Mindshare’s Community X Helps Women Develop into Global Leaders

 At a time when sexual harassment at large corporations is making headlines, and life and death decisions on women’s health care options are being decided by all-male panels, it is affirming to note that there are several female empowerment initiatives taking root both nationally and globally, especially among media organizations with the power to amplify that message. 

Lifetime, for example, is launching Open Road which is traveling state to state to take the pulse of national sentiment on women’s issues. And, for global impact, Mindshare, in partnership with Charlotte Beers, recently announced the launch of Community X to up gender equality in the ad industry.

According to its press release, “what’s different about Community X is that it brings both Mindshare executives and (the agency’s) clients together, making it more unique than a standard female leadership training or retreat programs.” Helen McRae, Mindshare UK CEO and chair of Western Europe, is heading up the effort with Charlotte Beers, former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. I had the opportunity to ask them the following questions:

Charlene Weisler: What precipitated the formation of Community X? What was its path to implementation?

Helen McRae: It was a conversation in China with our global CEO, Nick [Emery] our China CEO Amrita [Randhawa] and a few clients. The group was talking about leadership and gender balance. There were a lot of shared experiences and learnings and Nick suggested that we do something as a community - clients and agency, all leaders and all women. Charlotte runs the X-Factor for WPP and has always been keen to expand this leadership course to a wider group! And so the idea of Community X was born!

Charlene Weisler: What are the challenges to gender equality in the advertising industry?

Charlotte Beers: The most pressing gender issue starts fairly far along in a woman's career. It is that threshold where she is one of several choices to take a leadership role. Men are chosen more often because they are easier to read in terms of potential. This is not a bias it is simply the fact that men can read one another more easily. The problem needs to be solved by the women who are contenders. This means they have to develop their skills in communicating who they are and particularly how strong relentless and fierce they can be in making good decisions. My experience is that women at these thresholds have all these qualities but in the work they are presently doing such attributes may not be on display. It may not be fair but it is up to our women to make it clear that we have the potential to be leaders and put it in terms that a man can read because it's usually a man who is making that crucial choice to cross the threshold to the highest level.

Charlene Weisler: Do you see differences in US efforts vs European efforts for Community X and if so what are they?

Helen McRae: It's a global effort. There will be perhaps some differences but think it will be nuanced differences. And we won't just stop at US and Europe but intend of having these communities in every region.

 Charlene Weisler: What advice would you give a young woman starting out in the industry today to achieve the greatest success?

Charlotte Beers: I would urge the young women coming up in the business to think and study who they are so that they can bring forward what makes them unique, what excites them and the kind of task they do exceptionally well. This understanding is part of how they learn to find meaning at work but it also guides everyone around them as to where they will be most productive and successful. This is not easy because there's so much pressure on the new members in the business to learn the culture, to follow the directive of your immediate boss and to search for evaluations. While these pressures are real this other somewhat more interior homework has to be done at exactly the same time. In studying yourself as your master your work you will learn to keep your own scorecard and present your own capacity. That's the beginning of learning to be a leader.

Charlene Weisler: Where would you like to see this initiative five years from now?

Helen McRae: Ideally it should be redundant and focus on diversity in leadership irrespective of race, gender, etc. Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes and it is diversity which adds depth and scales opportunity. 

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