Swimming in a Poisoned Fish Tank

June 14, 2018

Jaime Klein Daley

As EVP of Strategy & Insights at POSSIBLE NY, Jaime brings her unique experience and perspective to branding challenges in the digital landscape. One of the first generation of New York born-and-bred account planners, Jaime has spent twenty years in the business of building passionate arguments at agencies, design firms, and top-tier innovation shops.


I am 43 years old. An industry vet of 23 years (started before I was carded). A mom of two, a boss of seven, and now, a crier.


Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve cried in every bathroom stall at every one of the many, many agencies at which I’ve worked. I’ve cried after an argument. I’ve cried out of frustration, out of unfairness, and sometimes out of anger. On the two occasions in which I was fired, I cried out of relief.


But this time, at the TIME’S UP/ADVERTISING event in New York, it was catharsis.

Time's Up Advertising New York

Remembering myself as the brainy, anxious girl with great ideas that just weren’t enough and being encouraged to fit in a little more;

Soon becoming a difficult, vocal young woman coming of age in agency cultures that were equally unsuitable and completely normal;

For having the wrong temperament for my jobs, for being too emotional, and too passionate to succeed;

For the inability to navigate a system that didn’t really want me, but rewarded those who played along;

For knowing that tougher women than me, in tougher circumstances, had passed their own tests with flying colors, while I struggled, despite every privilege I’d been afforded;

For being yelled at by male bosses, and for letting myself be treated like a petulant child;

And worse, for all the times I was not yelled at, touched inappropriately, or otherwise demeaned in any way, but still not getting where I wanted to be, and still not being happy.

Swimming in a poisoned fish tank. Playing the frog in a boiling pot of water. Choose your metaphor. The trouble is that I didn’t know I was affected.

That’s why I cried. I cried out of grief for lost chances, for living 20 years on the verge of opting out. And last month, I relinquished that self-pity and prepared for action. 

Starting now, I’m bringing my whole self to every conversation I have with my coworkers. Today, I’m the most senior female leader in my agency. But I’m not going to forget the experiences I have gone through or the things I’ve learned along the way. It’s my responsibility to be honest about the bad stuff in the past in order to help pave the way for good things in the future. 

It’s not just about diversity of representation or gender equality. It’s not just because I want a fairer world for my children. It’s because we all deserve to see all different types of leaders. 

Great leaders may be ambitious (FKA bossy). They might be introverted (FKA recessive). They could be empathetic (FKA nurturing) or collaborative (FKA supportive). Both men and women should be free to display the traits that are natural to them, without gendered value judgments and without having to conform to a singular mold of leadership.

I’m powerful. I’m someone to whom people will listen. I’m a responsible party. An accountable executive. I don’t have a grand plan. But I will only work at places that support the kind of environment in which I want to work. A place that’s fair and equitable, inclusive and diverse. A place that believes a respect for culture doesn’t mean being soft. And a place for brilliant people to feel safe so they can be even better.

The work of equity is never done. But I’ve also never heard so many people talking about “bringing their best selves to their jobs” as well. 

It’s the start of something really powerful. True diversity of peopledom—what you look like, where you come from, how you behave, and how you like to lead. Have been having conversations about bringing “my kind’ of leadership to the forefront, being all me, and someone people want to see themselves as when they become leaders themselves. This is how the industry is changing.  

Yeah, I’m a woman; yeah, I’m a mom. But what’s cool is that I’ll see others like me soon. And also the dads, also the outspoken and the introverts, the emphatic and the thoughtful. Today, I have found my place. I hope there will be more places for the emotional, the vulnerable, the brilliant “misfits” of our industry, who are done comparing notes and have started building an environment that other industries envy.