Culture of Respect at RPA: Lisa Tanner, SVP / Group Account Director

Lisa Tanner
Managing Director David&Goliath

How would you describe the overall culture at your agency and would you say that there is a separate female culture?   

At RPA we have a culture of respect — respect for each other, our clients and our clients’ work. That allows for a nice work/life balance for the most part, which doesn’t happen that often in the ad world. As a member of senior management, I want to ensure that the next generation carry the RPA torch — a balance of male/female in all disciplines and provide more opportunity for female empowerment.

In your opinion, what do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?  

I think it is two-fold. In the advertising itself, I feel like women are objectified less, put in less “domestic” roles and are more true and real to who we are in daily life. I think more females can finally identify with more women in advertising on TV, and in magazines, etc. It’s nice to see a dad doing the laundry or a size-12 woman wearing the fancy outfits. There is more gender-neutral work out there that makes me feel like the tides are certainly turning, but it’s a big ship to turn.

Inside the agency/ad industry we are obviously seeing more female leaders, more females being promoted appropriately into more senior roles. More clients are asking for a better balance. The 3% movement is starting to take shape, and there are more creative women than I have seen in a long time, so education at the college-level is starting to work. I am also seeing more single, childless women who are accepted, and equally more working-mom women rising the ranks and not being judged as much. We still have a lot of room to grow, but you really can see the beginnings of it, and it is no small feat.

What are some of the challenges that women still face in the industry?

While the statistics tell us that roughly half of the workforce is female (and true at RPA) it is still going to be a while before there is true equality. We still live in a world where many women do not have the opportunity to be properly educated, trained and mentored to be on a path to leadership without the same obstacles as men face. There is still a wage gap in many organizations. We still face scrutiny of our leadership style and a judgement of its being too “aggressive” or more of a “pushover,” and there is no in between.

What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?

Personally, I try to take the right amount of time for myself — to recharge, to be inspired by outside things, therefore being more inspiring to people I work with.

Exercise and eating right is a part, being mindful is another, staying in the moment is another. I also believe when you have a clear path, and growth opportunities, you tend to find a better balance. Really listening and not always talking helps me remember that we all have a life outside these four walls and it’s important to go live it!

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

There are several very project-specific things that come to mind related to getting a contract signed or over-delivering that KPI. But one that has been a passion project for the past 6 months and finally getting off the ground is launching WALC, Women’s Agency Leadership Council at RPA. I cultivated a small group of senior women at the agency with the mission of creating events, programs and support groups that foster women’s professional and personal development. It’s an umbrella effort to take some things that already existed, but to put a strategic and organizational framework around it. As I said, it is just launching this month, appropriately, so there is much more to come. My goal is to empower our junior women, provide opportunity for those who may not feel they have a voice and support any effort to help balance, educate and understand all our differences and make them less…different.

Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you in your career. What made them so special?  

This is always a tough question for me, because I can honestly say I haven’t really had a true mentor in my career. I have learned so much from both men and women I have been surrounded by, but I think by not having that one person, it has made me realize the significance and importance of supporting each other, standing up for each other and creating a path of growth for each other. I mostly have women on my team and I really try to provide them the tools to lift them up to know they have a voice and to help them navigate the waters. I try to be the mentor to people around me the way I would have liked to have someone be that for me. I try to push the people around me to find their leadership and management style and learn different ways to deal with different people, policies and practices. Which, hopefully, in turn provides them the opportunities to see their substance, power and self in a stronger and nurturing way both personally and professionally.

How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women?

By taking risks and chances and failing and succeeding and having them see both. By understanding the world the next generation grows up in, while different from my own, will still face many of the same biases and truths and challenges and fears. It is through education and support that this next generation may recognize that even though they may not feel inequality the way mine or my mother’s does, it will exist, and how to flourish in spite of it is extremely important to me. Seeing more women in senior executive roles is the best place to start. Knowing and believing there is a path for you to get up the ladder is the first step. And having access to define it on your terms along the way is critical.