Women in advertising: how three leaders built successful careers

Thought Leadership

In an industry that has traditionally over-indexed in men at a senior level, we are particularly proud at We Are Social to have so many outstanding female leaders that can support, educate and inspire both the talented women and men in our team.

A diverse team makes good business sense, leading to better work, stronger client relationships and a positive impact on a workplace. Having this attitude embedded from day one has allowed us to create an empowered environment within We Are Social; one with a 50% female:male split both across our UK board and the agency as a whole.

But there are still challenges facing women entering the ad industry. With this in mind, and to mark today’s International Women’s Day, we’ve asked three of our senior leaders – Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer, Elie Adamson, Head of Client Services and Lucy Doubleday, Managing Partner – to share their thoughts on their careers, the challenges they’ve faced along the way and the advice they’d give to those looking to succeed.

Elie Adamson, Head of Client Services
I’ve had amazing bosses over the course of my career, both male and female, that have encouraged me to make decisions, rather than just providing answers. But as a woman I was often told that I was a ‘safe pair of hands’, rather than being seen as dynamic or brave, and so had to fight that much harder when great lead opportunities came along. To counter this, I’ve always made sure I moved into the right place to be at the forefront of the next big leap in advertising, helping ensure I always had an indisputable place in the room. There’s a lot of equality talk in the industry at the moment, most of it is bullshit. We’re a long way off being equal. Change is coming, but it will take a time and a long-term shift in attitudes and behaviours. My advice to anyone starting out in advertising would be to know that you’re in a room for a reason, so have an opinion. Don’t disappoint people who have put their faith in you – being trusted is crucial, and make sure you’re always proud of the work you deliver. Finally, no-one ever truly wings it. Anyone worth their salt puts the hours and effort in.

Lucy Doubleday, Managing Partner
I didn’t want to go to university. I was desperate to get out into the real world and start earning money. It was a struggle – not because I was a woman, but because I wasn’t a graduate in the days when it was very much expected. But I was persistent and eventually I was put forward for agency roles. I hit a ceiling when I reached Group Account Director level, stagnated for a couple of years and wanted a new challenge. I ended up leaving the industry for six months in my late 30s, heading to Cornwall alone, taking a job in a cafe and reassessing my priorities. I returned to the industry with more focus and confidence. During my time in advertising I’ve seen lots great women drop out of agency life because they couldn’t juggle work with childcare, or that financially it didn’t make sense. But companies are starting to wake up to this missed workforce, with help from great businesses like Digital Mums and Timewise. I’m now confident enough to take control of my own time, and I always leave the office without apology for the nursery run. For those starting out in the industry, the culture of an agency is key; different people suit different environments. Agencies producing what looks like great work on the face of it, might be incredibly different behind closed doors.

Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer
Coming from a Pakistani background and Muslim culture, advertising was never an obvious career choice with very few people from my background joining the industry. But I followed my instincts and showed that it could be a desirable career. I do think I was handed opportunities that wouldn’t have necessarily had otherwise when it was felt a woman was needed in the room. Instead of resenting this, I played it to my advantage and took any chance I could to make my mark. While we’re lucky to have a lot of senior female leaders at We Are Social, this isn’t always the case across the industry and it creates a lack of role models. This filters through to decisions that create a less inclusive culture. Mentoring is important to help resolve this; I’m in involved in the Who’s Your Momma Scheme via She Says, an organisation which is doing some great work to empower women. But change is happening, and I really believe that advertising can now be a great career path for anyone, from any background, although there are some personal qualities that I think are important for people in advertising to have. Resilience – you will always come across people who disagree with you, so try to have confidence in your own point of view. And empathy, not just with those you’re trying to reach with your work, but also with your team, and your leadership.