International Women’s Day: celebrating our female directors

5 minute read

Kathryn Kelly

To mark this month's International Women's Day, we are shining the spotlight on our board members, Lisa Prescott and Gemma Boss. Lisa has recently been given the role of Director of People & Culture, while Gemma has the new title of Director of Client Services.

To mark this month’s International Women’s Day, we are shining the spotlight on our board members, Lisa Prescott and Gemma Boss. Lisa has recently been given the role of Director of People & Culture, while Gemma has the new title of Director of Client Services.

Both Lisa and Gemma are long-serving members of the board and have worked at Chalk & Ward for many years.

Here, they share their experiences of their careers in our Industry with Kathryn Kelly from our PR team.

What was your first job in an agency and where was it?

Lisa: My first job was as an Account Executive in an above the line (TV, radio and press) ad agency in Exeter. It gave me a great grounding in the world of advertising, and I had to learn quickly as it was a demanding environment with loads of media deadlines! I really enjoyed my time there and it helped me to develop a thick skin which you need if you want to pursue a career in an agency!

Gemma.: My first agency role was in Leo Burnett, London, working for the Global Head of the Always account. I tried getting on to graduate schemes but was not able to so had the plan to integrate myself into the marketing industry by joining as a PA but found this was also hard because my ambition was too obvious. So, I wasn’t good enough to become a marketing exec, but I was too good to be a PA! I said that exact phrase in frustration during my initial interview with the office manager at Leo Burnett, so she told me to go into the interview with the mindset that ‘I just wanted to be a secretary’. 

Thankfully, my future boss thought the complete opposite and she didn’t want someone who would just do the basic job, she was looking for someone to be more proactive and insightful.  That role got me into the industry and from there I was able to move into the brand consultancy division which became my passion and specialism throughout my career.

How do you think the work culture has changed during your career so far?

Lisa: It has definitely become more relaxed and the whole work/life balance has been embraced – gone are the days when we worked through the night to finish a pitch. The pandemic created a seismic shift in terms of changing company culture and the way we work. I also think mental health has become more understood and the importance of looking after ourselves and checking in with each other, which are both incredibly positive.

Gemma: When I started working in marketing, I was told that the days of the big client entertaining events were behind us but I still remember doing a lot of entertaining and going out! When I joined Chalk & Ward, the client Christmas lunches were still a big part of the December calendar but since Covid, the rise of remote working and the cost-of-living crisis, these have unfortunately fallen a bit by the wayside.

Whilst we still have good relationships with our clients, we know there is no replacement for seeing each other face-to-face and this shouldn’t be just for meetings, but also to spend time together in a social environment. This is how real friendships are formed so it is something we are looking to reignite in 2024.

What challenges do you think women face in the workplace today?

Lisa: I would say there have been many positive developments for women in the workplace but despite these advancements, gender inequality still exists in some areas. In my view, there is still a lack of representation in a few industries (thankfully not marketing!), such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), so those women that do go into a more traditionally male dominated workplace could experience isolation which may impact on their sense of belonging and possibly opportunities for advancement.

Gemma: Unfortunately, it is a problem that has been around for a long time and is still a challenge for most families, which is the cost of childcare.  It is physically impossible for a woman not to have maternity leave, so when the time inevitably comes to make the decision to return to work, the crippling childcare costs are often the reason why many women must choose to compromise their career. 

Some women must give up their career completely or others sacrifice days to try and balance out the costs which leaves them feeling like they are never giving either their job or their family 100% – I know I get that feeling sometimes.

What is the biggest single initiative that government and businesses could implement to make a difference to women in the workplace?

Gemma: If I could wave a magic wand, I would ask for fully supported childcare, whatever the requirement, but I know this is an impossibility.  There has been a great step forward recently in reducing the free childcare hours to the age of 2 rather than 3 and this will be a big help for many families but there will still be many women struggling to choose between wanting to return to work but not being able to make it financially viable.

If we’re making wishes, it would also be great if the Government could make it illegal for travel companies to massively hike the prices in school holidays, please!

Lisa: There’s been a lot of awareness raising recently from female celebrities surrounding the menopause, which is great, but I think there’s probably a lot that can be done to support women in the workplace during this time in their lives. We do not want the menopause to be a taboo subject, or for women to just have to get on with it, there’s lot of initiatives that could be considered to support menopausal women in the workplace. 

From education and awareness to flexible work arrangements and health and wellness programmes. By implementing new measures, businesses and governments can help create more inclusive and supportive work environments where menopausal women can thrive professionally while managing the challenges associated with this life transition.

What advice would you give to women just starting out on their career path?

Gemma: I receive many CVs and requests for internships and jobs and I’m always more impressed with those people who put themselves out there, whether that’s through having unpaid practical experience or by attending events and networking to grow their contacts. Confidence speaks volumes and people need to demonstrate that not only do they have the skills, but they have the personality to fit into a team culture.

Lisa: Know your worth! Recognise the value you’ll bring to the business and the strengths you can offer, and don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself in the workplace. Seek opportunities for advancement, negotiate your salary and clearly communicate your goals and ambitions. Stay true to yourself, stay focused on what you want, and keep striving for excellence in everything you do.

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