The 2018 Leadership Track: Key Takeaways

January 17, 2019

Shari Neal Williams

Shari (Shaw-ree, not Share-ee) Neal Williams is an advertising and marketing professional. She's also a mom to a 4-year-old and two bonus teenagers. And her friends think she's hilarious on Facebook.

Besides procreating, she's dabbled in art direction, has consistently done graphic design on the side, was a web developer for 7 years, was a mommy blogger for the YMCA, ran an e-commerce businesses, Bon Bon Vie and all of that somehow led her to a career in social media.

When I found out I was covering the Leadership Track, I knew I’d be in for a day of thought-provoking conversation. I was not disappointed. Learning about leadership at the 3% Conference is unlike any conference I have attended. 

Shout out to Interpublic Group (IPG) for sponsoring this enlightening day of conversations and unique perspective. My eyes were opened to the fact that leadership takes on many forms and it's often cultivated both inside and outside of the workplace. 

How Was Your Weekend?

Speakers: Heide Gardner, SVP, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, IPG & Nicole Sanchez, CEO/Founder, Vaya Consulting

The unfortunate reality of our American workplaces is that people of color face challenges that many of our coworkers and leadership frankly have little to no experience with. I have viscerally felt the internal dread of being asked, “How was your weekend?” Have you?

To kick off the Leadership Track’s first event, screens in the room were illuminated with a video of a tweet thread Nicole Sanchez, CEO/Founder of Vaya Consulting (@nmsanchez) shared on Twitter back in June. These tweets laid the foundation for (and gave the name to) this talk between Nicole and Heide Gardner, SVP/Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at IPG.

After the video played, Heide commended Nicole’s epic tweet thread for not just calling out the problem, but finding solutions. Nicole noted that she has worked in diversity and inclusion for the last 25 years, but the last few years have been the hardest. She wants leaders everywhere to know that doing nothing is no longer an option. I wanted to give her a standing ovation right then and there; no truer words have ever been spoken.

To drive home just the kind of PTSD people of color are bringing to their workplaces, they shared the statistic that 85% of black professionals are afraid they or their loved ones are in danger. EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT. Heide shared her own awful, traumatic experience of getting a phone call from her son as he was being threatened by a police officer and the condescending questions she received afterwards from non-POC: 

“How did your son turn this into a positive?”

“What was your son doing?”

“Is he scary black man looking?”

When your teams are traumatized daily, that affects more than just people of color. Heide pointed out, “Race is a burden for everyone.” Not addressing the concerns of your employees of color leads to low morale, turnover and can negatively affect the business as a whole. Nicole added that it is imperative for business leaders to understand what people are bringing to work with them. 

“You have a lot of power in this situation. We need your help,” Heide said, referring to the 40% of white women in industry leadership.

Nicole added, “White women, come back next year. Bring your friends. Get this on the mainstage!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Overcoming the Mike Pence Effect

Moderator: Karuna Rawal, President, Group Client Lead, Leo Burnett/Publicis Group
Speakers: Wade Davis, Corporate Inclusion Consultant, Feminist, Former NFL Player - Jon Cook, Global CEO, VMLY&R - Joe Oh, President & CEO, FCB West


Vice President Mike Pence mentioned in a 2002 interview that he does not eat alone with women or go to events where alcoholic beverages will be without his wife being present *insert eye roll here*. In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, this fear will undoubtedly hurt creativity and collaboration in the workplace.

However, the men on the panel don’t have those same fears. They openly and honestly shared their blind-spots, growth, and how they foster open communication and teamwork with women in these unprecedented times.

Moderator Karuna Rawal, President/Group Client Lead at Leo Burnett/Publicis Group, opened with a stat from the Lean In Women in the Workplace study. Apparently, nearly half of male managers are reluctant to be alone with women. This is a problem. Especially since only 1 in 5 women are in leadership roles and an abysmal 1 in 25 are women of color.

Joe Oh, President & CEO of FCB West, pointed out that going from 3% to 29% has been an accomplishment, but we’re not where we need to be. He noted that difficult conversations are at the root of making things a bit more equitable.

Karuna asked the group of manbassadors what they felt the role of mentoring was in all of this. Joe said he has a woman mentor and what he learned from the experience has been revelatory. Wade Davis, Corporate Inclusion Consultant & former NFL player, eloquently stated that we’re asking women to do all of the work, but haven’t required the same of men. “We’re burdening the individuals with the problem,” he said, calling instead for reverse mentoring to happen to enthusiastic applause.

