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Do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always got…

In our most recent podcast, KTG founder Nat Maher chatted to career mentor Sally Henderson about what’s needed to shake up the design industry to get more women into leadership positions – both from design businesses who want more diversity, and from those individuals that want more from their career

There are common, avoidable mistakes happening on a scarily consistent basis in the Design & Branding Industry when it comes to developing people and talent.  It’s costing businesses time, money and loss in reputation they can ill afford.  In addition, the number of female leaders remains woefully below equal ratios limiting diversity and creative businesses are missing out on opportunity and growth as a result.


The Industry Perspective – It’s a fast changing market

To create more diverse teams and support more female leaders the model of how agencies works with clients needs to change. The days of client as King, or Queen, are out of date.  The new workforce coming through isn’t driven in the same way and wants more work life balance, working mothers and fathers won’t stay in an industry where the cost of childcare and working hours means family life is severely compromised.

Our industry has its head in the sand when it comes to new ways of working with talent.

The majority of Design and Branding agencies are clinging to archaic working practices and remain scared of flexible working.  Female talent is leaving in droves as employers are not geared up to accommodate working parents. Male and Female.

We can’t answer the question do all male or all female leaders have the edge when it comes to the “right leadership style”. Why? Because we don’t have the luxury of comparing all female with all male leadership styles due to limited numbers of female leaders in the industry.  It’s not about saying one sex is better at leading than the other, but it is fair to say we are suffering because we are not accessing the skills, leadership, and perspectives available from a balanced gender leadership team.

There is a growing threat that talent can and will choose something different as there is vast choice available to top talent. Disciplines are so fluid in today’s modern market it is vital we adapt, evolve and stand out or we will get left behind.

The answer? The profile of the Design and Branding industry needs to rise. Let’s embrace the innate humble nature and craft-based heritage and inject confident passion with a distinct voice to be compelling to talent and clients alike in an ever-crowded setting.

Any creative business can be a champion to change this and get more female role models in our industry. Start by acknowledging this is something important and valuable to your business and commit to changing the ratio. You will be future-proofing your business as a result.


The Company perspective to drive change

To be a champion for change and encourage more female leaders and diversity individual companies have many choices available to them. Here are just a few practical tips on how agencies can develop a strong diverse leadership team:

  • Make a plan for success so you know what success will look like in terms of building a more diverse and market fit leadership team
  • Go to market in an effective way. Identify the profile(s) you are looking for before you start looking. The more informed you get about what you want the more likely you will be to find it.
  • When you are hiring diverse new talent commit to what this looks like and support it. The classic mistake is that agencies reject diverse hires, because well they are different. From my experience 9/10 change-led senior appointments fail because an agency thought they wanted change but didn’t really
  • Once you have found the talent commit to a professional and supportive onboarding programme. Trust in senior hiring decisions and commit to supporting new leaders to adjust effectively. There is a misconception that senior people come without fear, uncertainty and needs. Just because you are paid six figures does not mean you are immune or protected from failing! See new hires as valuable from day one, set milestones, communicate what is expected two ways and provide emotional support. This will set up for success when bringing in new (and especially diverse) talent.
  • Ask yourself as an agency have you defined, really defined, what great leadership means for your business to stand out and be distinctive? Despite the fact that 90% of Design agencies employ less than 10 people you are never too small to define the leadership style and impact for your business
  • Your leadership is what makes your company distinctive to attract and retain the best talent as they get behind your purpose. Ensuring a good balance of male and female leadership will enable your business to benefit from a wider lens of perspective when it comes to engaging and leading your people


An Individual’s Perspective  – how to grow your career
In today’s world of work we aren’t taught how to manage a career whereas in the “old days’ your career path was pretty much mapped out.  From Sally’s recruitment days, anything below 3 years in a role was seen as “too much movement” and a risk. This is not the case now. People have to learn how to manage a career, there is no formula.

For anyone, male and female, wanting to build a successful career and reach potential it is vital to understand the difference between your personal and professional identities.

By understanding your professional identity, you are making it tangible and real so you will have a clear goal to aim for. A great technique to do this is a vision board using words images etc. that represent what great leadership is to you. Once you have defined it, you then need to commit to it; living it, embodying it and taking full ownership for your own development in pursuit of this goal. It seems to be in today’s market there is the expectation this is the duty of employer to take ownership for development. This isn’t the case. You need to take ownership for your own development.

Once you know your work identity you will be in a stronger to reduce the “clutter” and “chatter” in your head as you won’t be operating from beliefs from your past i.e. schooling or family. This is a great opportunity that’s available to everyone.  Build a profile and identity that is fit for purpose now in terms of what you want to achieve in work and old beliefs will stop having the power to influence how you show up at work.

Enrolling role models to help you construct your professional identity is a great way to start. So, recruit in the right people who inspire you so they can teach you how to be the person you want to be professionally.

Focusing on female professional development, one of the biggest weakness I have seen in female leadership especially is the ability or desire to recognise achievements. Female candidates are often hampered by an inability to acknowledge or promote their personal success. A common mistake made when being interviewed is to go back in time to old and dusty memories and focus on these rather than the professional person you are now or indeed wish to evolve into in the next role.  Remember, even if you have only been in a role for a short period of time you will already have evolved in terms of knowledge and experience. So, ask yourself what have I learnt in the role? Who am I now in this moment in time that I wasn’t before. In our modern world we are so future-focused that we often don’t catch up with our real self.

Given there is such a lot of choice available how to grow your career it’s even harder in today’s market to communicate your “career story”. If you don’t understand your professional identity, or how to share it in a meaningful and impactful way, you won’t stand out. Think about the interviewer to help with this. What does the person listening to you need and want to hear? What’s relevant to them?

When you are being interviewed imagine there is a sand timer turning over at the start. You only have a certain amount of time to influence, connect, reassure or inspire – whatever the goal may be. By creating space to think about who you are and what you offer you will be much more effective when interviewing, either internally or externally.

Become aware of Unconscious Bias and take control of messages you are telling yourself.

What story are you choosing to share with yourself?  Just by raising your consciousness you will become clearer on how you are showing up at work.


Tips for running a creative business to attract and develop diverse talent

  • Get clear on where your business going in terms of purpose, differentiation, what the business stands for in the market, leadership style, diversity, team dynamics
  • Look at the talent you already have
  • Invest in development leadership shills
  • Recruit wisely
  • Onboard with kindness
  • Commit to your people
  • Commit to being a leader in the industry in terms of driving change and start by simply taking the first step
  • Understand what is the business you truly want to create in the world
  • If people truly are your biggest asset. Then it’s time to walk the walk.

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