Five of Chicago’s top women communication leaders met with students and faculty last week at DePaul University’s College of Communication. At a program hosted by students in the Leadership 2.0 public relations and advertising class, panel members openly talked about double standards, glass ceilings and sexism in the workplace.
While the panelists come from diverse backgrounds, there were many common themes that were reiterated during the event. For instance, each panelist suggested that young women in communication should take more risks, shed the fear of failure or change — and to not be afraid to ask questions.
Shedding Your Fear
Christina Sneed, Executive Vice President at Flowers Communications Group, said it best: “When you’re young is the time to make mistakes — because you have time to learn from them.”
Joyce Winnecke, former president of Tribune Media, highlighted the importance of adapting to new workplaces, new schools of thought and coworkers with new ideas. “The most important aspect of my success is that I’m not afraid of change,” she explained.
Claire Koeneman, Executive Vice President at Hill & Knowlton Strategies, asserted that, ”uncertainty scares people more than change.” She highlighted the importance of taking risks within your position or career path, even if you are not completely sure of what the outcome may be.
How to Lead
On the topic of leadership, Marty Wilke, President and GM of WBBM-TV/Channel 2, credited her father, as the initial inspiration behind her successful career and rise to her current position in a media C-suite. “I had a progressive father who told me I could do anything — and I believed him.”
And as a leader in media today, Wilke, the youngest of several children, translates her upbringing and experience in how she operates in the workplace. “My job as a leader is to dig and see what other people are thinking,” she explained.
Sneed added that there’s an importance of accepting the role of a student, not just in a classroom, but also beyond. “You always want to remain a student of life and of your industry,” she encouraged.
During the Q&A portion of the discussion, a question arose on the subject of women in the workplace. An audience member asked the panel if there was an example of sexism that they could share with the crowd.
Nina Abnee, Chief Client Officer at Leo Burnett, wryly said, “None of us had any problems with that” which elicited a laugh from the audience, yet the sarcasm in the statement was very clear. Abnee replied with a story where she was the only woman in a creative advertising meeting where the idea being discussed featured sexist undertones and stereotypical gender roles. She spoke her mind, despite having an outnumbered opinion. “If women don’t get into advertising, how will it ever change?” she rhetorically asked the audience. Fortunately, the creative director in the meeting sided with Abnee’s perspective and decided not to continue with the sexist ad. She concluded, “I had a point of view — a valid point of view. And with that said, I don’t think there’s anything worse than someone who doesn’t have a perspective.”
Abnee later discussed how she has had many mentors and role models, both men and women, and highlighted the importance of having individuals to learn from and support you along the way and that, “everybody needs somebody to believe in them.”
The discussion on women leadership in communication positions enlightened the audience about what it’s like being a woman in a high power position, and many of the insights applied to men as well. The event enabled the audience to interact with each of the panelists and listen to the personal hurdles and accomplishments that each of the panelists have faced in their careers.