Posts Taged women-in-business

Influence Used Right: Big Brands Demand Diversity from Agency Partners

Take a look at this picture of 2014’s most senior leaders at the top 13 PR agencies by revenue, and the top two agencies by revenue growth in 2013:

Credit: PRWeek

Credit: PRWeek

Zero minorities. And just four women in a field where 65-70% of the workforce is female.

A lack of diversity has plagued ad and PR agencies forever. But as of last week, several major clients aren’t staying quiet about it.

Because last week, HP’s CMO Antonio Lucio sent a letter to HP’s five ad and PR agencies insisting that they improve the diversity of their workforces within the next 12 months, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Lucio’s letter called for agencies to increase the number of women and minorities in creative and strategy roles, with 50% of their workforce to be made up of women, to match HP’s own advertising department makeup.

“Including women and people of color in key roles is not only a values issue, but a significant business imperative,” Lucio said in the letter. Women buy 53% of personal computers and 45% of printers, Lucio told the Journal. HP’s three ad agencies, which includes Omnicom’s BBDO, Fred & Farid, and Dentsu’s Gyro, have 30 days to submit a plan or face a possible rejection.

The HP directive should not come as a total surprise. In 2013, HP CEO Meg Whitman is said to have expressed outrage during an agency review after four shops in a row presented all-male leadership teams.

General Mills is also insisting on more diversity. Last week, the food giant announced that agencies competing for its creative business have to have a staff of at least 50% women and at least 20% of color, according to AdAge.

“We can’t control agencies, but [with] the kind of budgets we have in marketing and PR, we can influence with the spend we have,” Karen Kahn, HP’s chief creative officer told PRWeek. “The best way we can have impact is to change ourselves and work with our agencies to change.”

What We Can Learn from Ellen Pao


This past Friday, March 27th, Ellen Pao lost her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the top venture capital firms in California’s Silicon Valley. Needless to say, a great deal of controversy has emerged as a result of both the workplace discrimination suit itself and the verdict.

What happened

In case you’re a little fuzzy on the details, here’s a brief overview of what went down:

  1. Pao filed a suit against Kleiner Perkins on the grounds that the firm was punishing her for being a woman by passing her up for promotions and holding her back professionally.
    • Pao first filed a suit against her employer in 2012, citing workplace retaliation from a colleague whom she had previously had a personal relationship with.
    • This current suit was filed against Kleiner Perkins for her subsequent termination, which she claims was a result of the original lawsuit.
  2. Pao’s attorney cited various incidents of exclusion and inappropriate behavior from male colleagues as evidence of a sexist culture at the firm.
    • There was talk about a ski trip that only male employees were invited to and a plane ride that included a discussion of strippers.
  3. Kleiner Perkins referenced Pao’s poor performance reviews as evidence that she was, simply, not an ideal employee (see: “sharp elbows”)
    • Her consistently negative reviews seemed to indicate that her personality did not mesh with the firm’s culture.
  4. The jury sided with Kleiner Perkins


Obviously, this case was nuanced in various ways – and messy because of it. But the point of this post is not to argue this way or that; instead, I wanted to take a step back and evaluate what we can learn from this lawsuit, regardless of outcome.

Public response

When exploring some follow-up articles, I found a fairly even split (pro-Pao vs. anti-Pao) in the commentary. But even more notably, I found that this split existed among female writers only. In fact, it seemed that no men even dared to write an opinion piece on the suit (likely a wise choice).

Every article I read had a valid and strong argument – so much so that I found myself truly unable to “pick a side”. On the one hand, every woman knows that, despite the leaps and bounds of progress in gender equality that has taken place over the last 50-ish years, we are still living in a man’s world. I’ve felt this first-hand in the classroom, and countless women feel it at work. I’ve never worked in a male-dominated office so I cannot yet attest. This Harvard Literature Review, however, can. Women are still experiencing objectification in the work place, and it is directly inhibiting their performance. So there’s that. But on the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that culture matters, especially at work. And if an employee does not fit the culture of their work place, so much so that he/she is disrupting the general “flow” of productivity, maybe it’s just not meant to be.

Recognizing workplace discrimination

So how do we tell the difference between a woman who is being discriminated against and a woman who simply is not a good employee? This is a question that will likely go unanswered for a long time. But what matters is that, because of this controversial case, the eyes and ears of the public are open. We have this kind of stuff on our radar, and we would do best to keep it there. Despite the fact that Pao’s lawsuit did not exactly accomplish any positive PR for herself or for Kleiner Perkins, it did open another door to the ongoing conversation about gender discrimination in the work place. Sometimes, and especially in instances like these, PR need not be “good” in order to accomplish something – sometimes, it need only to be pertinent and prevalent.

