How Women Can Support Each Other in Male-Dominated Industries | Opinion

It's no secret that the advertising industry, like many sectors, is still mostly male and white, despite rallying cries for increased representation.

The numbers are stark for women of color, with only 19 percent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) and CMO equivalents representing diverse communities. And even if there is more equality among junior staffers, once you narrow to the senior ranks and C-suite, the representation evaporates.

In the wake of the pandemic, more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce. Is the work industry in danger of becoming even more entrenched in bro culture? What does this mean for women hungry to create career paths and become leaders in advertising or other industries? How can women support each other to create a similar network that exists for their male counterparts, one that results in more opportunities and career possibilities?

As a female who has worked in the advertising industry for many years, I've seen firsthand the effects that a male-dominated world can have on women's careers.

The number of times I've had to shrink down or minimize my voice I couldn't start to count. Almost weekly someone makes the same point that I previously made, just louder and listened to. I understand that there are women all around the world that would trade places with me in one second, so I am sensitive to how far we have come. We just haven't yet gone far enough.

While the pandemic has certainly affected everyone in different ways, there is no question that it has disproportionately impacted women, whether its companies simply not being flexible and inventive enough, or because women still take on the majority of childcare and household responsibilities. It could be those reasons plus a multitude of other explanations.

The reality is that it will take time to create real, meaningful and deep societal change not only in the advertising industry but across the economy. Now more than ever, women in senior leadership positions must support and lift each other up to help drive long lasting change and create more balanced organizations. Here are some tips that have helped me, and I hope they help others in a similar way.

I had to learn how to listen to myself, and know that when I did know the answer to something, or was the most experienced person in the room, that I should use my voice. Using my voice does not mean not listening or being unwilling to bend or change. Sometimes being tied too closely to your idea or your opinion can be detrimental to work relationships and creativity.

There are three ways I found my voice in my career:

First, make sure you have actual experience to be the thought leader and expert in the room. Become an expert at what you do.

Second, surround yourself with people that push you to use your voice in productive ways.

Finally, take in information from other experts. A book I always recommend is Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace, which includes tips like how to deal with "bro-propriation," which is when a man appropriates a woman's idea.

Let's be real: Being a woman in male-dominated industries or organizations is hard. It presents challenges that may seem difficult to overcome on your own. Compensation conversations, scope creep on projects, or even being asked to make copies, clean the table, plan your colleague's baby/wedding/birthday/retirement party are very real issues that women face.

I made a lot of mistakes, got myself too worked up, became too attached to being right instead of being smart, but I had really good friends and mentors that helped guide me in how to play smarter and challenge the status quo.

Woman working
A woman works on her laptop computer while entering a train at Gotanda train station in Tokyo on April 8, 2020, on the first day of the state of emergency. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Mentorship, friendship, or just having colleagues to keep in touch with through the years is important. It doesn't matter what you call it, but find people that will help guide you and let you bounce ideas off of. If you're a senior executive, or rising up the ranks, it's crucial that we help our sisters.

Mentorships have been a huge part of getting me to where I am today. Sometimes my mentors have had to feed me a tough dose of medicine that wasn't easy to take, but it helped me grow. Mentorships are crucial in helping you find your voice and build confidence. And of course a bigger network always means more opportunities.

I am a firm believer that you should always look to be a mentor and a mentee, not being afraid to ask for help and willing to give it.

Another thing I've noticed throughout my professional career is that women bring unique qualities to the workforce.

Sallie Krawcheck, former Wall Street CEO, co-founder and CEO of Ellevest and author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work has many thoughts on what women can bring to the table that men just simply cannot. The first being our risk awareness.

When working within the advertising and marketing space, risk awareness is critical. According to Krawcheck, women are more likely to recognize the difference between competence and confidence, to trust their instincts when something feels "off."

Women bring a unique set of skills and personality traits.

How do you find your superpower and unique skill set and lean into it?

What's mine? Building genuine connections with people, which I believe comes from an actual interest in getting to know them, listening to them and being empathetic and thoughtful. Owning our strengths and leaning into them is just another way to build confidence and find your voice.

As an executive, I take great responsibility in raising the next generation of female leaders and building diverse teams that bring different points of view to the table. I surround myself with women personally and professionally and ensure when I am hiring for a new role that I am doing the necessary work to pull from a talent pool that is diverse and inclusive of all genders, races, orientations and religious backgrounds.

There is an emphasis today to ensure that hiring practices support women having the ability to climb the ladder. However, there is still the underlying tone within most industries that makes women feel that we shouldn't go for the stretch role or might not be qualified enough to try to tackle a big project.

We need to dig deeper than just making sure opportunities are presented to women. We need to make sure we are building each other up and pushing each other so that when the time comes, women know they deserve those opportunities.

Do not be afraid to challenge the status quo to eventually build a better world for future generations of women. Let's start with building each other up.

Lauren Douglass is the SVP of global marketing at Channel Factory.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.