Empathy, Heart and Courage: RAPP's Leigh Ober

Leigh Ober
Global Chief People Officer RAPP

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

We are a culture that’s all about individuals. We believe wholeheartedly in standing up for individuality, bringing our whole selves to the workplace and to our work, and demonstrating empathy, heart and courage in all we do to create a collaborative community. A community where everyone feels they belong and can be appreciated for a unique perspective, provocative point of view, and creative mindset.  Women have a strong and important voice at RAPP, starting at the most senior levels, and we’re working harder to both engage and elevate the female influence at all levels.  Working parents is a particular area of focus for us, as we believe we can be more supportive with our current team and tap into the dedicated parents who chose to prioritize childcare and now want to return to work and apply their talents.

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”?                 

There’s a definite desire, maybe even demand, to promote and hire more females into leadership roles. This is fantastic, yet there’s so much work to be done to shift how we engage and involve women in decisions and initiatives.  Creating space to listen – really listen – and understand the female voice, especially if it’s a lone or new voice in the conversation, requires new behaviors and an openness to different ways of thinking. I believe that there’s a much greater awareness and even appreciation for women to lead and be heard, yet we have a lot of work to do to provide a level playing field for women to rise to their full potential.

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

While we’re making headway, there’s a long way to go for gender parity.  Making sure we speak up, that there’s a balanced view, that we’re pushing for progress and not getting discouraged by ‘the way it’s always been’ are critical.  I think it’s easy to get frustrated and angry about being overlooked, talked over, underrepresented or shut down.  It happens a lot, and I encourage us all to rise above it and focus on what we can control and that’s how we respond to the situation, so we can change the outcome and be heard, be elevated and get what we’ve rightfully earned.  But must act with confidence and courage to make change to find progressive ways to open dialog and work together, especially in masculine dominated environments.

I love when women lead from the heart and the head, and find that more of us are seeking mentors, champions and colleagues to create a strong support network that will allow us to trust more in our capabilities, so we can step up, be heard and take action.  We want to retain our individuality yet often are still finding our voices so it’s helpful to have a trusted community to get support, even if that is just one colleague who knows you and will always shoot straight with you if you’ve overstepped – or under-stepped.  Having male allies is equally important and helps ensure a balanced perspective. 

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

This is a never-ending struggle.  As a working mom, spouse, homeowner, Bikram yoga addict, daughter, sister and friend, I’ve come to appreciate that, on any given day, I’m out of balance somewhere.  I used to be super self-critical but have to realize that every day I’m doing the best I can.  Every morning, I reset my priorities and deliberately choose a song to start my day.  Music gets my head in the right space, and usually makes me smile from the inside out.  I’ve learned over many years, that I’m going to screw up, drop a ball, miss a call, maybe even forget a birthday.  But I’ve learned to forgive myself and genuinely apologize to re-connect and re-set.  I’m not sure there is ‘balance;’ for me, it’s kind of like I’m teetering on the seesaw every day, and sometimes what’s sitting on the other end leaves me off kilter.  You either have to ask someone to join you, ask someone else to make an adjustment, or just hop off and on, keeping a sense of humor about things.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Throughout my career, I’ve had amazing mentors with whom I’ve felt comfortable openly sharing my interests and ambitions. They’ve encouraged me and opened doors for me once they understood my strengths and aptitude.  HR is my fifth career; I started in entertainment PR, led Employee Communications, moved into Sales Operations and Training, ran unionized Customer Call Centers, and then, after sharing with a trusted mentor - who had run international HR for a Fortune 50 company - that I’d always been intrigued by HR, she called one day to say that a role opened up on her team leading HR for her billion dollar+ region.  Would I be interested?  Heck, yes!  But… I didn’t know anything about HR, could I do it?  Would she help me?  Yes, and yes.  It was exciting and a bit intimidating. But with her support, amazingly supportive colleagues and lots of hard work, I leaned in.  My atypical background enables me to bring a true business perspective and understanding to people strategies.

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

I’m fortunate that my best friend is also my mentor; she shoots straight, advises me when I need re-direction, encourages me when I’m dispirited and is someone I can trust 100% of the time to have my back, while always being honest with me.

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

I provide mentorship and sponsorship as possible, to help women empower themselves and each other, embrace their vulnerabilities, get what they need and deserve, and stay true to their personal values.