CommonSense Blog

Vive la Femme: Rediscovering Purpose and Unbiased Commitment to Excellence

By Jim Weiss | Jun 06, 2017

This past week, I participated in PRWeek’s Hall of Femme breakfast in New York recognizing “breakthrough women” in the communications profession. The Hall of Femme honors women who have made a significant mark on the work, people and the growth of the industry.

The event had special meaning for me on a number of levels and I experienced a range of emotions, some overwhelming at times.

First, our very own Jenn Gottlieb and Annalise Coady, were honored as 2017 Champions of PR! Jenn and Annalise are certainly “champions” and their contributions and leadership are felt by all of us and our clients each day. We extend our heartfelt congratulations for their respective personal sacrifices and professional commitment to making the firm the best it can be!

Annalise, Jenn & Eric at the #PRWeekUSHallofFemme
Photo Credit: Eric Bacolas

Second, my life has been shaped by tremendous influences, many of them women, starting with my mom who died two years ago of advanced lung cancer. She was a successful business owner and CEO in a very male-dominated industry and I witnessed first-hand her incredible intellect, drive, perseverance and integrity. She and my dad, an optometrist who owned his own practice, instilled an understanding of equality, inclusion, confidence and respect in me and my siblings Beth and Harry, which directed our beliefs, attitudes and actions through our careers and in our lives.

Third, when I started the firm, it was literally me and what came to be known as the “Marin Mommies,” women equally dedicated to their families and their work. Together, we forged through the early years building a strong foundation for what was to become W2O Group years later. Our work ethic and philosophy based on equality, inclusion, quality work, client service, empathy and diversity catalyzed our relationship and set the tone for the future.

I’ve always taken this all pretty personally and that hasn’t really changed.

So, I applaud PRWeek – particularly organizers Julia Hood and Bernadette Casey — for driving the discussion and creating a forum to explore critical issues of gender work and pay equity to ultimately improve our collective thinking and behaviors. I plan to remain a major voice and active catalyst to drive real action and change in the industry.

In assessing the topic of women leaders, the profession has come a long way in terms of diversity, inclusion and respect but certainly there is more to do.

Much more.

Accepting that perfection is an aspiration not a destination and learning is a continuous path for firms like ours, corporations, practitioners, peers and colleagues, allows us all to seek deeper knowledge.

The keynote address was by Michael Sneed, CCO, J&J, who spoke of being encouraged by his grandmother, an early entrepreneur in the healthcare field, and infusing the lessons she taught him regarding values (knowing your job, your business), resilience (bouncing forward through adversity), confidence (turning thoughts into actions), and impact (leaving your mark on everything you touch).

Listening to the formidable women honorees tell their stories of perseverance, struggle, anxiety, self-worth, and achievement was incredibly moving, personally inspiring and professionally enlightening. In addition to listening to these various women leaders share their experiences and insights, I was privileged to sit on a panel called “Everyone’s Issue: Male Execs Weigh In” with Richard Edelman, CEO-Edelman; John Brockelman, Global Head of Marketing and Communications-State Street Global Advisors; and Tony Wells, Senior Vice President and CMO, Schneider Electric.

So what did the men have to say?

Photo Credit: Eric Bacolas

There was no debate among the male leaders that pay equality, respect, inclusion and career advancement must be an organizational imperative permeating the entire business, and all pledged to continue ensuring values, policies and behaviors reflecting such commitment.

In W2O’s case, I shared some important and exemplary facts – three of our five “OpCos” are led by women, 67% of our entire workforce are women with 57% at/above director level. Our pay scales are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure pay equity mostly based on value, first and foremost, an individual brings to their jobs, clients, colleagues and the company, regardless of gender or any other factor.

But these are just numbers and by that measure we are doing pretty well compared to our and most every other industry.

While I’m proud of this, we must recognize continuous improvement is necessary from listening to and really hearing your needs, working with different styles of managers and colleagues, addressing unconscious bias and encouraging and developing mentors who reflect our values and motivate the right actions and behaviors.

Getting there is a mission we all need to sign up for.

It comes down to staying awake, showing up, listening fully, and taking action!  In other words, we are always ready to #DealWithIt.

As a firm, an important step was bringing in our first Chief People Officer, Eric Bacolas, to lead our HR area and the dedicated pros who work diligently to help us scale and strengthen our culture and work environment. Eric and team are in the throes of designing systems, processes and tools to help us improve our ability to work collaboratively and deliver at scale as #OneTeamOneDream that is #BetterTogether. We are fielding a survey soon to get your input and welcome your input and ideas proactively at any time.

Beyond that, as a leadership team we are actively involved in creating and sustaining a diverse environment supported by a culture of inclusion — whether it’s by investing in recruiting, training and development, succession planning, relatively free ability to move to new offices or new roles, innovative programs like The Fourth Trimester to ease job re-entry for returning parents or other ongoing or planned cultural initiatives.

We are also committed to developing the next generation of professionals through partnerships with organizations such as The LaGrant Foundation – to foster diversity in healthcare communications – or through our relationship with Syracuse University and the W2O Center for Social Commerce all of which actively help change our professional landscape for the better.

Our goal is clear and has never changed: to create and sustain a firm where ideas count and people can do their best work for clients regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity! It has been and will always be a meritocracy where those that do their best and make us the best firm we can be for clients do the best.

My mom and dad (and certainly all of you) would not let me or us have it any other way … you have my word on that.