Why women should work together to reach the top

As Wacl's annual training event Gather kicks off, president Lindsay Pattison explains how women should work together to help more women reach the top.

Lindsay Pattison: the president of Wacl and worldwide chief executive at Maxus
Lindsay Pattison: the president of Wacl and worldwide chief executive at Maxus

It is a universally acknowledged truth that women are excellent team players and collaborators. In corporate life, this often leads women into very senior roles in HR, account services and other vital support functions.

Those same traits can also make for really effective leadership – especially when combined with assertiveness, charm and emotional intelligence – yet, when it comes to leadership roles across almost all industries, the numbers change dramatically.

Media and advertising are definitely ahead of the curve. We should be proud that, while only five women run a FTSE 100 company, 25 per cent of senior management roles across our own industry are held by women – but given we start out as 50/50 gender split, we clearly have a long way to go.

There are plenty of reasons why there aren’t more women in leadership roles – unbalanced recruitment at senior level, the persistence of old boys’ networks, inflexible working policies which make life logistically challenging for working mothers and deeply ingrained stereotypes for starters.

What can we do? Lots. And Gather (Wacl’s annual training and networking event), sets out to help in a few vital ways. An important way to challenge these norms is for the small but significant number of women in super senior roles to help other women up the ladder.

It’s critical that we have real visibility as role models, so "walking the talk" by being on stage and sharing our stories, and encouraging others to take that step out in front.

And then empowering and educating other women, by creating mentor programs and other forms of training.

Since joining this industry as a grad trainee, I have received support from countless inspirational women. In return, I try to encourage other young women starting out in their careers to fulfil their potential. It also happens to be fun, rewarding and makes great business sense.

For Gather 2015 our theme is Together. In an industry that rewards personal achievements and targets, we want to recognise the power of the collective over individual self-reliance.

Our goal is to help young women starting out in our industry to appreciate their context and to recognise and voice what they are very good at – something that women have a tendency to struggle with.

Being desperately ambitious isn’t a bad thing, and we need to encourage young women to stop apologising for it.

Real-life stories that relate how other women have carved a successful path are crucial to inspire those just setting out on theirs. I am personally very excited to hear our keynote Miriam González Durántez give her take on Togetherness.

We will also be hearing from rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi who led her team to achieve something amazing in a male-dominated world.

This year’s Gather also sees us undertake a huge (and logistically challenging) speed mentoring session, offering each delegate the option for ten "power" minutes with some of the industry’s most powerful and influential women. 

And what about the men? Well, a critical angle of our Together theme is about engaging constructively with the whole industry and so we’re delighted two proudly male feminists, Steve Hatch and Tom Knox, will join our final panel debate on men and women working together for positive change.

So today, alongside Tracy de Groose and Frances Ralston-Good as our brilliant and formidable co-chairs, I’m looking forward to hearing wisdom and stories from the most inspiring women in our industry.

I’ll also have the privilege of meeting our leaders of tomorrow as we switch up the leadership narrative, together.

Lindsay Pattison is president of Wacl and worldwide chief executive at Maxus.


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