Championing female leadership within the creative industries

2019 saw the highest percentage of women in senior management globally on record, at 29%. We caught up with the Managing Director, Head of Production and Head of Editorial at The Mill Chicago on the importance of championing female leadership within the creative industries.
Thought March 9, 2020

ERICA HILBERT, Managing Director, The Mill

How have you seen the industry change over previous years in terms of representation across the board?


ERICA: I’m delighted to see an increase in female leadership, especially at the creative level.  That representation had definitely been lacking. Being able to offer a different point of view, and help influence what is being marketed – not only to women but to the entire audience – from the POV of a woman is refreshing. It’s definitely changing the landscape of how we communicate and connect. I feel like women are feeling more empowered to put themselves up for more opportunities and take on leadership, too.


TRACEY: Even at The Mill, more and more women are taking up more senior management roles in each office and we’re very actively recruiting across disciplines. I love that The Mill Chicago is female lead and I’m proud to be a part of that!


CHARLOTTE: There have absolutely been changes since I first started in the industry (over a decade ago in London). In general, I think it’s more common now to hire and promote women to senior and leadership roles than it used to be. It does still fluctuate due to talent pools in different markets though. At the end of the day, you always want to hire the best person for the job, regardless of gender.


How as women in leadership do you mentor and uplift other women within the industry?


CHARLOTTE: I think it’s important as a leader to make sure everyone feels empowered in their roles – men and women alike. Ensuring that those you work with are supported and have room to grow. I am also particularly attached to fostering young talent – that’s how I started, really! The benefits of having been in the industry for a while is using your knowledge and personal experience to mentor others.


TRACEY: I try to lead by example: being a strong, independently minded, opinionated, supportive woman in business. I have an industrious work ethic and have always believed in rolling up my sleeves and getting down to business when needed. In the last couple of years, I’ve also tried to be a strong example of a working mother in a high paced, impactful position, managing home-lie life and work-life in some semblance of harmony. It’s hard…but not impossible! And, being surrounded by other examples of this makes continued growth for women while having a family achievable.


ERICA: I’ve always been of the mindset of treating everyone equally, so by merely doing that, and giving everyone an opportunity to grow their careers and be successful,  shows women that they too can have a seat at the table. I hope that as a working mom I set an example for other women (and my own daughters) and prove that you don’t have to choose career or family. Continuously creating an environment in which that’s the norm, makes it so much more attainable and attractive for women to carry on with their careers.

TRACEY KHAN, Head of Production, The Mill

What would you like to see change within the industry?


ERICA: OK, this is a big one. I want to see a fundamental shift in the way we approach our work, clients and partnerships. What we do can be so rewarding and fulfilling, regardless of what role you play in it, but it can be so hard and so taxing, too. What job isn’t?  But I truly believe that we’ve gotten to a point where we generate so much unnecessary stress and work for ourselves due to fear of the landscape of the market; fear of winning or losing work; fear of upsetting the wrong person. We overthink everything instead of making a decision, taking a chance or even challenging each other. I’d like to see us implement better partnerships amongst each other, educate each other and push each other to make those tough calls, take those award-winning chances, accept and take on the challenges that this ever-changing market presents us on a daily basis.


TRACEY: I would love to see more women on the creative side of the industry! From directors to designers, compositors and CG artists. I don’t necessarily have a solution for this…how do we get more women interested in the artistic side of visual effects? In the tech side of things? What tools can we give them to develop those skill sets?  A female eye on creativity is imperative.


CHARLOTTE: I’d like to see continued growth of more women in leadership roles, especially on the creative side and making sure that all voices are heard.  I think there are more women on the Production side and in Management but it’s still not as common to have as many Senior Leads on the Creative side – editorial, 2D, CG, you name it. And of course there’s the crucial and often discussed gender pay gap which is something we need to continue working on, globally, in every industry really.


What advice would you give your younger self and fellow women breaking into the working world?


