These Powerhouse Female Execs on Breaking Through in the Digital World + Why Diversity Is Good for Business

Diane Sullivan, president, CEO and chairman of Caleres Inc., has attracted some powerhouse female talent to her board of directors, which is now 55 percent women.

At FN’s CEO Summit in Miami today, Sullivan sat down with two of those board members, Wenda Harris Millard, vice chairman at MediaLink, and Carla Hendra, CEO, worldwide, at Ogilvy Consulting, for an engaging discussion about leadership — and why diversity is good for business. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Lessons learned from working in a “Mad Men”-like environment in media:

Wenda Harris Millard: “For all the people who say, ‘Mad Men’? That’s ridiculous. It wasn’t. It was absolutely the truth. I was the first magazine publisher, I believe, to ever be pregnant in an office. When I had to tell my two male bosses, I was very nervous about this. I saw them one day, and the chairman was sitting in our president’s office, and the president was smoking his usual cigar. The chairman was sitting with his legs up on the desk, and I walked in and said, ‘Can I talk to you guys?’ The president took the cigar out of his mouth and said, ‘You just did.’ I [told them my news], and the chairman took his legs off the desk and said, ‘What are you going to do about that?’ When I went into the digital world, the CEO of DoubleClick said to me, ‘Where do you go every night at 6:30?’ I was the only one who was leaving at that time. I had two children; I went home. Those were very different days. I really learned to appreciate different points of view, not only when we talk about diversity from a gender standpoint, race, but really bringing people together who had different skill sets.”

Carla Hendra: “I came into the business and sort of fell into it. I didn’t know enough to be afraid of working really hard and doing what I thought was right. I worked the first 15 years of my career in this business for two male CEOs who were Caucasian, 50-somethings. They gave me a great opportunity to do a lot of things, but they didn’t teach me that much. They sort of threw me in. Somehow early on, it clicked where there was some way I could create value, so they gave me opportunity. Because I was sort of blind to what somebody looked like, it was really: ‘What can you do?’ It just so happened that I recruited a lot of women who were really good at our particular business. In the digital world … a lot of collaboration was required. Women are pretty good at that. We also had to be global. Suddenly, I was looking at people who were from India and the U.K. and China and Malaysia and Brazil. That was just as important to me.”

The need to educate others about the power of diversity:

WHM: “The digital culture is very different, and I would still describe the world as very bro. You look at some of these companies that have had these problems, and Uber is probably the poster child for bad behavior. There’s a lot of that that still goes on. We don’t have as many women in leadership at these companies, we aren’t as racially diverse as we should be. A lot of it is helping people to understand the value of diversity and also understanding that diversity does include much more than the traditional [definition]. There’s a tremendous amount of data that proves that diversity in management or the highest levels of the board has a significant amount of impact. It’s very hard to argue because it’s factual.”

CH: “I’ve seen some things from companies like American Express who are very committed to diversity. They want to know if we’re going to print something, make something, create a visual, we’re using suppliers who are diverse, as well. I think the legacy companies are doing it very well. The startups are different because they have the tendency to do whatever it takes [to succeed], so if it works out that way, great.”

On why diversity is good for business:

WHM: “For me, it really is about the business outcome. Diversity is a very positive business move. It’s not just a nice thing to do; it’s about good business.”

CH: “[At Ogilvy], we had to formalize how we were going to succeed. It was so ingrained, the behavior, unconscious bias, all these things. The first thing is, there have to be metrics, key performance indicators, and they have to be quite specific year over year. We had to put a person in charge of diversity and inclusion who was at the executive leadership table. We had to find some partners across different kind of communities — the Human Rights Commission and many others. And we learned how to recruit, both internal and external.”

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