.’ These modifiers undermine what we are really saying. And remember to promote yourself. So often, women are taught it’s impolite to tout our talent, experience, and success. It’s not. It’s good business. Get your voice out there – create a podcast, write articles about industry trends, speak at events – advocate for yourself. Finally, know your own worth and learn to negotiate for what you deserve.”
What challenges do you think women face because of their gender?
Stephanie Hart, EVP and GM, Digital Analytics said, “The past few years have highlighted that there are still many parts of the world and workplace that allow misogyny and a ‘boys club’ mentality. Every person who speaks out against even a small transgression helps to chip away at discrimination and improve the world for all women. Just because Acronym is such a safe environment, we can’t pretend that things that happen in politics and the media don’t impact the way women are treated daily elsewhere.”
But there is a lot that women can do to overcome and even preemptively address these challenges. Stephanie explains, “I’ve worked with and for many wonderful women throughout my career who have taught me lessons such as listen before you speak, stand your ground with a smile, embrace challenges and change, and maintain your own credit history. One of the biggest myths that needs to be broken is held by women – that they need to be 100% prepared and able to accept a new professional challenge. I see under-qualified men winging it all the time while well-qualified women sit back and doubt themselves. Of course, this is a massive generalization, but I think more women need to have the confidence to fail.”
Finally, Stephanie offers this advice, “Don’t be apologetic because you must balance life and work. Don’t think that this inevitable balancing act makes you less valuable in the workplace.”
When or how do you feel most empowered?
Sara Gould, VP, Human Resources says”I feel most empowered professionally when I can do what I do best and am trusted. When I don’t have to push for a seat at the table, but I am looked for and asked to fill the needed space, not because of my gender identity but because of the skills and knowledge that I provide.”
Nonetheless, there are still some inherent hurdles to overcome when achieving that sense of empowerment. Sara explains, “Being a woman and in Human Resources, I get hit twice with stereotypes. It is assumed I am sensitive and just focus on Harmony vs. Strategy. My response is, ‘yes, I am sensitive, and what of it?’ I am a bit of an empath and being in HR with that ability is a blessing and a curse as it can be exhausting. I struggle with why men and women are looked at differently when they express emotion in the workplace. For example, a guy expresses anger at work by yelling it gets brushed under the rug but, if a woman cries, she is shamed. Why is one emotion deemed better or worse than another? Emotion is real and should be acknowledged. I also believe in a Richard Branson quote, ‘the customer doesn’t come first, your employees do, because if you take care of them, they will take care of your customers.’ Science has caught up and now shows that engaged people who feel cared for do more than what is expected at work vs. those who are treated like faceless minions.”
This is when it’s important to build a strong support network. Sara continues, “There was a female leader at my last company who gave me great advice when I was struggling with my own management line. She said you need to have your own Board of Directors – each person serves a different role. Each teaches you something. Some hug you when you need it, some kick you in the butt when you need it, and all push you to be the best version of you, and not to be something else.”
Sara concludes with this advice, “Be you and be all of you. Harness your power for good. Support worthy people that are around you regardless of who or what they are. There is enough room at the table and light on the professional ladder for all of us. Also, stop saying sorry if you didn’t do anything wrong! But if you did, own it.”
What advice do you have for other professional women?
Farah Sadiq, EVP and GM International says, “Over the years there have been so many leaders who have paved the way to impact and define social equality. In today’s context, I am inspired by the ideology and strength of the younger generation who are spokespeople for today’s challenges – Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Thandiwe Abdullah and many more who have stood up and are fighting for a better and more sustainable future. In a world where we can be anything we want, choose to be kind. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with positivity and a team spirit.”
Joanna Cohen, VP, Integrated Media adds, “Find your voice! All too often competent professionals hesitate to contribute; the fear of making a mistake can be a powerful deterrent to participation. I hope that women, and men, will rely on their education and expertise and share their insights and recommendations. If we are going to have a seat at the leadership table we need to demonstrate, without hesitation or fear, our ability to make valuable contributions to the conversation.”
Gellena Lukats, Director, Paid Social reminds us, “If you’re in a room, make sure you’re heard. If you’re placed in an important meeting, there’s a reason, and if you’re trusted to be in a role, own it and make sure people know your worth, especially if you’re the only woman in the room. There are a lot of stereotypes of what women should be – be professional, kind, and challenge yourself to lead by example. Don’t change your management style, personality, or approach because of what you think you need to be, but challenge yourself to be the best professional version of yourself possible.”
Mary Sutter, Director, Social Media adds, “I think we are very fortunate at Acronym in that women aren’t underestimated off the cuff. In a lot of industries, women are underestimated. I’ve experienced it in the past and hope I don’t experience it again in the future, but know that it could happen. As such, I always work my butt off because I know as a woman, I have to prove myself. My advice to other women is ’stand up for yourself. But at the same time, don’t sweat things that maybe don’t matter so much.’
Let us know if you have any experiences or advice to share! We’d love to hear from you. And, in the meantime, let’s celebrate all the contributions women make to our world, from groundbreaking inventions to global diplomacy, business leadership and more. Happy Women’s History Month!