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October 21, 2016
Prepare, Promote, Support: Without All Three, Are We Setting Up Our Newly Minted Female Creative Leaders to Fail?
I have been watching with a great deal of interest what has been happening in the industry of late. I’m talking specifically about the spate of women being promoted into leadership roles. 

It’s exciting. I think we all have General Mills CMO Ann Simonds to thank for it.

What I'm talking about specifically is that on August 31, 2016, her brief to agencies while undergoing a review was to inform them that General Mills has some very specific diversity requirements: It wants its agencies’ creative departments to be staffed with at least 50 percent women and 20 percent people of color.

Since then two (at the time I am writing this) more major brands have publicly put pressure on the agencies they work with to hire more women and minorities. The latest was Verizon, the second to raise their hand was HP Inc.


Are we SIMPLY promoting the women that we could have promoted before? Are we promoting women purely for marquee value? Is it finally authentically happening? How do the women feel? What’s going on?

I know what’s going on.

The right pressure got put on the right part to make it all start to happen.

What now?
Now there is doing the job.
How are these newly promoted women doing?
How are they being supported in their new roles?
Should they be supported?

I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll do it again. I did a survey of creative directors and they confessed to me that it took them 18–24 months to get comfortable in their first creative director role.

Help new creative leaders feel confident, get effective and comfortable quicker and everybody at every touch point wins.

The alternative — the 18–24 month route?  Do the math. Expensive tuition.

With that in mind, consider these three words:


Almost every leader, creative or otherwise, needs all three to thrive.


The grooming needs to start. At least 18 months before the promotion.

Grooming = Talent Retention.

Who quits a job when their employer is grooming them for a promotion AND a pay increase?

No one.

Preparing needs to be methodical. It needs discipline. It needs to happen regularly. It needs to have momentum. It needs to take into account that your groomee is still doing their current job, and has a life.


Follow through on your word IF the groomee develops into the new role you were hoping s/he would occupy. If you realize your groomee isn’t quite right for this position, tell them. The sooner the better. You might lose them. You might even keep them. Straight talk is worth sticking around for.

Before you promote that you're promoting, allow the person being promoted to have a say in how the announcements will be made. Come up with something that works for everyone. Take the time. Brand management is very important to everyone. Whatever the brand is, consistency is key. Not everyone being promoted wants all that razzamatazz.


The new job is overwhelming. 

It’s a whole new set of skills. Some of these skills will be skills the person already knew they needed. But from my experience, there are many more skills the person didn't have a clue they needed.  Skills that are critical day to day, month to month.

Time Management is one of the biggies.

Talking about money is another. To the department. To the CEO. To the CFO. The way grown ups do.

Planning, budgeting, hiring, goal setting, department building, new business winning, agency brand enhancing, getting approvals, schmoozing, PR’ing, lunching, networking, what else is on that list, are you done yet?


The good news is you'll only be judged by your colleagues, your peers, and the entire industry on the quality of the creative output.

I wondered if women have specific additional needs relative to coaching and support in their new role. Yes and No. The job is the job regardless of the gender of the person doing it. But there are nuances that women face that men don't even know exist.


For there to be success, you need all three.

Just doing one, PROMOTING without the other two, more often than not, doesn’t end well.

I’m happy that women are making it to these positions.

Now that it's finally happening let’s keep them there, and help them shine.

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Heidi Ehlers is The Career Coach for The Creative Class, an expert on helping creative leaders excel, find their leadership voice, and flourish. www.heidiconsults.com
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