Wade came off as an empowered feminist in the panel. But he wanted the audience to know getting to this place took growth. He recalled the time he called a woman sweetie to de-escalate a conflict. Surprise, didn’t go well. There was also the time his boss gave him the bell hooks book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center to read that he was thoroughly unimpressed by until his third reading when he realized he was reading about men like himself. Burn. While uncomfortable for Wade, he admitted he was better for it and added, “we have to go from calling men out to calling them in.” 

Karuna ended with this question: “How do you advocate for actual policy change as manbassadors?” Their answers were actionable and insightful.

Wade said we must educate leaders about the barriers women are facing. A policy could be that one woman in the final five of an interview process needs to be considered. Jon Cook, Global CEO of VMLY&R said leaders must be transparent about why a policy has been changed and the reasons it needed to be changed. Joe does what he feels is the right thing to do for his employees and gauges issues on a topic by topic basis. 

It was a refreshing perspective to hear from this group of men who recognize that to do the best work, women need to have a seat at a table where open collaboration is key.

Lunch + Learn | Power in Action: How Holding Companies are Upholding Change

Moderator: Amber Guild, President, T Brand, The New York Times
Speaker: Michael I. Roth, Chairman & CEO, IPG



Amber Guild, President of T Brand chatted with IPG Chairman & CEO Michael Roth and gave an enlightening glimpse into the change that can be created from all the way at the top of the advertising food chain. Holding companies have the power to create culture change and enforce accountability if they truly want to.

Michael said that he likes to believe IPG is a holding company that has a heart. I found that to be true from the positive change he has made for his agencies. IPG has 25% representation by people of color in its agencies. While this is admirable and higher than the advertising average, it’s lower than other industries, so that inspires him to push further. 

He shared that he has tied diversity goals to compensation. He also is firm that a company has to have standards and the organization as a whole needs to be aware that there will be no exceptions to uphold integrity. Zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior of all kinds, he feels, is the only way to go.

Another meaty topic they touched on was tokenism vs. assimilation. He made it clear that checking boxes is not enough to achieve true diversity. If tokenism is the goal, your retention numbers will not tell a positive story. He feels taking a look at how people of color are advancing in an organization is important. Advancement is an indicator that actual assimilation is taking place. A company’s diversity should not just be reflected in the administrative staff such as receptionists and assistants. Diversity should also be visible in creative roles and in leadership, where people of color are often underrepresented. 

Amber highlighted just how important diverse perspectives and experiences are in an agency setting by telling a story from her childhood. When she was growing up in NYC (Uptown to be exact) she saw a Levi’s ad while walking down the street at the age of 13 that said, “I can’t be prejudice [sic], I’m mulatto.” Yes, this ad was actually made. 

Excuse me while I interrupt our regularly scheduled recap with a quick history lesson. Calling someone mulatto is an extremely offensive way of saying they are of mixed race. The term comes from the Spanish/Portuguese word “mulato”, which literally means “mule”. Problematic, much?

Amber knew how ridiculous that ad was, even at a young age. She reminded us all that we are responsible for the images we put out there and having different types of people in decision-making roles can mitigate these kinds of mishaps.

Michael dropped gems on a few more topics. 

On values: 
“You should leave a company that doesn’t share your values. It’s important to feel comfortable where you are.”

On diversity: 
“Diverse organizations outperform non-diverse organizations.”
“Frankly our industry stinks when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”

On accountability: 
“Accountability drives business. CEOs have to be accountable. Accountability should be tied to compensation for real change.”

Michael acknowledged there are challenges ahead and the advertising agency needs to stay ahead of cultural and societal shifts. Even though this work is not easy, he still sees opportunity. I’m not going to lie, his optimism was infectious and needed to push forward with this important work.

PechaKucha: How They Do It

Speakers: Madison Wharton, Global Board Member, Integrated Production, Forsman & Bofendors New York - Stephanie Jones, Account Director, VMLY&R - Shira Albagli, Communications Director, P L + U S

We reached the lightning round portion in our day of leadership learnings. This part of the day was especially inspirational because it showcased the accomplishments of women who were moved to take action by last year’s 3% Conference and did the absolute most with their 365 days.

Madison Wharton of Forsman and Bodenfors attended 3% last year, and was inspired by what Cindy Gallop and Derek Walker had to say which led to a major a-ha moment. 

