Written by: Paige Ramsey and Shona Wilson
In March, we continued our series of Conversations that Matter to better understand and amplify women’s experiences and challenges in advertising, media, and technology. A webinar hosted by the Society for Health Communications featured experienced, influential, and diverse voices in our industry to discuss what it means to be a woman in the workforce and our society. Women’s History Month allowed us to spotlight the challenges many women often experience.
There has been a disproportionate number of women leaving advertising, media, and technology fields, even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to studies, one in five women in communications experienced job loss, furlough, or pay reduction, and women were 1.3 times more likely to not receive employer support compared to men. With these numbers moving in the wrong direction, the need for gender equity in the workplace is more important than ever.
Representation in our industry is vital. Women are decision-makers and influencers in our society. While women tend to be highly represented early in the career pipeline, they are a minority at higher levels. Bringing together leaders from advertising and media agencies allowed us to discuss these issues and how we can support women through their personal and professional journeys. By listening to individuals and taking the time to analyze what we can all do to be better, we are taking the first step toward a better society. Our goal was to educate and inspire change – showcasing the benefits of representation in these industries and beyond.
Kimberley Collins (Brunet-García) moderated this empowering panel discussion and included: Diane Brunet-García (Brunet-García), Cristy Sorensen (iHeart Media), Lara Ortiz (Miles Partnership), and Ashani Johnson-Tourbes (NORC), and we are proud to share the highlights here.
How do you balance your personal and professional responsibilities?
Ashani Johnson-Turbes: Earlier, someone said, “You can do it all. You just can’t do it all at once,” which I think is so true. And I did not know that early in my career; I think I ran myself, I don’t think, I know I ran myself a bit ragged. One of the key ways that I balance my professional and personal life now, which I didn’t do earlier, is to set a specific time for things, set boundaries, and work hard to stick to those boundaries.
How has being a business owner changed your perspective on leading women and families through this time and era (COVID-19)?
Diane Brunet-García: Early in my career, there were certain things we had to hide and suppress and push to the side so that we could have this hard-driving, get ahead in our careers, make sure we’re staying on equal footing with the men around us, etcetera. Honestly, the pandemic was such a game-changer in entering each day with grace and honesty, more than we ever have, and more tuned into mental health than I ever was before. So, just having an open and honest line of communication is more important than it ever was. Flexibility is not optional; it’s a must.
What have you done to build confidence and resiliency over your career?
Lara Ortiz: You do have to give yourself some grace that there will always be more to do than you can handle if your business is doing well, especially in client service. People are always going to need you. So, you have to become confident about setting limits and listening internally about how you’re feeling and when you start to see those signs of burnout or that sort of range of impossibility sitting out there in the future. Listening to that and taking action and saying, “Hey, we need more for this, and I need help here,” and then enlisting others, thinking smartly about making this happen in a streamlined and good way for everyone.
What are some core strategies for women to think about and invest in themselves as they build their leadership skills?
Cristy Sorensen: It’s essential to stay centered around your goal. Stay focused on your clients’ needs, and have gut checks about the right things when needed. Something that has served me well is that you need to learn tactically inside of your organization, you need to hone your craft to align with those client and organizational needs, but then you also have to figure some stuff out. When you keep your client’s goals top of mind, the company will follow them regardless. And then the final thing is always to listen more than you speak.
Can you share your experiences and perspectives on inequality, inequity, and gender-based discrimination in the workplace?
Ashani Johnson-Turbes: I’ve observed inequity manifesting in certain groups of people, particularly white men, who, from my perspective, appeared to have more significant opportunities. That has been a hard pill to swallow as a woman and a black woman. It’s impacted my experience in two ways—one is how I see things in terms of power dynamics. I think I’m probably more attuned to it, not because of who I am as Ashani, but because of my experience of being black and female. Other people who aren’t in historically marginalized groups will see it. Also, how I maneuver and navigate spaces, sometimes I want to disarm groups or people; make them feel more comfortable. And two is increasingly asserted authority, to make it clear I am in the position that I am in, and it is a position of authority. Even though my immutable characteristics may suggest to some people that I am not, I am.
Lara Ortiz: It’s changing, but as a woman, all of us are working in a career that historically had men at the helm. People tend to hire people they are comfortable with and understand, thus promoting people they’re comfortable with and understand. We’re seeing a continuation of that, and it’s a very slow thing to change, though it is changing for women as a gender. Still, when we start talking about intersectionality and other facets of being a woman, such as varying perspectives on minority versus majority perspectives, it tends to miss the minority female viewpoint. That is an area where we still have a long way to go. I think it starts with intention, recognition, and self-examination. Specifically, what we look like, and who we are speaking and relying on to understand those perspectives to communicate effectively. And if we aren’t, what is the plan we can put in place to open those doors? We need to hire competitively and in a way that leads us to evolve as an industry. Knowing it’s never overnight, but many years of processes to build a strong organization that truly represents what’s out there.
How can we get involved in women’s empowerment or leadership and supporting and inspiring other women along our journey?
Diane Brunet-García: I think it’s essential to join women-centric organizations where you know that others will support you and you’re amongst peers in a friendly place. So, find organizations like that where you can find a seat at the table. It’s a very welcoming place. Set up your mentor and support networks, and find people. Yes, we all need to listen more, but we also need to be heard. So find those people who will genuinely listen to you, understand what you’re saying, and give you advice.
Ashani Johnson-Turbes: It is critically important to have mentors, people that you not only learn from but you can teach. I think of mentors as sponsors. They’re giving you opportunities, thinking of you to put your name or you out in the world, and sponsoring your work. I have found that that is as important as having mentors throughout my career.
Cristy Sorensen: At the great company I work for, I took a communication initiative to the top, to people who run the company. I asked them to support various initiatives as part of their corporate responsibility, and they heard me. Many of our corporate responsibility programs are directly tied to others like myself, who took the initiative to ask our leadership to support them. So leverage what you can inside your organization to help the initiative you’re trying to achieve.
Lara Ortiz: Sometimes it’s not that it hasn’t been done because no one believes it. It’s because no one has put their hand up to make it something everyone’s conscious of.
This conversation with the Society for Health Communication was only the beginning of a larger discussion surrounding women’s roles in the industry, the workplace, and society and increasing the number of women in leadership roles. Our goal for this conversation is to continue, especially as we discuss women’s health and professional equity. Please continue to join us for these critical conversations.