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21 Powerful Lessons from Female Leaders at Ph. Creative


Lois Payne Lois Payne



Employer Branding

4 black women icons and one pink women icon

Two words: girl power. 

At the time of writing, Ph. Creative has a 50/50 representation of men and women in its senior leadership team and we think that's worth celebrating. 

In honour of International Women's Day, we asked seven of our brilliant female leaders, "What are the top things you have learned that you wished you’d known from the beginning?"

Here is what they said. 

Jeanette Kehoe-Perkinson, Global Chief People Officerjeanette kehone-perkinson headshot

1. You should only stay in jobs that you love...

...with people you respect, where you are learning and developing. There is a world of opportunity out there, so don’t ever stay in a toxic environment. YOU have the choice, even if you think you don’t. As Helen Keller said: “Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”

2. Everything works out

Everything happens for a reason. Often you won’t know why the hard parts happen, but they definitely do make you stronger, so hang in there, stay positive and never, ever give up!

3. Life gets better and better as you go on...

...with exciting new adventures all around you, if you stay open to possibility. Cultivate your networks, say Yes to meeting new people – and always stay open to learning from others.

Aviva Hargreaves, Head of People and Culture

aviva hargreaves headshot

4. Don't take things too personally

It's a lesson that I'm still having to remind myself of to be honest! Working in the world of People means that we often deal with sensitive situations. There are accusations thrown at us which are invariably as a consequence of how someone is feeling at any given moment. You need broad shoulders to work in People & Culture.

5. You can't control everything

Understanding this has been key to my development. Once I accepted that I can't do everything, nor control it all, I started to approach my work in a different way. I talk about this (and point number one) with my team to hopefully help them with this, especially working in a fast-paced environment. We use the phrase 'we go again' - recognising that there's always tomorrow.

6. Impostor syndrome

The struggle is real! I wish I'd been told that this was a 'thing' earlier in my career... but now I recognise it for what it is and try to manage it whenever starting a new role.

Melanie Murphy, Chief Marketing Officermelanie murphy headshot

7. Everything is a Teachable Moment 

Sometimes the worst experiences, whilst unpleasant, are just as valuable, but you have to take the time to reflect. Early in my career I worked for a man who could only be described as a bully. He was mean, manipulative, and misogynistic. I didn’t stay long as a result, but I did learn everything about what kind of leader I did not want to be. And when I had a great manager, it was all the more recognisable.

8. It’s OK not to know the answer

Being in a leadership position comes with expectations. Expectations that you know what you are doing and that you will have the answers. But no-one has the answers all of the time and often two heads are better than one. It took me a while to get comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know – but let’s find out together.’ Life is a continual learning curve – so embrace it.

9. Being great at what you do is enough

Ginger Rogers is often mis-quoted as saying; 'Sure he [Fred Astaire] was great, but don’t forget I did everything he did… backwards and in high heels.’ I loved that quote and every time I achieved something under more challenging or difficult circumstances than a male counterpart, I’d think of it.  But that’s not equality. Working hard, achieving impressive results is enough. We don’t have to do it backwards or in heels to prove our worth. 

Julia Rodino Higgins, Regional Director, Client Services

julia rodino higgins headshot

10. Be your authentic self

I learned far too late that having the courage to just be oneself in the most authentic way possible, with all one’s associated strengths and weaknesses, brings with it a confidence and peace of mind in whatever job or role one takes on, and success inevitably follows.

I remember being astonished and impressed when, once in a workshop full of clients and peers, one of my role models (a highly respected agency leader to this day) was asked if he had anything to add (after an hour of people talking and sharing lots of views). He stood up and said “No”. I loved that moment. So many people would have just waffled on about something or other to make themselves look good. He genuinely didn’t have any more to add and had the courage and confidence to say so.

11. Always be open to new opportunities and experiences

Sometimes the more interesting roles are not the ones you expect. I made the mistake once of turning down the chance to work on an account in a sector that sounded dreadfully dull, only to find that the person who did take the role had the most incredible time, working with brilliant people, travelling to exotic destinations and learning so much about an industry that they previously knew nothing about. I vowed never to make that mistake again.

12. Don’t listen to the naysayers

It’s not news that as a woman in business, it can be challenging to balance children and work. I was someone who wanted to be there for my children but also have a serious career in advertising. You hear people say it needs to be one or the other and that creates lots of angst. I wasted lots of time agonising over the sacrifices I would have to make in choosing one route or the other. As things turned out, I was able to take seven years out of work to raise my children, and then also go back to a top creative agency in a senior role and continue my career. It is possible.

Sam Fawson, Head of Creative Operationssam fawson headshot
14. Communicate

I try to communicate with my team regularly and openly, discussing the challenges we are facing to apply context to my asks. I made the mistake for a long time thinking I had to have all the answers and in a fast-growing business that’s impossible.

15. Own mistakes

You’re not a robot! You make mistakes and you learn. I tell all my team that it is OK to drop a ball, to make a mistake. In a delivery role, things move fast, so it's the best way to learn as you won't make the same mistake twice.

Julie Randall, Head of Strategyjulie randall headshot

16. You don’t have to be the loudest in the room to be heard

When I started 25 years ago, female strategists were not really a thing. In fact, they were non-existent. I would always be the lone female in the room, observing and looking for chances to get my opinion across. I thought I had to follow the load shouty culture to get heard. I have learned that’s not true or effective. Knowing when to listen and to speak up being clear, concise and impactful has served me well in my career.

17. Be yourself

Don’t hide any part of yourself. I'm so glad the modern workplace has caught up with DEI. Starting out as a young lass from Liverpool, Northern England, in London, I felt I had to hide some of myself and my roots as then advertising was very male and upper class. Once I found my voice and my own strength and realised I was as good as anybody, I embraced my whole self and it gave me a talking point and a difference of which I am proud. Never underestimate yourself.

18. You don’t have to be so serious all the time

My best and most impactful mentor was a woman, Elle Woolston who set up BHWG, my second marketing agency I worked in. She taught me to have fun with my work, enjoy it and enjoy life, make sure I had a good work-life balance – that was 20 years ago. She embraced life and made work enjoyable even though we worked hard. Unfortunately, she passed away two weeks ago and her presence is still strong in my life and career, so thank you, Elle.

Melanie Silverman, Account Directorie silverman headshot

19. Leave your fear at the door

Throw yourself into situations that make you uncomfortable and repeat them until you’re super confident. It will happen!

20. Be prepared to fail

It feels rubbish at the time, but you’ll never make the same mistake twice and will be more resilient as a result.

21. Not everyone will like you – and that’s OK

This is a biggie for me. It’s impossible to gel with everyone you meet, but when you find your crowd, nurture each other, celebrate each other’s successes and learn from each other. Your crew will motivate you to unashamedly be your best self.


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