Meet The Advertising Industry Exec Working Toward Gender Equality Behind The Scenes.

If there was a dictionary definition of the term “Powerhouse Woman”, we have no doubt Judith Carr-Rodriguez would be pictured. You may not be familiar with her name, but her work speaks for itself. As an advertising industry executive, she is responsible for content and campaigns that come from an industry that has been shaping our culture, our ideas of ourselves and ideas relating to gender for decades. Mantras such as “sex sells” have been foundational in the way women’s bodies and lives have been objectified and commodified for commercial gain, but there is significant change happening and we can thank powerful women like Judith in leadership positions who are helping to turn the tide.

Judith is a Partner and the newly appointed CEO of the NYC-based brand agency for the information age, FIG. With major clients like Vimeo, CNN, Virgin Atlantic and Bright Health, Judith has spearheaded the strategy, client wins, agency rebrand and other major milestones as a passionate leader known for scaling businesses.

Unfortunately, the advertising industry is still viewed as the “boys club.” In fact, this Ad Age story illustrates a scenario where a C-suite female exec was mistaken for an assistant in a pitch meeting and asked to take notes and fetch coffee… just because she was the only woman in the room. It was also recently reported that only 11 percent of creative directors are women. Judith is conscious of these staggerings stats working against women in their professions, but are incredibly prevalent with the advertising world in particular.

With her new role as CEO, Judith is aiming to flip this stigma on its head. Since March is Women’s History Month, not only do we like to celebrate the trailblazers who have already paved the way, we also want to speak with women who are doing the work now that is going to change the futures of many young girls. Here’s what Judith had to say about her work and how she hopes to have an impact in the advertising industry for the better.

How did you advertising career begin and what did you set out to accomplish in the beginning?

I was really lucky to start my career in London at a time when the industry was changing quickly – the internet was becoming a reality for both business processes (no more sending meeting summaries in the mail!) and for brand building & marketing. I was quick to sense that digital was the future and after a fantastic grounding at a traditional agency, I found a brilliant job at a progressive, independent digital agency. I stayed at that agency (although it changed a lot over the years) until the agency sold to Publicis in 2012 and I wanted to do something new and different. I was also hugely lucky to meet Mark Figliulo in 2013 and we launched FIG a few months later.

As it is a very male-dominated industry (though that is slowly changing), was becoming partner and CEO of an advertising agency a big deal?

It was a huge deal for me personally because it meant such a lot to have the trust of my partners. I was a partner from the beginning but to be made CEO last year was a dream come true.

Tell us about some of the most memorable campaigns you have worked on and why they stand out to you?

I’m most proud of our Facts First campaign for CNN: which is a perfect example of the power of a compelling brand idea, something we call a brand’s One Story. We knew when the first parody appeared by Funny or Die within 4 hours of the campaign going live that we had a hit on our hands. Facts First became part of culture – featured on Colbert, Ellen, Oprah etc etc, it redefined how CNN thought about themselves and gave them their confidence back.

With so much media recognition of the gender imbalance in board rooms, the wage gap and of course sexual harassment holding women back from leadership positions, how do you hope to change this within your industry?

I strongly believe that equal opportunities start with women being given the opportunity to lead – we need to level the playing field right from the beginning. The challenge is that women are naturally less confident than men, so sometimes we are caught in a negative cycle of not believing in ourselves enough to create our own opportunities, and therefore being seen by others as not ready or willing to lead. We have to work hard to break that mindset.

Can you also explain WHY it matters that more women should be in creative and executive decision-making roles in the industry?

Women should be in more positions of authority across every industry, not just advertising. It is important that we live in a more equal and nuanced society with balanced representation from the different genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. That’s why I love the US so much – it really is a country where you are encouraged to follow your dreams and there is an ingrained culture of possibility – my beloved home country of the UK is just not like that – a more negative mindset prevails there. But paradoxically, gender parity is much more common!

Advertising has played an incredibly powerful role in shaping culture and mindsets, and in the past few years we are seeing more emphasis on feminism, and less on the “sex sells” mantra. What do you think the impact of seeing more empowered versions of women and girls on TV and in print will be?

My hope is that it stops being a concerted effort and just becomes the norm. As an aside, I’m incredibly nervous about a brand trying to co-opt a cultural subject for their own benefit because it can become inauthentic and opportunistic really really quickly, and today’s super smart, super engaged and vocal consumers will speak out loudly at anything they see as contrived. Marketing needs to reflect the true values of the brand, not make a quick buck from riding a cultural trend.

As a woman who has forged an impressive and successful career path, what advice would you give to other women looking to do the same, but see barriers such as gender, race, income, education etc in their way? How can they overcome stereotypes?

I would encourage young women to really believe in themselves. Women lead in a different way to men: we are more empathetic, better listeners, we are slower to react and we are more measured at setting goals and encouraging people to achieve their best. Do not try to become a male leader. Nurture your skills within yourself, and recognize where you may be holding yourself back by either comparing yourself unfavorably against your male colleagues, or by being intimidated in certain situations. Society as a whole – and the business world – needs those skills so be clear with yourself the value that you add. Someone once described me as self-assured without being self-centered and it is probably the best compliment I’ve ever received. I’m clear on my value and purpose, and try my best not to be distracted by noise around me.

Since it is almost International Women’s Day, who are some of your female heroes, and what inspired you most about them?

My mum is 100% my hero – she was the main breadwinner in our family and balanced ambition, career and family with an amazing grace.

How can women get over the scarcity mindset and become better allies when climbing the corporate ladder? And why is it important we foster a more collaborative mindset among ourselves?

I don’t know if I agree that there is a scarcity mindset. I think everyone needs to work as hard as they can be better humans, the best possible version of ourselves. If you follow that logic, it’s just obvious that we need a more balanced workforce.

Finally, something we like to ask all our interviewees: what makes you a powerful woman?

The responsibility for others is something that I am very mindful of: as a business owner I am responsible for the long-term success and happiness of the people that work for FIG. I take that really seriously.

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