At ANDERSON Advertising we are fortunate enough to have a diverse group of humans who make up our staff. A part of the diversity and uniqueness of our agency comes from having women leaders at the helm. Our VP of Account Services, Adrianna Dalpiaz, and Creative Director, Sara Cody head up that leadership and they recently attended a seminar with other female leaders in advertising to discuss the issues they are faced with and how they work to pivot from or overcome them. Here, they share their personal challenges and takeaways from the seminar and how they are working to embrace being female leaders and the power and perspective it can bring.
Challenges of Being a Female Manager/Leader
Adrianna: One of the biggest things I have encountered as a woman in a leadership position always goes back to the word that so many deem as ugly: EMOTIONAL. Our communication style, approach, and responses can often be perceived as escalated when we are simply being an honest version of ourselves and being true to how we communicate. Unfortunately, it can lessen our authority and how we are perceived. I think showcasing an emotional range is part of what makes us better in most instances, but it does have to be balanced with what is happening around us. Being better prepared for conversations while maintaining your authority is key.
The other challenge discussed that I related to is trying to do it all, being everything to everyone. It is almost as if when I am not doing this or constantly showcasing what I know, what I can accomplish, etc. my worth or value will be questioned. For me, it leads to over-talking, exhaustion, and burnout. It feels like we are forced to juggle everything to prove our worth. On any given day, I am trying to be an A+ mentor and manager, client strategist, partner in the agency, relationship ambassador, cultural tone setter, subject matter expert, generalist, friend of everyone, the list goes on. Women can do it all, right? The answer is yes, BUT it is important to focus on how it all gets done and there are ways to do it when you can let go and communicate what is needed to the trusted team you’ve built.
Sara: Let’s address the challenge I’m sure many (not just women in leadership) have faced: burnout. I say this isn’t specific to women in leadership because while I have personally experienced it, I have also seen it happen to others throughout my career—and repeatedly at that. In a fast-paced, ever-changing industry like advertising, the ante to play is being able to produce immediate results. In a leadership role, those results are expected at every stage of engagement. We’re the first and last line of defense (and several filtered lines of defense in between), so it can be challenging to prioritize and allocate appropriate resources to the areas where we know we need support when we’re expected to have all the answers. We take on more to ensure we are seen as a leader, a friend, a supporter, a resource… the list goes on. But in reality, it’s not what you take on that shows people you can be all of those things. It’s establishing boundaries and integrating a regular routine of rest and recovery that allow you to deliver on those expectations with a balance of authority and warmth.
Another relatable and noted challenge discussed is getting criticized on leadership tone/style. We’ve all heard the labels associated with women vs. men in leadership, and they can be tough to correct or reverse. As a woman in leadership, the balance of authority, or power, and warmth I mentioned is constantly front of mind. When you lead with too much power, the negative labels start to attach themselves, but when you lead with too much warmth, the lack of respect and authority can be just as harmful.
Lessons Learned for Balanced Leadership
Adrianna: The core function of the Account Services team is to manage our client relationships. We serve as the main point of contact and liaison between our agency resources and our clients. This means we are in constant communication both internally and externally. I appreciated the notion of being able to be all versions of yourself when you are communicating across the board. Finding balance in being powerful and human! You can still be you and showcase your authority and expertise when working with your team, managers, and clients—especially when navigating challenging conversations or asking for help and support.
Increasing Power and Authority in Communication
- Avoid tentative language (maybe, kind of, sort of)
- Don’t apologize too frequently
- Be more succinct and not too chatty (not always possible for me, but finding the right place to be chatty is important)
- Don’t create an uptick in statements—recognize that things come across as a question versus emphasizing a point (cue the scene from Anchorman, “I’m Ron Burgundy?”)
- Slow down when you speak
- Speak with an even tone
Sara: Everything is a balancing act: the number of skills you choose to hone, the flexibility in your approach, tone and style of communication, even down to something that seems as natural as your body’s posture. The formula Pamela rolled everything up to was: power + warmth = presence and charisma. You can apply this to almost anything in leadership: communication, delegation, feedback, conflict resolution, etc. This balance allows leaders to elevate others, and as a Creative Director, that applies to both my team and my clients.
Ex: A balanced approach to delegation:
- Explain the background (warmth)
- Ask for input/approach (warmth)
- Evaluate competency (power)
- Determine the appropriate level of autonomy (power)
- Define communication/check-in times (warmth and power)
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to how to manage either. At the center of it all, are the people doing the work: my team. Everyone operates differently. They’re subject matter experts in different areas because they come from vastly different backgrounds and have different perspectives and personalities in every sense. While I know this is what makes our agency great at its core, it’s also what I know requires a balanced approach to ensure growth, success, excitement, and award-winning creative that delivers for clients on behalf of the agency.
Practice/Style Adjustments—Taking the lessons and how we will solve/apply for challenges
Adrianna: At the end of the day, my goal is to always be me. Human. Layered. Intelligent. But I want to be me in a way that is perceived as strong and thoughtful, not as emotional or over-excited. I am working to strike some balance there. I am asking more questions, practicing active listening to truly understand—not just to respond—and focusing on pausing and thinking before jumping in with an immediate answer or solution. I don’t need to do everything right this moment and I don’t need to react in an instant. These elements coupled with communication balance, I am hoping will naturally showcase my leadership and leadership style, and provide opportunities to delegate and ultimately temper the need to constantly prove myself.
Sara: There’s a personal and professional angle to solving for burnout. Personally, I’m exercising more, practicing mindfulness and box breathing, and being intentional about the recovery I know I need between excessive stints of work and life obligations. Professionally, I am taking more time to recognize when pausing and adjusting communication is necessary to ensure expectations are clear, succinct, and responsive as opposed to reactive.
From a leadership tone/style lens, it’s helped to accept being in a constant state of growth. I’ll continue facilitating preparation, communication, and confirmation to build credibility and authority at the agency level, client-facing level, and team level. There’s a common ground across each, and it requires approachability and authenticity in order to get the people around you on board.
Thematically, both Adrianna and Sara experienced similar feelings and challenges—as did the majority of the women in the seminar. Working in an advertising agency is already tough and being a woman in advertising adds layers that make it tougher. The good news is that we aren’t alone and we can continue to be strong in a number of areas, and leverage the tools above to build a balanced approach that provides a bridge between authority and warmth, while still being our authentic selves.