Dame Stephanie Shirley: advised attendees to be tenacious
Dame Stephanie Shirley: advised attendees to be tenacious
A view from Kate Waters & Lisa Thomas

Do what you love: key industry issues from Wacl Gather

Be braver, work hard and be yourself were three pieces of advice given by Wacl Gather speakers, say the event's co-chairs.

It is often said by Wacl members that Wacl Gather is one of the best things that we do and this year’s event, with a theme of "work your way" was no exception. 

For starters, it was a sell-out – by no means a given in cost-conscious business times – with some 400 women from the creative/media and communication industries in attendance, to listen to our fantastic speakers, to interact, to network, to learn, and to share their ideas with us and each other.

In addition, our speakers were particularly brilliant and diverse in terms of their insights and their perspectives – less "preaching to the converted" and much more inspiration from different angles.

The day identified some key challenges, many of which are at a scale that require input either from companies or even the government.

The importance of technology and maths is a key issue (in particular, its growing role in marketing and comms). However, the systematic failure to address gender imbalance throughout the system (getting girls to choose physics/maths/engineering at school and then uni, attracting women into these careers, and the reaching the highest levels within tech companies).

The problem of unconscious bias was also picked up by the panel as an important issue and, of course, identified by people like Mark Ritson as an issue endemic within the marketing world.

Further, there are still not enough female role models in senior roles within the industry (number two on the list of issues identified by the delegates).

And finally, there remains the issue of men being hired or promoted on potential and women on experience (voted the number one issue holding women back by delegates).

While greater awareness of the issue among managers/ leaders could have a major impact in changing this, it's also fair to say that we women could do a lot too. Apparently women will only go for a job if they think they fulfil between 80% and 90% of the criteria, whereas men will go for it if they think they have 40% of the criteria.

So we could each do more by being braver and applying for those roles that feel out of reach to us, but probably aren't.

This takes us on to the solutions; the ideas that were put forward by speakers that can help us in our work lives:

Be yourself

The importance of being authentic, or rather not trying to be anyone else, is a recurring theme. Similarly, the importance of listening to your own voice, and if you have the opportunity, using it both for yourself and others if possible. 

That said, the panel identified the importance of only working in places that are willing to listen to your voice. There's no point in shouting and not being heard... and this is a strategy that will have benefits long term.

If women refuse to work in places with an unsupportive culture, those companies will get a bad rep, and are less likely to do well, making more progressive and positive workplaces even more attractive.

Look after yourself

Women spend a lot of time looking after others. Dame Stephanie Shirley talked about the importance of taking time for yourself and making sure you are healthy, both mentally and physically.

Be tenacious

A key theme from many speakers including Claire Valoti, Tim Campbell and Dame Stephanie Shirley. When faced with obstacles, don't be the fly that that keeps banging against the window. Think about how you can go round, go under or over in order to beat the obstacles in your way. 

Finally, ask yourself the question posed by Sarah Clift: "what would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?"

Take some risks, and do what you love.

Kate Waters, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Now and Lisa Thomas, managing director and global head of brand at Virgin Enterprises, are Gather committee co-chairs and hosts