She wondered why the list of diverse talent was often confidential, often incomplete and she felt she had the power to change it. That realization led her to create the platform Circle, a tool to help those in the production industry find diverse talent that will launch in early 2019. 

Madison dramatically ripped up a paper list, the symbol of the old way of doing things and asked two favors of the audience:

  • Champion and bring together diverse teams.
  • Sign up for Circle at

Next up was Stephanie Jones, Account Director at VMLY&R. She reflected on her life as the daughter of a minister and educator who attended an all black school and church and the culture shock that ensued when she left her comfort zone. Her career began with the internship program, Inroads that landed her at GE, then Luster Products through the Louis Carr Internship Foundation and then an internship at Fox News (yup, that Fox News) via a job fair at her Alma Mater Howard University. This journey left her with two questions to consider. Who am I? And where do I belong?

Her realization—You are free to choose. The mentorship she received through these programs gave her the confidence to navigate her career and thrive. She pays it forward by mentoring the next generation.

Shira Albagli shared her work as Communications Director of P L + U S  which strives to achieve paid family leave for everyone. She had a few very compelling reasons for starting it.

  • The United States is one of the only countries without a paid family leave policy.
  • Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die after childbirth than their white counterparts.
  • Paid leave increases employee retention.

She ended triumphantly with, “We’ve won paid family leave for over 2.5 million people.” That’s real progress.

These ladies major accomplishments left me feeling that I, too, could be a changemaker like they had been a year before. I can’t wait to see what magic everyone makes in the next 365ish days!

Parenting in Adland

Speakers: Laura Jones, Executive Strategy Director, North America, BAV Group - Michele Madansky, Ph.D., Michele Madansky Consulting


I felt this presentation deep in my spirit. As a mom in advertising myself, I understand the very unique struggles that parents face in our industry. Not being able to work many evenings and weekends and being unable to attend happy hours and client meetings can sometimes come across as a lack of commitment. I also need to add that it is one of the most delightfully well-designed PowerPoint/Keynote presentations I have ever seen, complete with staged photos of Lego parents in various scenarios. The verdict? Being a parent in advertising kind of sucks. Here’s why:

  • 49% of women said being a mom hurt their career
  • 80% of moms and 64% of dads have considered leaving advertising
  • Two-thirds of dads took <2 weeks off of work for the birth of their youngest child, only 66% of dads take >3 weeks off
  • 9 out of 10 parents want flexible schedules or the ability to work from home, but only a third have this setup
  • Around 50% of dads don’t know anyone with a flexible working arrangement
  • Moms are more likely to ask for flexible schedules and more likely to be denied

Yup, definitely sucks in advertising for working parents. I found myself nodding repeatedly as they rattled off the data. However, Michele and Laura Jones, Executive Strategy Director, North America of BAV Group gave hope and homework for the audience. They encouraged us to:

  1. Read the whitepaper over at
  2. Read their solutions
  3. Share our solutions

First Person: Ad Dads Speak Their Truth

Speakers: Jason Elm, Executive Creative Director, Freelance - Walter Geer, Co-Founder, Quarry - Paul Venables, Founder/Chairman, Venables Bell & Partners

The mom struggle has been documented for ladies in advertising. But, what about dads? There’s a prevalent stereotype that dads aren’t as affected by long working hours, inflexible schedules, and not seeing their kids before bedtime. 

Spoiler alert: many dads want to be present.

I loved this collection of presentations because it’s one that’s not always heard. I laughed, I ooh-ed, I aah-ed, and my eyes got a little misty. 

Have you ever seen that “this is what success looks like" meme? The one where you think it will be a straight line, but it’s actually a scribbled line that goes up, down, backwards and every which way?


Freelance Executive Creative Director, Jason Elm’s presentation was the real-life version of that. He and his wife, Suzanne met in portfolio school in the late ’90s and they both climbed the career ladder with interesting results. They worked hard and they became parents. They came, they saw, they conquered and became creative directors. They moved from California to Kansas City and back again. When their careers soared, family life sometimes suffered. They took turns being the default parent. 

Jason’s career is still intact but his life these days consists of more time with his kids and family vacations. He urged us to, “Give willingly, give unconditionally. Give generously. When you give, you’ll be surprised at what comes back to you.”

Walter Geer, Co-Founder of Quarry, was up next. His accompanying presentation was visually stunning and went the extra mile with ambient background music. 

39,520 hours. 19 years. That was the amount of time he has spent pouring his life into advertising. A passion, he said, that turned into a gross addiction that came with a cruel joke or two, which included being laid off soon after being featured in Adweek. This left him feeling like the odd man out no matter what he achieved because being is like that as a black man in advertising.

