How to succeed as a woman in advertising

Vicki Maguire, the executive creative director at Grey London and a Women of Tomorrow 2013 winner, talks fear, energy and equal pay with Alice Weightman, the founder and chief executive of Hanson Search

Vicki Maguire I am quite used to failing. Ha! It has stood me in good stead. I’m not afraid of anything now; I know I’ll always be able to pick things up and look after myself.

Alice Weightman I’m a single working mum running two businesses. You are an entrepreneur (running the sweet shop Suck and Chew) as well as doing this job. How do you juggle the two?

VM It’s time and energy management. It’s all about energy. I don’t believe in age; I believe in energy. 

AW Who have you got your energy from? Your entrepreneurial parents or people you have met along the way?

VM It’s a combination. The women in our family are really strong. My mum and grandma were busy holding down three jobs and would never think about burning a very good bra.

AW Do women of today fret too much?

VM I don’t think they fret. Sometimes we doubt ourselves, which can lead to over-thinking – and that is the worst thing to do in this industry. You just have to get on with it.

AW I read that 3 per cent of creative directors are women. At what stage in their careers does the brain drain kick in for women?

VM It’s 11 per cent now, but it’s still taking the piss. Women don’t drop out. They see they may not get any further and they think "fuck that" and find something more interesting to do. There are other industries that are lot more forward-thinking. We will have a problem retaining talent – male and female – if we don’t get our collective shit together and start working differently.

AW It’s happening. People are saying they want flexibility, adult environments and to be treated equally.

VM And, for the first time, we don’t have to take it. Flexible working will be fundamental to keeping people and culture can’t be spray-painted, it has to be nurtured and ingrained.

AW What was your turning point that helped propel your career?

VM Coming to Grey. It was a big agency not known for creativity, but there were a few people here with a shared vision and I thought it was exciting. When I walked in, the energy was right and I thought I could be part of this – without changing, which is important to me. I remember my first client presentation (elsewhere). I rocked up in badly fitting Westwood and my creative director said: "You’re not wearing that. Here’s 30 quid to buy a dress, mid-heel courts and American tan tights." I came back and presented dressed like Susan Boyle. That taught me a lesson: if you can’t be yourself, don’t. He even made me take the outfit back afterwards. Ha! I was out of there in three months.

AW Have you found it hard asking for pay rises?

VM No, I haven’t. Because of my background in fashion and having my own business, I know the value of a good idea. What is interesting is that we don’t talk about salaries between ourselves. I make sure that the men and women on my team are paid the same.

AW What has being a Women of Tomorrow winner done for you?

VM It got me on the radar. It makes you buyable. It gives you the confidence to say yes or no.

AW What advice would you give to women wanting to get into this industry?

VM Don’t be afraid to seem to fail. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and reach out – to men and women. Don’t be afraid.

AW I believe the men of tomorrow also want to know that there is diversity at the top.

VM Absolutely. We have taken universities and grades out of our selection processes because we want to find a more diverse crew. We set them entrepreneurial tasks.

AW How do you ensure diversity comes through?

VM Don’t hire in your image. Clients are starting to look at this in agencies. Things are starting to align. If I was to start a legacy, it would be "grow your own". I want to bring my girls up, see where their barriers are and see what I can do about it.

Hanson Search is a proud sponsor of Campaign and the IPA’s Women of Tomorrow Awards 2016.

This is an edited extract of the conversation.