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I’m Not a Leader Because I’m a Female, But I’m Proud to be a Female Leader

What is the difference between how men and women lead? Are you a leader because you’re a woman, or is it about the individual? What do you think about Mary Barra and her role? All of these questions and more were posed to our fearless leader Sam DiGennaro on a panel this week at Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. headquarters in Montvale, N.J., in honor of Women’s History Month.

As successful women with unique perspectives on leadership, Sam, along with Samantha Meiler, VP, Content & Programming, at Nickelodeon’s NickMom, and Robyn Streisand, Founder & CEO, The Mixx, a marketing agency, were invited to sit on the panel moderated by Karen Matri, Product Manager, Telematics and Connected Services at Mercedes-Benz USA.

From left to right: Lisa Ragusa, Senior Purchasing Agency, Mercedes-Benz USA; Samantha Meiler, VP, Content & Programming, at Nickelodeon’s NickMom; Sam DiGennaro, CEO + Founder, DiGennaro Communications; Robyn Streisand, Founder & CEO, The Mixx

From left to right: Lisa Ragusa, Senior Purchasing Agency, Mercedes-Benz USA; Samantha Meiler, VP, Content & Programming, at Nickelodeon’s NickMom; Sam DiGennaro, CEO + Founder, DiGennaro Communications; Robyn Streisand, Founder & CEO, The Mixx

The event was sponsored by the company’s Women’s Innovation Network, an employee resource group that champions career advancement and personal growth for women.  Each woman offered the audience –a group comprised of both male and female Mercedes-Benz employees of all roles, levels and departments– tangible examples and tips to inspire them on their own career paths.

From left to right: Samantha Meiler, VP, Content & Programming, at Nickelodeon’s NickMom; Karen Matri, Product Manager, Telematics and Connected Services at Mercedes-Benz USA; Michelle Wirth, Marketing Communications Department Manager, Mercedes-Benz USA; Robyn Streisand, Founder & CEO, The Mixx; Sam DiGennaro, CEO + Founder, DiGennaro Communications

From left to right: Samantha Meiler, VP, Content & Programming, at Nickelodeon’s NickMom; Karen Matri, Product Manager, Telematics and Connected Services at Mercedes-Benz USA; Michelle Wirth, Marketing Communications Department Manager, Mercedes-Benz USA; Robyn Streisand, Founder & CEO, The Mixx; Sam DiGennaro, CEO + Founder, DiGennaro Communications

Here are three of Sammy D’s  takeaways for women who aspire to leadership positions:

1. Lean into the bad times: When asked what she thought of General Motors CEO Mary Barra and her handling of the company’s recall situation, Sam said she admired her willingness to “own” a crisis that she personally had nothing to do with, and that meeting with the victims’ families the day before she was to go on trial was a remarkable way to show empathy and true leadership. Sam’s takeaway? True leaders are measured by how they handle the bad times. By taking responsibility and using her company’s mistakes as a platform for growth, Barra likely elevated her standing in the public eye.

2. Crying in the workplace is okay: On the topic of gender bias in the workplace, all panelists agreed that crying on the job is okay. Sam said,  “I’ve done it. I’ve cried in front of bosses, employees and even clients. It’s who I am; I’m an emotional being, and I lead with my heart. It’s been said that empathic leaders actually resonate more with employees and stakeholders, and I’d rather be authentic and own who I really am than apologize for crying.” One male audience member actually expressed his understanding, saying that as a relatively new grandfather he recently cried watching his granddaughters perform in a school play, and as a result, became more in touch with his emotions, allowing him to relate to female colleagues on a different level.

3. Take time for yourself: During the Q&A portion of the panel one audience member asked the panelists how they carve out time for themselves, despite managing very busy and stressful careers. Sam mentioned her morning meditation ritual as one way she disconnects from technology, ground herself and re-set her mind before diving into the workday. Streisand talked about her Tuesday/Wednesday ritual of putting the cell phones down for dinner with her partner both nights, and Meiler mentioned that when she took her job at Nick, she actually negotiated leaving the office by 6 p.m. each day to get home to her three young children, even if it means she needs to get back online after her kids are asleep. The common thread was setting boundaries and taking time to do what matters most outside of work to be more successful and effective at work.

The panel wrapped up with each woman offering advice to the next generation of female leaders. Sam talked about the importance of giving back and of mentorship – both seeking mentors and being one yourself – and told the audience she actually thought it would be easier for today’s generation to find role models: “Young women now have so many great examples of leaders: their mothers, sisters, colleagues. I hope they seek out mentors to help manage their careers, and also give rising stars within their organizations support and guidance. That’s the only way we’ll continue moving upstream.”

Poster promoting the panel to Mercedes employees

Poster promoting the panel to Mercedes employees

Let’s Make the Industry 50/50… But Why?

