Tuesday, August 21, 2018

14268: Females Fundamentally Flawed…?

Advertising Age published a perspective from Zambezi CEO Jean Freeman, who opined that women can better advance professionally by learning business fundamentals. Um, if a man had made such a statement, he’d likely be branded as a mansplaining misogynist. Why haven’t Kat Gordon and Cindy Gallop complained that women are being held back in adland because no one will teach them the basics? Maybe the 4As should build an all-girls high school to educate female students about P&L, balance sheets and legal documents. But seriously, is there really a problem with women in advertising displaying corporate cluelessness? Cultural cluelessness is forever in abundance. Women, however, appear to be doing fine managing clients, adhering to budgets and handling all the responsibilities of running advertising agencies. Hey, only racial and ethnic minorities require remedial training to qualify for positions in the advertising industry.

Beyond empowerment: The case for teaching business fundamentals to women

By Jean Freeman

There’s no shortage of women’s events these days. I’ve attended them all — 3% Conference, Makers, Girlboss Rally, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen, She Runs It. These platforms have had a meaningful impact on the ascension of the next generation of women leaders. They inspire creativity, confidence, community, and also encourage mentoring. More women (and men) are stepping up to mentor the next generation of women.

But in addition to mentoring, I’m seeing an even more pressing need for teaching. Specifically, teaching business fundamentals. Much of the discussion at women’s conferences focuses on personal actions, emotional intelligence, building self-confidence and creating a personal brand. This is all valid, but gender equity platforms need more rigor around the mechanics of business. Fundamental business smarts are what will truly move women forward, and women are recognizing this.

Frustrated with the slow progress in corporate environments, more women are going into business for themselves, founding companies at a historic rate. According to a recent study, women-owned businesses account for 30 percent of all businesses worldwide.

One of my favorite Ted talks is “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get,” by Susan Colantuono, CEO of Leading Women. She pointed out that the most important skill set that determines whether women in business move up the ladder and out of the bog of middle management, where 50 percent of the workforce historically is women, “has to do with understanding where the organization is going, what its strategy is, what financial targets it has in place, and understanding your role in moving the organization forward. This is that missing 33 percent of the career success equation for women, not because it’s missing in our capabilities or abilities, but because it’s missing in the advice that we’re given.”

Teaching women how a company runs is key. We need to develop learning around business and financial skills—the kind of expertise that contributes directly to a company’s success and profitability. We need to expand the offerings at conferences to also include business overview and training. Understanding the mechanics of P&L, why the balance sheet is probably the most important financial document, and how to interpret legal documents are examples of the fundamentals to which women at the mid level should be exposed.

Of course, not all staffers are interested in such details (regardless of gender). In our industry, we have creatives, brand planners and designers who laser-focus on the content we produce. Nevertheless, as agency leaders it’s incumbent upon us to identify and nurture the businessperson within our employees, especially women. At our agency, we’ve started a program to teach our creatives how to understand and consider business objectives when creating campaigns. We not only teach our agency’s business model, we teach our client’s business model. The same program can be applied to teaching women as well.

As Susan points out in her Ted talk, companies achieve their financial goals when “everyone is pulling in the same direction.” It’s in our own self-interest as business leaders to teach women more than just self-esteem and assertiveness in business. We want people who will help companies move our business. We need to lean into the hard skills, not the soft skills. Understanding business fundamentals will propel women into the higher ranks. Once they have the tools, they really will become empowered.

Jean Freeman

Named one of the 4As’ 100 People Who Make Advertising Great in 2017 and to Working Mothers of the Year by She Runs It, Zambezi CEO Jean Freeman works closely with organizations that advance women in advertising, including SheSays, The 3% Conference, Pledge Parental Leave and Free the Bid.

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