Charlotte Beers is the former CEO of global advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather and also served as under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs under Colin Powell. During her visit to HBS for International Women’s Day, Beers advised young women in business to be their own agent of change — to speak up and be noticed, because companies are not going to change for them.
The below contains excerpts of our interview:
Q: Mad Men is finally coming back on the air, how well does the show capture the culture of advertising in the 1960s that you experienced during your days at J. Walter Thompson and Tatham //www.replicaforbest.co.uk/replica-breitling-watches-sale-for-uk.html?
I don’t think I got there until the 70s, but it’s exaggerated and accurate. What amuses me is the competitiveness and the dialogue between the men is just dead on. It’s just that they’re just more formal because that’s ten years earlier and the dress was very explicit.
Somebody once asked me about the sex and the smoking and I said ‘well the smoking is a lot less—but I don’t know about the rest of it.’
I enjoy [the show] because I like the depicting of the client and the agency, but the big difference is that the client was far more demanding and the service was more complex. You know, you didn’t walk in and sell a campaign and leave. You spent months and months debating what it should be and how it should go. The clients knew a great deal more about advertising. The pressure was more intense. It wasn’t just one idea, it was a slew of ideas.
Q: Things have improved significantly for women in business during your lifetime, and yet they remain a minority in the C-suite and boards. What do you think is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of women being at parity with men in business replica watches?
I think it’s time to stop defining problems and put solutions on the table and that’s really why I wrote this book.
The reason that women are a bit frozen, considering that we are as willing, able, and as well-educated, is that we get a bit blindsided when what they require of us shifts from being the best worker and a team builder to being this fierce and determined leader. The men just have been more accustomed for competing for the slot in that way.
Then there’s this other thing that happens, women tend to get muffled about their raw edges… because people are watching them so much. I had more freedom as one of the first women in business because there was no expectation for how I’d be.
Also, senior women are not yet aware of how they help other women and that is part of why I am so committed to this cause.
Some of this needs to be changed. Well guess who’s going to make this change. Companies aren’t going to change — they do that slowly anyway. Men aren’t going to create a whole new entire universe for you to compete it. So the change agent has to be you.
Q: How do you seem both strong and warm when unfortunately people’s perceptions of women are often limited in one direction or the other?
Well first of all you have to not care so much. Women are very susceptible to [defining themselves in other people’s eyes]. So, if we’ve made an agreement that you are going to keep your own scorecard, and you are speaking from the center of who you think you are, you have no choice but to be that person.
You have to give up your desire to be applauded, period. And then if you give that up, you also realize that, most of the evaluations and critiques you get can be helpful as long as you say to yourself ‘it’s not personal.’
And besides it’s your job to give them the picture of yourself you want them to have. This is necessary.
Q: In your book, you say that “it’s nearly impossible for a workplace to be a meritocracy.” Yet, so often women hope that their work will “speak for itself” and stay “below the radar.” How can women avoid this common tendency and be advocates for ourselves?
Women get applauded for being the hardest worker in the room. So when all of the jobs are being passed out, you miss it because your head’s down getting the work done.
You don’t have any choice. You have to shed the belief that someone will find the treasure in you. You have to tell them who you are and who you want to be known for. You don’t have to shove it in everybody’s face, but you do have to communicate who you are.
Q: You talk about how womanly qualities such as empathy, modesty, generosity, and selflessness can be problematic in the workforce. Can’t they also be beneficial? Isn’t business becoming a more collaborative environment?
We have this antenna for how people are thinking and feeling. This is great in our love life and in our family life but isn’t always so great or accurate at the office. Our empathy is our gift and our handicap.
Q: How do we avoid taking criticism personally? And how should we separate what may be one person’s specific opinion with what we really need to work on?
At first, I wore the feedback others gave me too much. Then, it fascinated me to step outside of myself and ask how much was accurate. First, I try to find something that resonates and then I move beyond it. If you are standing neutral, you can always assess if what someone is saying is correct.
If someone has the wrong perception of you, you need to say ‘it’s not right, but it’s relevant.’ You still need to address it[In the end] we’re all just practicing at work. Work does not just enhance the enterprise but is it daily practice to better yourself.
Whitney Gretz is an EC interested in healthcare and customer experience. Prior to Harvard Business School, Whitney worked for 3 years in the Chicago office of McKinsey and Company where she will return after graduation. Whitney is a co-VP of alumni with her good friend Justina Wang for the Women’s Student Association (WSA). She also has researched women in business for independent studies and beyond.
As a retired Foreign Service officer and public diplomacy specialist, I must point out that Charlotte Beers was a total failure as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy. She learned that what works in advertising and public relations doesn’t necessarily work in international public diplomacy. There’s a big difference between the two disciplines and she never understood the difference. So while she can offer useful advice to women in the workplace, she has little credibility on public diplomacy. Respectfully,
Guy W. Farmer
Retired FSO (USIA)
Carson City, NV
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