This feature was originally published in Issue No. 4 of ADC Magazine.

Clockwise from Top Left: Mandy Gilbert, Alessandra Lariu, Samantha DiGennaro, Jen Larkin Kuzler

Clockwise from top left: Mandy Gilbert, Alessandra Lariu, Samantha DiGennaro, Jen Larkin Kuzler

In reflecting upon the ADC 92nd Annual Awards season, Executive Director Ignacio Oreamuno realized that an organization like ADC is in a unique position to raise female voices in the creative industries. If not a Club with a mission to Connect, Provoke and Elevate its membership and international communities, then who?

Ignacio assembled a committee of brilliant and accomplished women to help him develop the initiative and, with their support, challenged not only ADC and its programs, but any others industry-wide to split its award show juries, conference speakers and panels, and board of directors 50/50 women to men.

But why? The members of the Let’s Make the Industry 50/50 committee explain:

ADC: While it does not directly call out equal gender hiring quotas, how can an initiative such as Let’s Make the Industry 50/50 – in calling for equal representation among awards juries, speaker panels and boards of directors – positively affect the roles and opportunities for females in the creative industries?

MANDY GILBERT (FOUNDER & CEO, CREATIVE NICHE): It’s crucial to remind key stakeholders in the creative industries of the value women bring to creative strategic and leadership roles. Not only do women offer unique perspectives on brands, consumer behaviors and business relationships, they also have a different approach to leadership and team management that complements and even improves the effectiveness of executive leadership teams and boards. Case in point: A recent McKinsey report found that companies with more women than men on their executive committees exceeded the return on equity and operating results of companies with male-dominated executives by 41 percent and 56 percent, respectively. With that in mind, it’s necessary for current agency leadership to take this into account when they look at their future business prospects. While this initiative does not directly call for hiring equality, it does highlight the wealth of qualified available female creative talent by ensuring their voices have a place on panels, juries and boardrooms. With nearly 60 percent of today’s university graduates being female, agencies will be left behind if they don’t fully embrace women in leadership roles who will be able to inspire the young women entering the industry behind them to do the same.

ADC: With the network of talented and qualified female creative being much larger than perceived, what seems to be the barrier to women rising into positions of leadership and how we can overcome this together?

ALESSANDRA LARIU (CO-FOUNDER, SHESAYS): For centuries, leadership positions were filled by men and, therefore, women’s leadership style (which tends to be more nurturing and collaborative… but not in a fluffy way!) has remained unrecognized. Just ask Forbes, Fortune or even Google, and you will likely hear that companies with women on the board perform better. And just to be clear, I don’t think women’s style is better than men’s. I believe there needs to be equal representation and availability of both styles, so people can choose which one they like.

ADC: What role do industry award shows specifically play in increasing awareness of the discrepancy in gender representation in juries?

JEN LARKIN KUZLER (DIRECTOR OF AWARDS PROGRAMS, ADC): The assumption is that award show juries reflect the current state of the industry through the creative, companies and countries that are represented. While this is largely the case, there is often a real lack of female participation. Awards shows in particular have a unique opportunity to involve qualified, spirited and talented minds of both genders in the judging process. We have the ability to call out the places where we need diverse voices to effect a change in the conversation that happens behind the doors of the jury room. This change in dynamic almost always results in a better experience and a better show.

ADC: What can women and men in the creative industries actively do to ensure that female voices are represented at the table (conference, jury, board or otherwise), in the media and within their own agency walls?

SAMANTHA DIGENNARO (FOUNDER, DIGENNARO COMMUNICATIONS): The creative industry boasts so many talented women who deserve the opportunity to be recognized as leaders. Endemic shortcomings surrounding our industry’s dearth of senior-level female talent aside, we must continue to encourage all of our wonderful women to stay active despite – or, perhaps, because of – the majority of male voices in management, in the press, on the speakers’ circuit and in jury rooms.

As an industry, we’ve taken some bold steps to even the playing field and to encourage female participation. Now it’s up to individuals to advance the cause. Women and men alike need to speak up and engage in the on- and off-line dialogues surrounding this industry’s advancement of female creative and C-level execs.

Don’t accept the status quo. Challenge conference/jury programmers and journalists who seem to defer and default to the “usual suspects” of recycled names. Let’s nominate our peers, our direct reports, our muses, those who inspire and excite us. The most important outcome is that we continue to have representation of all different life experiences and points-of-view… and to close the gender-gap in doing so.

When both men and women truly recognize the powerful ideas that so many women bring to the table – and remove corporate politics and jockeying from the equation – no one will second-guess the decision to hire and promote more amazing ladies more often, and then we’ll start to close the gender gap in our industry’s public forums.

