Finding Your Voice: Celia Jones, The Escape Pod

At The Escape Pod, we’re all united by this sense of escaping to a place where everyone is empowered.

 

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

As a smaller independent agency, our culture is very real, down-to-earth. We have a close-knit team across accounts, functions, and gender so there isn’t a separate female culture. One of the biggest reasons for that is we proactively seek out talent who shares our same core values. We look for people who are hungry to contribute, make amazing work and leave all the politics and BS of big agencies behind. When you use that as a litmus test for whether someone will fit in and succeed at our agency, then the gender piece becomes less of an issue. At The Escape Pod, we’re all united by this sense of escaping to a place where everyone is empowered and for the most part, we genuinely like and respect each other--as professionals, creative individuals, friends and most importantly human beings. I will say the women at our agency absolutely support and encourage each other on an organic level, which is important. 

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”? 

The biggest change I see is that the women leaders in our industry are really, for the first time, leaning into their power to drive structural change at their agencies and in the industry. Rather than just accepting accolades or speaking opportunities for their own personal advancement, they are actively advocating for and empowering their female employees, enacting more diverse hiring practices, sending their teams to the 3% Conference, investing in training and support programs, purposely forming their own agencies, and even uniting with female leaders from competitive agencies to push the industry forward.

Let’s face it. There are a tremendous number of ad women who have been grinding it out for years, winning awards, earning a seat at the table alongside the men at their agencies. But even though they deserved it, they haven’t risen to the top ranks until the men in power (many of whom are the most lauded figures in our industry) fell from grace and were ousted due to misconduct. It’s really an incredible time where the cracks in the ceiling may be broken wide open as these amazing women leaders leverage their power and positions to drive systemic change versus holding back for fear of “rocking the boat” or jeopardizing their own positions.

There’s also unprecedented client demand for agency partners with diverse leadership, be it women or minorities – so there are tremendous forces pushing against the established power structures in place, and now that more women are breaking through the glass ceiling, they feel not only an opportunity but a responsibility to pull other women up with them.

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

Outside of the big structural barriers, I think there are subtle behaviors, attitudes and habits that continue to hinder women from ascending the corporate ranks. Meeting dynamics where the loudest, most assertive voices (most often men) are heard, or women (even those in senior positions) qualifying their words with self-deprecating phrases that have been engrained into all of us in the desire to please: “This might be completely wrong but” or “I’m sorry but…” Brilliant female creatives who are the masterminds behind award-winning work, but quietly step back as their male CCOs sign their name on the credit list and bask in the industry acclaim.

Even though I’ve certainly worked with extremely talented women who crush ideas and stand up for what they believe in with boldness and confidence, more often than not, I see women at all levels still struggling to find their voice and be recognized for the work they do. A sad reality underpinning all of this is that no woman, no matter how talented, smart or impressive they are, has a chance to become a leader in this industry without an advocate high up in the organization actively supporting and championing them. Merit alone is not enough.

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

It’s incredibly hard to balance the demands of work and family life, but it is essential to take the time to disconnect and recharge. I find sanity in rituals like going to the farmer’s market and making elaborate meals for my family, working out, spending time in nature. Grounding myself by truly being present in moments is restorative and helps me come back to work with a mental edge and renewed focus on the tasks at hand. I also love to travel and immerse myself in different experiences and cultures. Being relentlessly curious and soaking up new experiences makes my work and perspective much stronger. At the office, we try to create a supportive environment for our staff who have lives and families beyond work, so it’s not uncommon for people to bring their kids (or fur babies) in when they’re busy.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I have worked at a diverse range of agencies throughout my career—from traditional to digital to integrated, small boutiques to massive holding companies. Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand how critically important culture and corporate values are to business success, and conversely, how the lack thereof makes it extremely difficult to lead or effect change. I’ve had the opportunity to experience firsthand how management decisions are made “behind the curtain” and, while it hasn’t always been pretty, I’ve learned incredible lessons about what I would and wouldn’t do if I ever found myself leading an agency. Flash-forward to now and the achievement I’m most proud of is that I got here by staying true to myself and fighting for the right thing to do, whether for my clients, my colleagues or my teams. It may sound idealistic, especially in this business that can be quite ruthless. But the flipside is there are so many inspiring people in our industry who share this philosophy and are achieving success based on genuine purpose and passion for what they do.

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

Early on in my career, I suffered from the very thing that I talked about earlier in this interview: insecurity, imposter syndrome, the fear that my opinion wasn’t as legitimate as the other voices in the room. I would self-censor or keep quiet, thinking really smart thoughts that ultimately others would say or not challenging an idea when I knew in my gut it was off brief. Thankfully I had a mentor and a champion who could see what was happening and pulled me aside one day. He said “You’re right at the edge. Jump off and trust yourself.” It was a pivotal moment for me to step into my talent, my abilities, my voice. It’s been a gradual process of leaning more and more into this, but it was the first step…and I’ve never looked back.

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

I want to do for them what my mentor did for me. Lead by example. Be a source of positive energy, encouragement, inspiration. Show them through my actions and words that they, too, can and should speak without hesitation, stand up for what they believe in, go out and grab the jobs, the projects, the life choices they want—without hesitation. And don’t worry about perfection or failing. I’m guilty of this as I write, but it’s important to remember that the world is changing so fast and opportunities to try, fail, pivot and try again are endless. Just resolve not to be the source of your own limitations because there’s never been a better time for women in particular to make their own unique dent in the universe.