ERICA: I’d love to go back in time and tell younger Erica to ask to be in more meetings, ask for more opportunities to learn and grow, not just wait to be invited or included.  Take the initiative; what’s the worst that can happen? Someone says no? Even before you think you’re ready, take the chance to present yourself as an option, or a partner. Even if you get it wrong, you’re there, present, learning from your mistakes and grabbing the attention of others around you, and possibly even motivating your peers.


TRACEY: Do not be discouraged! Trust your instincts. Keep your head up and keep yourself strong. My idea of what the Management World was when I started was a very male dominated, ‘old boys’ club’. It was exclusive to those who fit the outdated, Mad Men cookie cutter mold.  None of this is the case anymore. Look at the key leaders in this studio: women.


CHARLOTTE:  It’s okay to speak up!  Don’t be nervous or question your role or place at the table.  Embrace your talent, experience and use your voice. And most importantly always follow your passion.


Are there any women or female led organizations that have inspired and empowered you?


ERICA: I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked closely with a lot of really strong, talented and supportive women, throughout my whole career. I can honestly say that’s shaped who I am and lead me here. I’ve often sought out that mentorship and support at times.  I also think a little healthy competition goes a long way. I look at organizations like Girls on the Run who reach girls at a critical stage, strengthening their confidence at a time when society begins to tell them they can’t. They give females an opportunity to compete, on their terms, and push themselves to be better and strive for more.


TRACEY: There are so many female led organizations that do amazing things! I love The Chicago Period Project, a local, feminist, grassroots organization that empowers homeless and in-need people to experience their periods with dignity by distributing menstrual hygiene kits. What the women do there is truly inspiring and shows the dignified ways we can all support each other and make something incredibly powerful out of one simple idea.

CHARLOTTE: I’m a big fan of Free the Work (the natural evolution of Free the Bid). I follow the work they share and events they put on. It’s great to see such amazing work from the expanse of female talent out there.  I’m also represented on their website and think it’s a great marketing and connection tool for people seeking out female talent. Again I do believe though that you always have to hire who is right for the job!


CHARLOTTE CARR, Head of Editorial, The Mill

Are there challenges you’ve faced as a woman within the advertising industry? How have you overcome these?


ERICA: Honestly, I think for me the hardest part about being a woman within this industry has been balancing work and…being a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, you name it!  As women, we have this societal pressure to ‘handle it all’, fix everything for everyone, and do it with grace, a smile and not a hair out of place. At least that’s how I felt for a long time, as old fashioned as that may sound. I do find a certain sense of accomplishment knowing that I can be a sounding board and a go-to for my work family and clients. This industry has made it so hard to find a balance, between doing what you love and doing what you need to for the ones you love.  I’ve worked really hard to build a support system but I’ve also put in the time and effort to establish the level of respect and confidence people need in me so I can have those moments to step away from it all when I need to. I’d love to see this industry make genuine moves towards implementing and encouraging better working environments – not only for working parents – but for everyone. We all have personal lives outside of our studios. By championing that type of community, you’ll get happier employees that are more fulfilled, dedicated and passionate. And in this industry, those traits should be the absolute benchmark.


TRACEY: I think I spent a lot of time making sacrifices for the success of others instead of my own. I’m glad I learned from that experience and it certainly played a part in where I am now. When I was given the opportunity to move to Chicago from London to develop The Mill’s directorial roster and production offering, it was a big risk but it paid off. It’s now a massive part of our business and something I am proud to have crafted. I’d earned the trust of upper management by being a diligent worker and proving myself time and time again, but when the time came to take the leap, I was ready and trusted my gut. Also, as a (female) minority, I think one can be overlooked almost two-fold. You come third to the others that surround you despite your hard work ethic. I would love to see more representation of women from all walks of life in agencies, post production studios, behind the camera, CEOs – the sky’s the limit!


CHARLOTTE: Things have definitely changed since I first started and we all just need to keep things moving forward and make sure that our work environments are well rounded. If we all work together and take on shared responsibility I don’t think that’s too hard to achieve – sometimes it requires a slight re-education of course. As I’ve grown in my career I’ve learnt the importance of verbalising my opinion and have been able to grow into a position where I am one of the decision makers and can help impact change in certain areas.