Written by Jessica McEwan, Copywriter at RPA
Photos: Linda Schwab
It was already dark outside when I arrived at ELC’s “Path to the She Suite” event, but inside Zambezi it was warm and bright. Women (and a few men) mingled together, chatting and taking pictures with a lightbox that said, “Welcome, Lady Bosses!”
Claire Thompson, Associate Director of Brand Connections at VICE Media was our moderator for the evening, introducing us to our panel of:
- Sarah Ceglarski, Partner and CMO at Omelet
- Jiah Choi, Partner and CEO at Anomaly
- Jean Freeman, Principal and CEO at Zambezi
- Sheila Marmon, Founder and CEO of Mirror Digital
- Yumi Prentice, President and Managing Partner at David&Goliath
With so much success in the room, the first question focused, naturally, on failure. What had the panelists learned from it? Sheila Marmon urged us to remember that being laid off is not the end of the world, but it is important to always be aware of what is happening in your industry and be mindful of when it might be time to make a move. Jiah Choi recalled a time when she accepted a new job and was unhappy for months, but now feels it prepared her for her current role. Jean Freeman added that failure needs to be seen as part of the process, and that if you are just chugging along smoothly, you aren’t growing and learning from experience.
All of the women spoke about the importance of mentorship and how vital it is to learn from the experience of others. Sheila remarked that in addition to having strong mentorship, it’s important to really take a look at the power structures of the organization you are in. “It is important to position yourself in places where someone will hand you the baton.” Sarah Ceglarski pointed out that “your enemies are your greatest teachers, and as a leader not only do you need to be open to discourse and uncomfortable discussions, you need to lead those conversations.”
When asked what accomplishments they were proud of, Yumi Prentice shared that she is very proud that David&Goliath is a signatory to Times Up Advertising, and that they were promoting mental health by adding a mental-health day to their PTO package. Jean lamented that there is too much talk about diversity and not enough action, reminding us that “leading by example means holding yourself accountable.” She put that into practice by updating Zambezi’s benefits package to be more family-friendly.
The final panel question of the evening: “What’s a must-do in life?”
“Floss. And lead with compassion and integrity. If you don’t, the cost is too great to yourself.”
– Yumi Prentice
“Be an agent for your own success. Don’t wait for someone to hand you that next opportunity. If you see a gap in your organization, fill it. Become an asset.” – Sheila Marmon
“Everyone should experience a U.S. National Park at some point in their life. Get outside and away from technology. Unplug.” – Jean Freeman
“Values are not values until they cost you something. Know what is sacred to you and protect it.” – Jiah Choi
“You must be empathetic. That’s more important than what you can learn in school. It’s how you connect and understand who you are talking to.” – Sarah Ceglarski
From there, Claire opened the panel up to Q&A. A small-business owner was having a hard time letting go of doing to focus on leading and wanted advice how to better manage that. Jean suggested she be honest with herself. If you’ve been in the same position for years and haven’t let go, do you really want to? Jiah remarked, “Neither you nor your business will grow if you are just doing.” Sheila suggested she bring on someone better than herself at the doing, so that she would feel comfortable handing off responsibility.
After a few more questions, Claire said there was time for one more. I raised my hand. Throughout the panel discussion, my eye had been wandering to the lightbox sign I mentioned earlier. I wondered, how did the women feel about this term, “Lady Boss?” Yumi chimed in first, saying she respected it and thought it had its place, and that there is an underscore to saying we are bosses who don’t fit the normal mold. Jean said she was looking forward to the rising of Gen Z, who don’t look to make everything so male or female. Jiah said, “I respect it, but I hate it. But I think that’s where we are. I’m looking forward to the day that we aren’t.” Perhaps the most empowering response, though, came from Sheila. “Being a lady boss doesn’t keep me from being a boss.”
“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” – Sheryl Sandberg
“There is no work/life balance, there’s only work/life integration. You just have to enjoy what you do. The only way you can spend this much time working is if you like it.” – Jiah Choi
“Be open to discourse and uncomfortable conversations. That is part of your job. If you want to be a leader, you have to lead those conversations. If you have an issue with someone, you have to talk to them and sit them down and say, ‘I have an issue with you.’ That is such a powerful thing that I’ve only recently learned to do. But don’t assume malice every time. Pull back your immediate emotional reaction.” – Sarah Ceglarski
“People in successful leadership positions are curious and always looking to grow. Warren Buffet spends half his day reading.” – Jean Freeman
“Remember that when you get to where you are going, the people you need to mentor may not look like you or have the same background.” – Sheila Marmon
“There are incremental things you can do to promote diversity and equality. It doesn’t always have to mean joining a huge movement.” – Yumi Prentice
Jessica McEwan is a copywriter at RPA and an instructor for The Book Shop School for Ads.