He realized that the time away from his wife and daughter came at a cost. “Because if you died today, your job would be posted online before your obituary.” He reminded the audience that time is a currency you can only spend once.

Walter’s daughter told him she wanted to be just like him and he cried because he knew she would face the same hurdles he did. But he doesn’t want that to stop her from being bold, being brave, being unapologetic.

Then he played a video of his adorable little girl saying she wanted to be a lion when she grew up and the audience collectively swooned.

The session concluded with Paul Venables, Founder of Venables Bell & Partners, father of two and foster parent of nine. As far as I’m concerned, the man is a parenting expert and gave us a bounty of parenting advice for the price of a conference ticket.


Here’s the synopsis:

  • Don’t spend all of your time at work, be home for dinner and bedtime. Get to work early instead of sauntering in at 10, parents need to be efficient with their time.
  • Get down on the floor and play with your kids, it’s really fun.
  • Study Cesar Millan. Yes, The Dog Whisperer. His canine advice also works on toddlers.
  • Find ways to help your kids grow up to be functional adults. Include them in decisions, plan family vacations together and ask questions. Also, have them get a job when they’re able.
  • Don’t stress about what college your kids get into. The average lifespan of their first job is about 18 months. Focus on values, not school.
  • An important lesson he learned from foster parenting—let your kids know love is possible
  • Most importantly, embarrass your kids forever and always. You’ve earned it.

I’m with you Paul, I embarrass my daughter daily.

Turning the Titanic: How to Transform the Workplace for Good

Moderator: Lisen Stromberg, Chief Operating Officer, 3% Conference
Speakers: Erik Sollenberg, Global CEO, CP+B - John Seifert, CEO, Ogilvy - Kristen Cavallo, CEO, The Martin Agency


3% CCO and the day’s hostess with the mostest, Lisen Stromberg moderated the final leadership panel that tackled a topic of great importance. The true test of a leader is not how you lead when things are going well, but how you fare when you face disruption and conflict.

The panel brought important insights to light about why conflict happens in the first place. Kristen Cavallo, CEO of the Martin Agency eloquently stated that harassment isn’t the issue, it’s actually a result of not having a safe space to tell the truth. She also made it clear that true change is not easy and requires accepting that pre-crisis behavior is not an option. Lasting change requires an organization to be change hungry. Every change fuels the next one in line.

Erik Sollenberg, Global CEO of CP+B acknowledged that he makes mistakes all the time, but that’s the nature of the beast. What he can control is how he is viewed as a leader. One of his strategies was to lower the barrier and make himself accessible. CEOs can feel a bit untouchable and inaccessible, so he made it a point to meet junior employees and work his way up. “You can’t expect people to work for you, but with you,” he said.

Kristen also mentioned that mistakes are part of being a leader, especially with the pressure of being the first female CEO in her company’s 53-year history. She said she has done a thousand things wrong, but none were worse than the thing that got her into the job, referring to the former CEO’s sexual harassment scandal.

John Seifert, CEO of Ogilvy talked a bit about refounding his agency, which is close to his heart. He is the 9th CEO and was mentored by the previous eight, including David Ogilvy himself *mic drop*. He hopes to foster change by helping his employees rediscover the founder’s key beliefs and values. He told us Ogilvy has given him everything he treasures and he hopes the next 70 years pay it back for others.

Kurt added that when you are a leader, you have a responsibility to your team and to society. Besides having a responsibility, you also directly affect society. If that’s not pressure, I don’t know what is.

The entire panel agreed that even with the headway they’ve made, they all need to work harder. 

Lisen ended with, “I hope we all have leaders like this.” And that, my friends, summed up my feelings about all of the accomplished, yet humble speakers I had the pleasure of learning from on this panel.


The day of leadership I covered left me feeling like I could create change in my own organization. For real, I actually presented to the leadership of my marketing team at Northwestern Medicine what I had learned. The common thread of the current and future leaders who took the stage was that they were honest and transparent proponents of change who aren't afraid of conflict. The day’s theme? While true leadership and change are not easy, they are without a doubt worthwhile. Also prominent was, if you’re not embracing diversity, you may not be doing this advertising thing correctly. I was positively charged by everything I learned and I am already excited to attend next year’s conference! Let’s make change with the wisdom we’ve gained and lessons we’ve learned. See you next year...oh, and make sure to bring some manbassadors with you!