I’m delighted the ADC’s Let’s Make the Industry 50/50 Initiative has begun to do so.

DiGennaro Communications Nabs Small Business Leadership Award

Agency honored by the NY Enterprise Report (NYER) for attracting and retaining an empowered workforce.

It’s an exciting time at DGC. On Wednesday night, the team was honored at this year’s NY Enterprise Report Small Business Awards. This prestigious event honors the achievements and accomplishments of the more than 500,000 small businesses throughout the NYC-area.

Selected as winners in the Leadership Category, the nomination was based on DGC’s ability to “identify, attract, retain and motivate a workforce that establishes a culture of empowerment.” And that’s exactly how we at DGC see it!

Winners! DGC’ers Erin Donahue, Jordan Katz, Meg McMahon and Christine O’Donnell

From the moment our doors were opened, CEO Sam DiGennaro has made it her mission that every employee feels as though his or her voice matters. Our culture is based on collaboration, motivation and interaction. Best of all, DGC cares about the importance of work-life balance and have made sure we sprinkle our work weeks with a little fun (hello, wine-o Fridays.)

In fact, this isn’t our first rodeo with NYERwe picked up their Top 10 Great Entrepreneurial Places to Work in 2011; another great honor.

The awards dinner was a great opportunity for us to meet, mingle and celebrate with the who’s-who of the tri-state’s SMB community. Succeeding in small business is no mean feat so a big congratulations also to our fellow nominees and winners.

Earlier this week we found out that we have been named finalists in two Stevie Awards (the world’s premier business awards) categories and our fingers and toes are crossed for the November 9 announcement. Our nominations are in the Female Entrepreneur of the Year—Business Services with more than 10 employees and the Company of the Year—Business Services with more than 10 employees categories.

Here’s to another great year at DGC.

Wisdom in the Workplace

Good advice isn’t always easy to find. But sometimes there are people you work with, at industry associations, in books, or even family that can dish out advice when you need it most and leave a lasting impression in the process. These words of wisdom can often be the driving force behind bigger business philosophies and life lessons that encourage individuals to find new ways to achieve success.

In a recent article from Business Insider, the world’s most recognizable executives shared the best career advice that they’ve received over the years. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said the best advice he ever received was to say “yes” to things. Maureen Chiquet, global CEO of Chanel quoted Mickey Drexler, CEO of Gap, who said “you’ve gotta learn to listen.”

No matter what—or who—is your source of inspiration, everyone has that one memorable motto that helps them get out of bed in the morning and attack the work-day. Here are few gems from the DGC team:

  • “A handshake says everything about a person – make it firm.”
  • “Never hear the first ‘no.’”
  •  “Just because we work nine-hour days doesn’t mean you have a full nine hours to accomplish everything on your to-do list. Plan for interruptions.”
  • “Asking questions does not make you stupid—it makes you inquisitive and thorough.”
  •  “Hire people who are smarter than you.”
  • “Get on the board of a powerful women’s organization.”
  • “Make sure that every time you make a mistake you know what you’ve learned and you try your best to apply the learnings next time.”
  • “The day you stop learning is the day you should quit.”

Whether you’re fine-tuning your first-impression methods or extending your education, the key to a successful career is growth. Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group said it best: “My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing.”

What’s the best work advice you live by?

New Public Relations Definition Needs More Show Less Tell

Thanks to the Public Relations Initiative and all the people who voted, I now have a definition of what I do so my mom and dad (or kids for that matter) can talk somewhat intelligently about my employment.  As you might have heard, it has been decided that Public Relations has just redefined itself as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”  Sounds great, less filling.  Now, please remind me how this changes anything?

The truth is, the PR industry has had identity crises for some time.  Having worked at several PR agencies for well over a decade, the one common denominator was that they all fell short of promoting their work – which is not to say, they didn’t do great work.  Although we might not have the same sexy visual appeal as advertising, PR is very much “a see it to believe it” industry.

I was recently reminded of this shortcoming when I began writing a collection of case studies for DiGennaro Communications.  I thought a good starting point for my research would be to look at case studies across all facets of the PR industry as a frame of reference.  Unsurprisingly, this task wasn’t very easy.  Case studies were outdated, lacked detail and in many cases (no pun intended) were difficult to find on agency websites.

This is the root of the problem.  It’s not about definitions and wordplay.  While you can play around with the definition of public relations all you want, we need to SHOW how our stories changed the way people live and do business – one client at a time.  Focus on the experience not the definition.  Besides, PR is beyond definition.

Social media channels are presenting us with more opportunities to strut our stuff more than ever.  There is an abundance of opportunity to SHOW not TELL.  There is a method to our madness that can only be explained through visual case studies, a deeper focus on numbers/metrics client vignettes and testimonials, and of course, word of mouth.

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