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?
Michelle: I’ve never been at an agency that has celebrated culture more so than DDB. We have so many initiatives that allow people of all kinds to have a platform to voice themselves and be accepted without judgement from peers around them.
I, along with two other women at DDB San Francisco recently created a 24-hour activation for International Women’s Day that recognized and celebrated the first female copy writer by changing our name from DDB to DDB&R, recognizing Phyllis Robinson. It was well received both locally and globally, leaving a positive mark in the world by demonstrating that women have in fact played a very important role in contributing to success.
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?
Michelle: People are starting to notice the strength women bring to a team. I think women have a different way of reading the room and solving problems that is very valuable, and people are starting to crave and ask for it more and more which is amazing. I think the challenge is being persistent because although we have made a lot of advancements in “breaking the glass ceiling” there are still a lot of obstacles. I don’t necessarily think a man’s career should be the same as a women’s career. There are obviously things that just aren’t the same. So the definition of equality needs to be questioned more in terms of what that exactly means for a woman to have the same benefits and opportunities of success. If we all stick around long enough to answer some of these questions, perhaps we can pave a path that’s yet to be written.
AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?
Michelle: If I was asked this question two years ago I probably would have responded with a piece of work I was genuinely proud of; but honestly, now my biggest achievement in my career is affecting others around me. I take great pride being a mentor for others and emulating the mentors I have had in my career. It’s important to appreciate the talent around you and nurture them to your best abilities because someday they will hopefully do the same for others in the industry.
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?
Michelle: A balance in my mind isn’t necessarily 50/50. Its more so whatever keeps you motivated and inspired at work. It’s different for everyone and we all need to respect those differences. For me personally, it’s working out in the morning because you never know how the day will unravel. I’m a morning person, so a good run or yoga session helps me work throughout the day. If all else fails, a bit of nature helps me through the chaos.
AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
Michelle: Ever since I could walk I was pretty sure I wanted to be a dancer. I would take dances classes of all types–ballet, contemporary, street, ballroom–pretty much anything that kept me moving to a beat. I took a year off after high school to pursue this passion and it continued throughout most of college, booking gigs here and there. I think what I’ve taken from that is I’m inherently shy and have a fear of being in the spotlight, but once I’m there I feel an energy and I excel rather than fail. So I need to trust in myself and have the confidence that I have everything under control.
AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
Michelle: I worked with a creative director in the early stages of my transition in to a leadership role, and he played a huge part in the progression of my career. He always gave me opportunities to prove myself. There were times I didn’t always succeed, but the fact that he never gave up on me and persisted despite our massive cultural differences in life made me want to push harder and strive to work above my given position. This made him proud of my accomplishments, which in turn made me proud of myself.
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?
Michelle: Don’t second guess yourself. Say what’s on your mind and say it with confidence. Remember that you have been invited to the room for a reason and your voice is there to be heard.