The latest event in AIGA’s WLI (Women Lead Initiative), Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Career Advice for Creative Women, was a labor of love coming out of this year’s AIGA Mentor Mashup Group comprised of Anne Bemis, Dena Portuesi, and Sarah Spivey.
Thursday evening’s event featured four female panelists – Ashley Blankette, Krystal Duke, Evette Gabriel, Laurie Mizrahi – who brought to the table a wide variety of personal and professional experiences, from hand lettering to leadership, brand development to business development, illustration to innovation. In a series of questions submitted both digitally and in an open Q&A session, these creative powerhouses tackled subjects ranging from balancing parenting and careers to how to stay current and inspired in the rapidly evolving world of design and technology.
Two topics that came up frequently were sensitivity and negotiation. How do we balance wanting to be ourselves and be liked with wanting to be respected as a leader? What are we worth and how do we negotiate that worth, whether as a freelancer or in a corporate setting? (Hint: research, research, research… and bring your facts to the table!) Inevitably, each question ended with, “And what role does my gender play in this?”
In an easy atmosphere that encouraged open conversation, these women shared their sources of inspiration and the steps they’ve taken – and setbacks they’ve endured – on their way to where they are now. Their unique experiences and perspectives varied from topic to topic but the overall consensus remained the same: creative women are a powerful, often under-represented asset and it’s ultimately up to us to make sure we are being valued at our proper worth. (Employers take note: Don’t let us get too comfortable in our work or we’ll take our talent elsewhere.)
The formal discussion, unfortunately, had to come to an end, but many lingered to carry on the conversation more casually. The energy in the room was empowering. I can only hope that come Monday morning, many employers and clients were presented with hard numbers on what their leading ladies deserved.
And, as only a roomful of women would do, we all helped to clean up and return everything to its rightful place so that no one else would have to do so in the morning. Because who says we can’t be both respected and liked?
It sounds corny, but sometimes life seems to give you exactly what you need when you need it. I had a moment like this last week when a colleague asked me to go with her to the “Lead Like a Girl” event.
I am a mother of two amazing kiddos: A three-year-old girl who I swear never slows down and a 4-month-old boy who is determined to never let us sleep again. I have an amazing partner who stays home with these two lunatics while I follow my passion as a full-time Art Director. I am so grateful and I love what I do, but I can’t say I haven’t asked myself if I was up to the task. Could I be a good mother and a successful designer at the same time? Could I make it all work or would I fall short somewhere? That question was on my mind in the week or so before my coworker asked me to join her. And the event turned out to be just what I needed to help answer it.
I left the BNY Melon building feeling exhilarated. I had a new sense of confidence and purpose after hearing these women talk about how they’d struggled in their careers but also succeeded.
I have to admit that at first, it was a little bit discouraging. Laurie, Ashley, Krystal, and Eve (and women like them) are women who inspire me. They kill it. They are superhuman. I thought I can’t be that person. That woman. That creative. That leader. However, as I heard them speak, I found myself thinking, “Hey! That’s exactly how I feel!” and “Yup… I’ve been there.” I related to Eve who also has a young child and an infant at home. I was in awe that Ashley was a rock star in TWO amazing roles. Laurie, who is a trailblazer in our field, gender aside, inspired me. And Krystal?! Where the hell was my drive when I was her age? She’s wise, talented, and just getting started.
During the two-hour event, we talked about respect, guilt, passion, drive, sensitivity, and confidence. We discussed why we are afraid to ask for what we deserve and how to overcome that. We talked about the guilt that comes with being a working mother. We heard stories about amazing triumphs, where women made it to the top in an often male-dominated world. We heard priceless career advice that had nothing at all to do with being a woman, but just about having the drive to get to where you want to be.
As I listened and asked questions, I realized that these women aren’t fearless superhumans like I’d thought. They just embrace the challenges. They dive right into it and they thrive. This was just the push I needed to get inspired again, and I can’t wait to continue connecting with and learning from the powerful woman at events like this. See you around.