Four remarkable women took to the stage for “The Way Forward #ADWOMEN2015” this afternoon at the Cannes Lions. Moderated by Sarah Watson, Chief Strategy Officer of BBH New York, the panel delved into how being a woman impacted the road toward becoming a leader. The consensus was that it had less impact than one might think. Erica Hoholick, President of TBWA/Media Arts Lab, noted that being on the account side may have insulated her from any impact. The only time she really noticed her gender was, “during client side meetings.” She was struck by how often she was one of the few women in the room, even on very large women’s brands. That may be, she suggested, because the corporate world has taken longer to diversify.
Suzanne Powers, Global Chief Strategy Officer of McCann Worldwide concurred and posited that because all of the women on the panel had been raised in a creative culture, the perils of sexism were less menacing. “The idea,” she said, “is ahead of who raised it.” Both she and Hoholick recalled their days working with Lee Clow who once told Hoholick, “When I need to get something done, I hire a woman.”
Coleen DeCourcy, Global Executive Creative Director of Wieden + Kennedy, had a different experience. While she also claimed that being a women did not impact her trajectory all that much, she focused more on the fact that she had dissociated herself from her gender. “I found the world of men more interesting. … What I wanted meant that I had to pull away from one thing in order to go after another.” She got the audience applauding with this passionate remark: “I don’t want my work in the room because I’m a woman. I want it in the room because it’s the fucking best.” But even as she said that she acknowledged her debt to the women who came before her arguing that it was time to have more female representation.
Rather than dwell on the past, the panel moved on to consider how to create a powerful way forward for the industry. Again, the panelists were largely aligned in wanting the focus to move on to people as a whole. Powers wanted to see a time when we could just have a focus on people, not on men and women. While Hoholick reminded us that, “diversity isn’t just male and female.” Global brands need diverse teams. DeCourcy, as she had throughout the panel, cut to the chase. Her words are worth quoting at some length. For her, a way forward will look like this: “I look forward to the day I can sit here and know…that I’m one of the most hated women and be ok with that.” “I want,” she concluded, “to put my woman head into things that are not about me.”