Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Liz Valentine, Co-founder & CEO, Swift.
AdForum is showcasing the achievements of women in advertising in the month of March through a series of interviews. We would like to thank Liz Valentine, Co-founder & CEO at Swift, for taking the time to offer her thoughts and reflect on her career.
AdForum: How would you describe the overall culture at your agency and would you say that there is a separate female culture?
Liz: Transparency is the foundation. If you are straight and open with employees, you establish trust and an expectation for conduct across the agency. Setting the tone starts at the top in any organization so it is incredibly important to walk the talk and be committed to openness even when it’s uncomfortable. Swift is more than 60% women but I wouldn’t say that there is a culture separate from men. We may offer more opportunities for women than your average agency and it is understood that your perspective is valuable and necessary, no matter what your age or title. I think women here generally feel more comfortable speaking up and taking the lead because it is expected.
AdForum: What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling?”
Liz: We’re seeing more work that shows a true understanding of women make its way into the world. The Fearless Girl statue, for one, is a great example of fierce femininity put there by an investment firm to bring awareness to how few women sit on corporate boards. Would that have happened five years ago?
AdForum: What are some of the challenges that women are still facing?
Liz: I find that not enough women negotiate, and they should. But if you asked me for the piece of advice I offer women in advertising, I always tell them to find an agency with female leadership. You’re guaranteed that women are respected in that agency and that there is a growth path for women in an industry that doesn’t have the greatest track record concerning diversity. It’s also important to find a senior woman mentor within the agency.
AdForum: What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
Liz: I own the fact that everyone has equally important commitments outside of work that need to be tended to just as much as business. It also helps that I have the most amazing team. I cover for them—both women and men—when they have a school play, a doctor’s appointment or a game to coach, and they do the same for me.
AdForum: What professional achievement are you most proud of?
Liz: A major achievement is seeing the incredible team that I’ve hired over the years thrive, grow and start to run the place. I never expected to find so much reward in building a great place for people to work, which in turn can have a positive effect on the people in their lives and this city as a whole. Our philosophy is to really take care of the whole person, not just the work person, and that informs our HR policies.
AdForum: Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you in your career. What made them so special?
Liz: My mom defied major odds to become a female doctor at a time when very few physicians were women. She knew her worth, and that gave her the confidence to fight for fair compensation and recognition. She instilled in me the mindset that with hard work, I could accomplish anything.
AdForum: How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women?
Liz: As a creative agency, we can do a lot to support groups pushing for equality. Swift is a partner of Visible, a coalition of agencies and individuals that pledge to provide pro bono creative services to organizations fighting for social, environmental and civil rights causes, each year for the next four years. In 2017, we plan to accomplish more social activism in support of the many groups, and particularly women, who are threatened by the Trump administration.