What Truly Matters: Laura Maness, CEO, Havas New York


Tell us about yourself and your current role.

I am the CEO of Havas New York, the NA flagship agency of Havas Group. My job is to drive a culture of creativity and innovation, and create deeper meaning for some of the most recognized companies in the world including TD Ameritrade, ADP, IBM, Keurig Dr. Pepper, Reckitt Benckiser, conEdison and Rite Aid.

What is the culture like at your agency?

I am a firm believer that a strong agency culture has a profound effect on business results. As a wholehearted leader, my ambition is to enable our people to create the most meaningful work in their careers. That’s why we are on a journey evolving from a creative agency to a creative community, and through a purpose-built culture we’re helping our employees discover new meaning and fulfillment in their careers. For the last two years we’ve deployed an impactful Creative Consciousness program featuring weekly doses of inspiration from renowned meditation and wellness coaching experts, sustainable activations like our weekly organic farmers market, a variety of diversity and inclusion initiatives through employee led resource groups, self-improvement programs where employees are funded and encouraged to embrace their side hustles via company resources as a means to better themselves (both at home and work). Clearly, we are ALL IN on setting the conditions for a creative lifestyle where employees feel valued, inspired, nourished and supported well beyond their day jobs.


How does that culture mesh with the juggling act that is being a working mother?

As the CEO of Havas, one of my primary responsibilities is to attract and nurture talent that embodies our core values of Happy, Hungry, Curious people—exhibiting optimism, collaboration, a hunger to do things first, and questioning things to make them better. As a mom to a happy, hungry, curious five year old, these same core values guide how I parent. Embracing work-life integration, striving for presence over balance, maintaining a strong sense of humor, and allowing myself to be all in wherever I am (be it the board room or the play room), are just a few of the ways I’m demonstrating to other working moms that it is possible to ‘have it all’. It takes hard work, vulnerability, juggling, and a support system, but it starts with an open mindset and a willingness to show up as your whole self.

In what ways has being a mother changed how you approach certain aspects of your job?

Parenting continues to be one of the greatest and most rewarding growth experiences in life, and the learning never stops. Without question, parenting has made me a better leader. From accelerating decisions in the room, to saying more “No’s” (in order to say “Yes” to myself), to being ruthless with my time and creating the space for others to step up and shine—so many of the qualities we admire and respect in leaders and mentors—such as patience, empathy, resilience, conflict resolution, negotiating, self-reflection—are strengthened through parenting.

What would you say are some of the most rewarding aspects of being a working mother?

Keeping in perspective what truly matters in life! Getting out and observing others and seeing the world through my son’s eyes-- his insatiable curiosity. A constant reminder that sometimes the best answer is a thought provoking question. And perhaps most rewarding is that no matter what obstacle I face and overcome at work, there’s nothing more gratifying than helping your child overcome a challenge and receiving a compliment (particularly when it involves a resemblance to Captain Marvel and all of her badassery).

What are the biggest challenges that you’ve dealt with?

The biggest challenges I’ve faced are consistent with what most working moms summarize as Mom Guilt (the overwhelming feeling of guilt that comes with missing out on your child’s milestones or events--you are still loved!); the self-imposed pressure to keep up with other moms who seem to have it all together; feeling judged (usually by your own inner critic); and at times, a complete lack of self-care (as ridiculous as it sounds for someone responsible for caring for tiny humans, neglecting to take regular bio breaks, eat at regular intervals, carve out time for meditation, exercise or physical releases of stress, and giving yourself permission to discover joy in simple daily pleasures and rituals reserved just for you).  

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

Instead of dividing the day into work and life, allow your worlds to intermesh. Set expectations and boundaries by reframing the way you think about scheduling and allow yourself to be all in wherever that is. It could mean leaving the office in the middle of the day for a school activity, but making it a priority to be at a business dinner that evening and forgo your child’s bedtime routine. Be as present as possible at all times wherever you are, and focus on quality over quantity. One simple piece of advice a fellow working mom at the park gave me was to practice consciously holding eye contact with your child (it also works wonders on your significant other). Developing this subtle habit can be transformative in reinforcing your attention and presence in micro moments that matter.  

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Tell us a bit about it.

Becoming the first woman CEO of our North American flagship agency. Though I didn’t set a goal to break the glass ceiling at Havas, it’s no secret that our industry lacks C-level women and women in senior management. I’m incredibly proud we’re breaking the traditions of Mad Men era advertising with women leading all of our major Creative agencies across Havas North America. I’m also proud of the focused equality efforts we have underway, such as Havas’ Femmes Forward that inspires and prepares women in our organization to advance their careers at a faster pace. To date, Femmes Forward has had successful programs piloted in New York and London and scaled to Paris, Asia Pacific and Madrid. We were among the first agencies to take the 3% Movement Pay Equity Pledge, and it’s one of many factors that have contributed to our cultural impact and recent recognition as Most Innovative Culture (Digiday) and Best Places To Work 2019 (Ad Age).

Where do you see the possibility for change for future working parents

I’m extremely passionate about modern parenting--so much so, I’m in the process of developing ‘a SoHo House meets healthy Chuck E. Cheese’ experience that appeals to adults and kids alike. While it isn’t meant to replace the need for more flexibility in the workplace, it does address a very real pain point that most kid-friendly places do not focus on: the parent or caregiver experience. I firmly believe there is an opportunity to deliberately design a grown-up haven blended seamlessly with an entertaining, educational and imaginative play space for kids. A fixture in the neighborhood that allows professional parents an opportunity to work, play and connect more meaningfully in their communities. By acknowledging that the ‘9-5’ schedule is becoming less relevant and less realistic for so many modern parents, it sets the stage for new concepts like Love Bug Café & Play to emerge and satisfy the longing for face-to-face connection and sense of belonging we never outgrow the desire for.

Who are some working mothers that you admire/look up to?

Some of the most obvious and visible working mothers you might expect such as Michelle Obama, Arianna Huffington, Maria Shriver, but also (and even more so) the unsung heroes that I’m surrounded by daily whose superhero capes aren’t visible and who perhaps aren’t as fortunate to have the kind of supportive partner and spouse that makes so much of what I’m able to achieve possible. I admire and respect working mothers of all kinds for their tenacity and relentlessness to overcome the real struggles of growing a happy and healthy family while growing a business and themselves.

What is your favorite Mother’s Day campaign of all time?

#SwearLikeAMother -- embracing vulnerability and imperfection.

P&G’s Summer Olympics  -- told the story not just of athletes but their moms who supported, encouraged, and loved them.

JetBlue “FlyBabies” -- almost every parent can relate to the stress of flying with little ones. It’s annoying for passengers, but worse for parents. By gamifying it, everyone was able to relate in an entertaining and memorable way.