A Night of dawn: A Discussion on Office Politics for Women in Advertising

“The credit belongs to the [woman] who is actually in the arena… who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming… who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that [her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt


Last week I was lucky enough to snag a coveted seat at an inspiring panel held by dawn, the Digital Advertising Women’s Network founded by our very own Digital Strategy Director Nikki Wilkinson. Now in its seventh year, dawn is a community ‘dedicated to inspiring and developing women across the digital industry to fulfill their potential as people and professionals.’ With an inspiring list of previous speakers, dawn’s third event of the year dealt with the topic of politics in the workplace.

Led by a powerful troupe of three – Jan Gooding (Group Brand Director at Aviva), Ali Hanan (Creative Director at Blippar and Founder of Creative Equals), and Nadya Powell (Managing Director at Sunshine) – the conversation naturally slanted towards how to be a woman navigating office politics. Going into the evening, I couldn’t help but ask myself why would women need particular advice on the subject. Aren’t we beyond this?

Nonetheless the sense of camaraderie and buzzy strength in the room was palpable, making way for sincere and enlightening discussion. Minus the laughter and wine, hilarious X-men slides and the occasional profanity, here are five points I’ve distilled from their valuable advice:

Jan opened with the point that although they have a negative connotation, office politics are important. Engaging in politics is in fact a productive use of your time, and there is no point resisting the hierarchy. Power is both formal and informal, so work out where that informal power sits.

– Get ‘stuck in’. Get in and have a voice in the room as soon as you can.

– Once you get in, don’t forget to negotiate. Have a plan. While women are often better at negotiating for their teams, we’re not always the best at negotiating for ourselves. Ultimately for any employee it is up to him or her to negotiate their commercial worth: to claim value of your work and to retain ownership of your ideas.

– As illustrated by the dysfunctional bunch of goodies in X-Men, Nadya (the X-Men expert) pointed out that good leaders value differences. They are generally more empathetic (than the baddies) and foster a collaborative workspac­e.

– While much of the emphasis circled around being firm and courageous, an underlying part of the discussion was the importance of kindness and support in the office. Jan offered the piece of wisdom that in diplomacy one should do three helpful things for a person before asking a favor.

For some reason I’ve held onto something Rosie Huntington-Whiteley remarked in a Harper’s Bazaar interview: that there’s nothing more ageing and unattractive that women bringing other women down. It happens all too often! Nikki explained that her initial inspiration to build this community was the famous Madeleine Albright quote, “there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” She saw a gap in the dialogue – a lack of a forum to hear from the abundance of senior women in the industry to create some helpful exchange.

A little ‘imposter syndrome’ bird sits in my head, but I think in these kinds of forums we are reminded that he sits there in everyone, in some shape or form. There is a physical beauty in a web of women supporting one another. Dawn certainly offers a web with open arms. I strongly encourage you to attend one of their events the next time there’s an opportunity.

– Meaghan Elyse Lueck

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