January 7, 2018

Genie Leslie

Genie Leslie is a copywriter for POSSIBLE Seattle. She’s also an actor and a co-founder of Kairos Theatre Company, which focuses on producing women’s stories. In her free time, she tries to read all the books.

Kerstin Emhoff, Co-Founder & President, Prettybird
Ella Emhoff, Kerstin’s daughter
Margaret Johnson, Chief Creative Officer, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Vivian Gray McHugh, Margaret’s daughter
Chloe Gottlieb, Chief Creative Officer, R/GA U.S.
Leela Ting, Chloe’s daughter
Judy John, CEO & Chief Creative Officer North America, Leo Burnett Canada
Kia Medlock, Judy’s daughter

What does the youngest generation think about women in advertising? 3% Conference attendees found out as we met the daughters of Leo Burnett N.A. CCO Judy John, PRETTYBIRD co-founder Kerstin Emhoff, R/GA U.S. CCO Chloe Gottlieb, and Goodby Silverstein & Partners CCO Margaret Johnson. The session, moderated by Director/Photographer/Author Lauren Greenfield, uncovered these girls’ ideas about the best and worst parts of their mothers’ jobs; their definitions of leadership, success, and fearlessness; and their own aspirations and predictions of what the future holds. #DaughtersOfTheEvolution

First of all, I don’t have notes from the first two minutes of this panel. Lauren Greenfield came out, introduced all the creative women and their daughters, and then showed a short film of interviews with these young women. My co-worker next to me said “OMG I’m going to cry,” I heartily agreed, and I forgot for a moment that I needed to take blogging notes. Sorry, y’all. Once I remembered my job and started furiously scribbling, I was overwhelmed by creative badasses at the height of their careers, and the open—and occasionally sassy—children they are raising.

This was the Daughters of the Evolution panel. Four women were joined onstage by their daughters to discuss family and work life from different perspectives.

By far my favorite panel of the day, this conversation shed light on issues of work/life balance, sexual harassment, and the impossibility of doing it all. All four of the women grapple with choosing between events for their children and events for work, and feeling guilty no matter which they choose.

Kia Medlock pointed out, with a tiny bit of bitterness in her voice, that her mom has missed all of her graduations. (For a moment, I was really uncomfortable with the clear tension between mother and daughter; then I thought, no, nobody’s perfect and they’re having an honest conversation about very difficult relationships, they can bring their tension as much as anything else.) Kersten Emhoff spoke of being a single parent and hosting dinner parties with colleagues at her home so she could be with her children and co-workers at the same time. Chloe Gottlieb noted that often, her fear of skipping out on anything work-related will lead to her not being included the next time

The issue of sexual harassment brought out some heartbreaking stories. John told of a trip to Cannes in which she had to share a hotel room with a male co-worker and spent three days fighting off his sexual advances. Emhoff spoke of meeting a man she admired, whose first words to her were something along the lines of, “Wow, I thought the first time I met you, your legs would be behind your head.” When this happened, she felt “cut off at the knees,” instantly “the smallest person in the room.”

And all of the women, sadly and frustratingly, spoke of sexism in the industry as a given. You navigate around the creeps, Margaret Johnson acknowledged, and the people with the most power are also the sleazes.

The younger generation also chimed in with their own experiences of sexual discrimination and harassment. Vivian Gray McHugh couldn’t play basketball with the boys at recess because there was already a girl playing and, you know, one girl is enough. Leela also spoke of not being able to get into sports with the boys. Kia and Ella spoke of groping and unwanted touching happening at high school parties, where bad behavior is excused because boys are drinking.

Daughters of the Evolution

But this panel was so much more than the negative. When asked if their moms get called bossy, all four daughters said yes. But they pointed out that it’s not always a bad thing; it means she knows what she wants. Four young women expressed the empowerment they feel at seeing their mothers kick ass in high-powered, creative roles.

Kia wants to go into directing. She pointed out that doing an online search of “best film directors of all time” comes up with lists of only men. So how can she feel confident going into that kind of field? “Knowing that my mom is putting out great work” and fighting sexism in her work.

Vivian mentioned that she’s not particularly sad or upset at the amount her mom has to travel because she knows that her mom “is doing what she really really likes.” And Leela has a great model for pay equity in her house: “One of [Gottlieb’s] main ambitions in life is to get paid more than my dad...she wants to be respected as much as everyone else.”

So do their daughters want to go into advertising? Mostly, no. Leela Ting completely won over the audience when she explained why. She wants to do something with more flexibility, where she can be her own boss, making art and “interacting with [her] soul.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Women have to help other women break through the boys’ club. “We all have to lift as we climb,” Margaret Johnson.
  • Being at home all the time or at every event does not define a good mother. Setting an example, empowering your children, teaching them to stand up for themselves—these can be done by all types of mothers with all types of schedules.
  • Seeing your mother achieve is a powerful way for a young woman to learn that she can achieve.