Last week on the 48th-floor SAP Next-Gen space, the marketing community received a 360-degree view of excellence to go along with captivating skylines at airy heights. Fifteen Marketing Hall of Femme honorees and 14 Women to Watch were toasted by a hundred so of their colleagues.
These women are necessarily leaders in their profession, and much of the discussion preceding the awards presentation — two panels, a keynote and a fireside chat, along with many informal cocktail and lunch conversations anybody in marketing would want to be a fly on the wall to hear — had to do with how to get established, how to gain a position in the industry from which to lead.
In a word, the topic of the day was mentorship. How did these talented marketers acquire leadership skills? What measures do they take in their busy professional and personal lives to help others starting out who can benefit from all this experience? Also, when a marketer on the rise selects someone to mentor them, does the mentor know that she or he is a mentor?
The audience sat rapt during the first panel as the speakers were frank about both their professional and personal challenges, and how to navigate them with the help of both horizontal and vertical support structures. Often women are expected to juggle effortlessly between their familial obligations and their jobs with a smile, giving off the impression that they are “superwomen” when they are in fact struggling with serious personal issues.
One panelist told a moving anecdote about how she snuck in time to care for her ailing mother in between business trips, and finally told her manager the truth when she realized that her schedule was unsustainable. He urged her to take time to be with her mother, who unfortunately passed away, but the incident was an important reminder to her to ask for help when needed, especially in the face of something so close to home.
Embracing life’s imperfections was also a mini-theme of the event. During the fireside chat, Alicia Tillman spoke about letting go of excessively planning and expecting perfection in the course of a busy life with a high-powered career and two young children. She admitted that she often forgets things in the day-to-day of her children’s lives, but keeps making an effort to be present at work and home. She isn’t afraid to ask for help from in-laws, neighbors, and friends. It can be a bit chaotic at times, but allowing flexibility and adjusting expectation, she realized, allowed her to get more done, not less.
The second panel discussion of the day, following the hearty lunch spread of steak, roast chicken and pumpkin-topped ravioli, was devoted to this question of mentorship: “A Hand Up the Ladder – Mentoring the Next Generation of Women Leaders” (made possible by SiriusDecisions). But the audience couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask the same question of the accomplished quartet that made up the first panel, which included Sandy Rubinstein, CEO of DXagency, Alex Kirk, Director of Sales, Marketing and Research for Refinery29, Tanya Van Court, founder and CEO of Goalsetter, and moderator Jessica Fewless, Vice President of ABM Strategy for Demandbase, who sponsored the panel.
Sandy Rubinstein told of the challenges she faced early in her time as CEO, when a key client took their business elsewhere, and Rubinstein had to put her own credit on the line to keep the payroll afloat. This determination was matched by her pursuit of a mentor, who she said she dialed directly at her start, informing the industry pro that he would be helping her in this capacity. When she called him in the midst of her harrowing first months as CEO, distraught over the loss of a key client, the future of DXagency uncertain, Rubinstein’s mentor listened patiently, then told her to “put her big girl pants on and come up with a plan.”
It took hustle, grit, and great risk, but Rubenstein was able to devise a strategy to get the company back on track. Today she runs her own company with offices in multiple locations, and she still carries those lessons with her to this day.
Success in all aspects of a complex professional life comes from firm leadership and strong alliances. Several panelists attested to the importance of gaining support from men at the very top. Whether women seek time to bond with a new addition to their family, or to care for an ailing relative, they should ask the question. It sets a good example for a valuable employee to inquire about what they are worth to the company, in terms of salary and other compensation. Their colleagues, men and women both, can learn a great deal from this example.