A Woman’s Touch: Women-led Companies Perform Better

women in business

There are many reasons to increase the number of women working in leadership for the world’s top companies. With increased diversity comes greater creativity, innovation and consumer reach. But the best reason to put women in positions of leadership is much more black and white: women-led companies perform better, leading a 340% return vs. 122% for the S&P 500 benchmark.

As part of an ongoing project from Karen Rubin, who works as the director of product for Quantopian, a crowd-sourced algorithmic trading platform backed by Khosla Ventures, Spark Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners, Rubin set out to correlate female leadership to superior stock performance. So she created an algorithm to test the theory (h/t Fortune). Her algorithm calculated the returns to investors in every Fortune 1000 company over the period when it was run by a woman. She then compared that to the performance of S&P 500 companies. The results showed women-led companies render a return 218% greater than the S&P 500.

returns on women-led companies

Source: Quantopian

These results are even more interesting when you consider that women are disproportionately hired to run companies that are in deep trouble. (think Mary Barra at GM or Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.). Additionally, research which shows that companies are quicker to fire women when a company is underperforming, a fact that would potentially limit the downside: she’s gone before the stock has fallen too hard.

Ultimately the best test of how women perform as CEOs is to get more women into the leadership pipeline. Currently women account for an outrageously small percentage of CEOs of S&P 500 companies: 4.6%.

From One Working Mother to Another

working mother

A frustrating truth

Today a powerful column appeared on It was written by Katharine Zaleski, a former journalistic powerhouse who held top roles at The Huffington Post and The Washington Post in her mid-20s.  She is open and honest about how she viewed and treated women who were mothers during that time. Honestly recalling how she killed a potential partnership with an online editor because of the number of kid photos the lady had up in her office; also confessing her agreement to fire a woman “before she got pregnant”; sharing that she regularly scheduled meetings at 4:30pm, dismissing the fact that working mothers may need to be leaving to get their kids from daycare; and admitting to looking down on mothers who couldn’t join happy hour functions because of family commitments.  Wow.

Today this same woman is a working mother – with a very different perspective. After having her daughter she resigned from her role in journalism and founded her own business, PowerToFly, a technology company geared at helping mothers find work they can do virtually from home. She readily admits that “mothers are the people you need on your team” and is proud to share that the editor she dissed because of the children photos is now the executive editor at PowerToFly. IMG_4672

Since the column first appeared earlier today the social media world lit up with comments and shares, most overwhelmingly positive toward Katharine for admitting her previous short-comings and furthering the conversation on this controversial topic.

Life as a working mother

What it means to be a working mother is hard to describe. Just because we are mothers does not mean we have lost our will, or ability, or drive to work hard. And just because we want to work does not mean we don’t care about our children. Every mother is different and what feels right in her gut is something that only she can determine. For me, I am proud to be a mother who works. That is what feels right to me. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without sacrifice or challenge. Sometimes it takes a village to coordinate client meetings, make sports practices and still get dinner on the table. But at the end of the day when the kids are asleep and I sit down with a glass of wine, my soul feels fulfilled in a way that it wouldn’t should kids and work not co-exist.

I am continually inspired by the group of working women at A.wordsmith, and I am proud of the model we have in place. A model that has brought out some of the most talented professionals I know, who also happen to be amazing moms. Thank you to Katharine Zaleski for your honestly and candor about being a working mother and for pushing open the door for women just a bit wider.


‘Office Housework’ – Addressing Gender Stereotypes Within the Workplace

office housework

In a recent op-ed essay in The New York Times, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, address the issue of “office housework.” This piece is the third within a four-part series about women in the workplace. In it, Sandberg and Grant state that regardless of their role within an organization, women are likely to “help more but benefit less” than their male counterparts.

Sandberg and Grant reference a study conducted by Madeline Heilman, where men were more likely to benefit than women for equal help. “Office housework” tasks can comprise of mentoring junior colleagues, taking notes during meetings, planning an office party, etc. Grant and Sandberg summarize the findings by saying, “after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.” So, are women feeling compelled to take on these tasks in order to advance their careers?

secretary coffee

Photo credit: Stockbyte via Getty Images

Additionally, Sandberg and Grant point out that while women are more likely to complete “office housework” behind the scenes, men are likely to make their contributions known publically. Whether helping others behind the scenes or publically, women are more likely than men to burn out over time. Sandberg and Grant cite research saying, “For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out — in large part because they fail to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others.”

How best to move forward? While there are no simple answers, Sandberg and Grant suggest a change in individual mindset – for women this means prioritizing their own needs before assisting others, for men it means acknowledging women’s efforts and assuming more responsibility for “office housework” tasks.

What do you think? Have you experienced this in your career?

You can read the previous installments within this series here and here.