Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Christine Kahm Silver,
Head of Insights, Intelligence Group, Deep Focus
AdForum: How would you describe the current overall culture at your agency? How would you describe the culture among your female colleagues and what are the differences?
Christine: Deep Focus is a place that promotes innovation and discovery. What’s great about that kind of environment is it provides a valuable—and democratized—conduit through which one may make their mark. Focusing on these values naturally advances the company, as well as individuals within it, and is a pursuit accessible to anyone, regardless of level. This type of fresh, free thinking manifests in the diversity among the women of Deep Focus. I live in a context of powerful women who are diverse in their roles and how they choose to make their mark, diverse in their beliefs and, most importantly, diverse in how they choose to propagate these beliefs.
AdForum: What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling” into Sr. Executive level positions? What are some of the challenges that still exist for women in reaching the upper echelon of management?
Christine: With the growth of women in executive-level positions in the advertising industry, I am seeing a starkly different tone, feel and cadence to organizational dynamics: more empathy, more transparency and more collaboration. Ideally, this provides an inspirational foundation for junior- and mid-level employees (male or female) who can leverage this format to “feel” their own way to success versus take a traditional – dare I say “uninspired”? – approach.
Countless challenges still exist. But what we can do now is to continue educating and empowering women to take paths that feel natural to them, to their instincts and their passions. I think encouraging women to “Be Yourself” while at the same time providing guidance on communication, management and mentorship could help women find their OWN ways to keep on keeping on. In this way, we can inspire women to begin early on to make roles shape their needs and strengths, so that when they start needing to seek more work/life balance, they have had practice in effective self-advocacy. Of course, a crucial part of being yourself is holding yourself to your own standards, and ultimately not being afraid to fail…maybe even re-defining what failure means.
Lastly, as more women ascend to leadership roles, we should all raise our voices in support of organization-level change. Family-friendly workplaces, flexible career tracks, sensitivity to issues of gender in matters of communication, empowerment and promotion: these benefit everyone. I'm betting that female leaders will play crucial roles in making this a reality.
AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?
Christine: Committing myself to marching to the beat of my own drum. I left the world of matrixed, product-first organizations to build a bespoke practice that gave me the freedom and agility I needed to inject my DNA into the work. That DNA is the desire to push and challenge my clients to think differently about their business priorities and then, together, advance on a mission of finding groundbreaking insights in a consumer-centric, creative way. This type of alignment drives shared passion and keeps the work exciting and fun for my team and theirs.
AdForum: How do you find the best work-life balance to help you stay productive and creative at work and to help you live a happy, sane life outside of the office?
Christine: I usually try to chase sanity in the office and insanity out of it. When I’m not at work, I’m either trying to be active (tennis or running) or trying to conjure humorous accidental moments with strangers. On a good day, I can converge the two. For example, in order to diversify my tennis play I started a “Christine’s Tennis Camp” Facebook group and invited (unwilling?) strangers to my page. My goal was to create a sense of community that would inspire everyone to reach out to others on the page and set up games. Instead, one of the members boldly set up his own page, “Todd’s Tennis Camp”, and then invited me and all of my members to it. Hilarious! I guess it worked…even if the “end game” looks different than how it started.
AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
Christine: I’d have to say my first job as a barista at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. I made enough novice mistakes there to have a few sink in. Rule #1: never call in sick and then show up to your place of employment to hang out.
AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
Christine: I worked for someone in the past that recognized early on what made me tick. In spite of providing me with specific “ways to work”, this person instead cleared the barriers and provided me with the tools to “live” freely in my work. Through his enablement, I was able to discover what I was capable of and what would make me thrive.
AdForum: How do you as a successful woman in your industry plan to inspire the next generation of women? In a few words, what advice do you have for women entering the advertising industry?
Christine: I would like to think that I inspire my team on a daily basis. We have such mantras as #NoEgo #BeBrave #OpenKimono. It’s pretty simple – you won’t improve unless you’re not afraid to fail! Our Global CMO once told me that it pays to be vulnerable. I’ll never forget that.