Inherently Feminine Culture: Jill Nykoliation, CEO, Juniper Park \TBWA

by Dasha Ovsyannikova
Juniper Park\TBWA
Full Service
Toronto, Canada
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Earlier this month Unilever announced its achievement of a 50/50 gender balance across global leadership. This puts the company a year ahead of its goal and indicates the successful implementation of more than 100 diversity and inclusion roles across its markets.
In support of International Women’s Day, AdForum interviewed leaders in the advertising communications industry for their opinion. With the proliferation of women’s advocacy groups ranging from the ANA’s SeeHer to Campaign magazine’s Female Frontier Awards in the UK, the movement is growing. We want to find out just how authentic these changes are or whether old barriers remain.
Jill Nykoliation
CEO Juniper Park\TBWA, Toronto

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

I view cultures not as male/female, but rather masculine/feminine. The culture of our TBWA collective is inherently feminine – highly inclusive, generous, team players rather than sole contributors. Our global leadership team comes together three times each year to build, share, and shape our innovations and relationships. This connectedness is what makes us sharper, stronger, and more culturally relevant than any other creative company. We are rewarded for sharing across the collective rather than keeping ideas enclosed within the walls of one office. Internal competition has no home here.


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

The biggest change I’ve seen is how many incredibly smart, influential, and brave women are now present across the industry. Our own agency has 57% women, with 50% of our leadership team being female. I feel that the unconscious competition that used to be prevalent between women in our industry – where we had to compete for the one or two spots for us at the table – has dissipated.

This change has led to more women helping each other up – advocating, supporting and cheering other women on more than ever before. It’s really wonderful. I can literally feel the force of women rising into our power. It’s happening in our industry, and outside. For example, in sport, Bianca Andreescu consoled Serena Williams after her injury at the Rogers Cup final, and in entertainment, Reese Witherspoon founded her production company Hello Sunshine to create and promote content by and about women.

We’re past the point of women being brought in to tick a box. We now have critical mass, and the entire industry is better for it.


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

I think one of the challenges women still face in business is based on our linguist nature – we speak differently. The language of business is typically masculine – assertive, direct, succinct, and often competitive, while feminine language style is generally empathetic, inclusive, with an approach to persuade vs. direct people. We must balance being ourselves while embracing the natural language style of the situation. 

In a sense, we must become “bilingual” in both masculine and feminine language styles. I’ve had wonderful mentors whom have taught me this, and as CEO, I actively coach my female leads on this. Mastering this balance has a significant impact on the desired outcome of a meeting or presentation.


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

I’m a solo parent of a wonderful, very active 16-year old, and the leader of a top-performing agency, in an industry that is wildly dynamic. So, I am diligent about work-life balance. For me, healthy work-life balance is rooted in reducing inflammation. Two years ago, my big aha was that we are all porous. We absorb our environments – literally.

What we eat, drink, do, and experience affects our biochemistry. Being choiceful in what and who we expose ourself to plays a critical role in how we feel. 

Some things I actively do to achieve balance: 

1.     Still my brain: I meditate for 17 minutes each day (1 percent of my day) to relax my mind. It has been proven to help one focus, remain calm during stressful situations, improve sleep, and increase productivity and performance.

2.     Embrace “you are what you eat”: Food is medicine. Every day, our food choices either positively or negatively impacts our bodies, our immune system, and our brains. For example, cruciferous vegetables detoxify our bodies with every bite. It’s fascinating!  I eat a ton of vegetables, incorporate healthy fats, and treat meat as a “condi-meat,”. It has made me more energetic, calm, strong, and keeps my brain sharp.

3.     I choose who and what I give my energy to: Everything is a transfer of energy. Things are either fueling you, or depleting you. I’ve become very choiceful about whom and what I give my energy to. I edit out things, environments, and people that are sources of inflammation.


What professional achievement are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of founding our agency, Juniper Park\TBWA in 2007. I was one of the first women to launch an agency in North America, an agency that is successful, widely respected, and thriving. Not only did I have few female industry role models to look to at that time, I did so with no prior agency experience as I grew up on ‘client side’.

Along the way, I’ve been honoured with some incredible industry renowned achievements: I was named to Ad Age's prestigious “Women to Watch” list and listed as one of Canada’s “Mad Women” by The Globe and Mail.


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

While I was at Kraft Foods, I chose to take a leadership role launching CRM, in part because it would enable me to get close to then-CEO Irene Rosenfeld (later CEO of Mondelez). Our four-person leadership team spent two hours with Irene every week. I studied her.

Irene was a brilliant, strong, successful female executive at a time when there were not many in Canada, let alone the world. Those five years under her sponsorship rocketed my personal development and fundamentally changed the trajectory of my career.


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

I have always found tremendous fulfilment in mentoring. To inspire the next generation of women, there are three things I focus on: 

  • Help women find their voice. In our industry, the stakes are high, deadlines are tight, and conversations move at the speed of light. This can be intimidating for a junior. The most powerful way to address this is to deliberately ask, “What do you think?” This single sentence says, “I see you, and I value you.”
  • Help people up. Consciously help people rise. Champion them. If you were asked to name three people whose career trajectory you helped, could you answer that question? For me, this is one of my biggest sources of pride. I make an effort each year to choose three people whose career I will help push forward.
  • Catch people doing things right. What gets rewarded gets done. Well-earned praise is a great reward. At the end of each meeting, take a moment to speak one-on-one with individuals who’ve done a great job. You will feel their confidence swell.