Thought Leadership

Virgin’s marketing chief: “Women feel they need to leave because they are not progressing”

At Bloom's event last month, a panel discussion explored why both brands and agencies need to change the industry’s approach to failure.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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Lisa Thomas, Chief Brand Officer at Virgin, has warned that women are leaving the industry because their careers aren’t progressing. Speaking at a Bloom event, which consisted of a panel and workshop on how to bounce back from failure, held at Facebook’s London headquarters last month, Thomas explained, “It is really difficult because women feel they need to leave because they are not progressing. It tends to be in the middle of their career. They might be thinking about having a child, or have started a family.”

Commenting on data from Creative Equals which shows that 12% of women in the creative industries plan to leave in the next two years, Thomas noted that by and large, the client side of the business is better. However, she noted that the industry as a whole is “not geared to a sales structure that accommodates more flexible working.”

Thomas noted that this historic inflexibility is being challenged: “There are people like us who are out there pioneering for that change and seeking that change. I also say go for it and try.” She pointed to the example of Sara Tate, the CEO of TBWA who works four days a week.

Virgin’s Thomas urged leaders to “front-up” and be honest about how failure is communicated across a business, explaining, “If you try to put a veneer on it, it won’t be reassuring for your team or organisation.” She noted that on the whole, client organisations such as Virgin are both very respectful of their internal cultures and their people. “When addressing failure, having respect for how people feel is important,” she added.

The world of business has grown up in an echo-chamber, in a mirror of itself, and we are only gradually waking up to the fact that it’s great to have introverts in organisations. That it is great to be from a different ethnic background or just be yourself.

Lisa Thomas

The need to change the industry’s approach to failure was also highlighted by Susan Park, Global Product Marketing Lead for Gaming at Facebook. She explained, “Imposter syndrome or reaching for something is good in certain aspects. I would challenge you if you are not feeling imposter syndrome at least 10% of the time; are you really challenging yourself and getting better?” She noted the problem with imposter syndrome is when it paralyses you or stops you from putting yourself forward for new roles.

Thomas noted that career sponsorship programmes are not as prevalent in agencies and urged the industry to ask how we can institutionalise proper career progression: “We all suffer from imposter syndrome, but the greatest relief for me was when I found out there was a thing called imposter syndrome, so I knew I probably wasn’t the only person in the room wondering if I should be there sometimes.” She noted that in some ways it is healthy to question and challenge yourself, share your concerns with your peer group and pay for an executive coach. Be honest with yourself as to what you are good at and what you need to learn about.

Andrew Monu, Director of Field and Product Marketing EMEA at LinkedIn, spoke about the feeling of “onlyness” that can come from being from a different gender or race. He explained, “When you have that kind of imposter syndrome, you pay a higher rate of imposter tax when you screw up. Because you feel like you are on borrowed confidence anyway.”

Looking ahead, Thomas noted that business at large is increasingly recognising that “we are not all the same”. She added, “The world of business has grown up in an echo-chamber, in a mirror of itself, and we are only gradually waking up to the fact that it’s great to have introverts in organisations. That it is great to be from a different ethnic background or just be yourself. It is more accepted to be yourself in the workplace and that helps a lot with imposter syndrome. You can be yourself at work and at home and you don’t need to be two people.”

To read more about how to bounce back from failure, visit Campaign’s website