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"Women need to stand-up to be counted"


On International Women’s Day 2021, we continue our interview series with female marketing leaders to find out how Leeya Hendricks, CMO of Delta Capita, has made her way to the top. She is joined by EMR’s Managing Director, Anna Jacobs. As two women in leadership positions dominated by men, we discuss what everyone can do to improve equality in business and make work cultures more balanced for all.

Leeya‘s experience spans digital agencies, technology, management consulting and financial services. A self-confessed 'change agent' she thrives in fast-paced digital and technical markets. "Stay curious" is her mantra. She was Highly Commended in the Customer Experience category at the 2020 Women in Marketing Awards for placing human-centricity at the heart of her work.

Anna has climbed the recruitment career ladder for a decade, joining EMR as a Director in January 2019. As mum to two young children, Anna worked 4 days a week before being promoted to Managing Director in August 2020. Anna was on the judging panel of the 2020 Women in Marketing Awards.

Leeya, you’ve had a vast and varied career. Explain to us how you got to where you are today and what motivated you along the way. 

My goal was to become a CMO early on in my career, so when I first started working I set out to gain experience in core areas of marketing and mapped out my journey, from the start  to where I am today, seizing opportunities as I progressed. Something, my father taught me, to have diverse experiences and learn from them. I wanted to combine the process of creative thought and business, so I completed degrees in fine arts and then brand marketing management. I planned to start working in the creative agency industry before moving to corporate marketing , so I completed my thesis on the Nissan brand because it was a key account at TBWA advertising agency, and then started there as an account executive. I worked in digital in various agencies, and even took the leap nine months into my first job to move to the UK to work on a leading account at the time and gain international experience. I planned which accounts I could work on to gain vertical experience and make the transition from agency to client-side, and then did so to First National Bank and thereafter to BCX, an IT company.

I love travelling and wanted to gain global experience and I knew I wanted a role that enabled me to do so, so I joined a multinational  business, IBM, as Marketing Manager, and  later moved to the UK with Oracle, in my role as Marketing Director. I have always been very business focused in my roles, and I completed my MBA in the UK. I’m currently completing a PhD in management sciences. I thrive when pushing my own boundaries and expanding my knowledge. I've focused on being adaptable and responsive to change, which has made me a robust marketer and leader.

You’re obviously extremely driven. What gave you the idea to reverse engineer your career?

I’m originally from Johannesburg in South Africa and during apartheid, opportunities were limited for people of colour from disadvantaged communities. That is key to my motivation. Post-apartheid a higher-academic programme was introduced where top students were selected to participate and go to a private German school, which was fantastic. I was given this opportunity at a challenging socio-economic time. I attended the German school for two hours after normal schooling hours for a year-long programme before transitioning fulltime as a student at the DSJ, so I had to be focused. I wanted to use the experience to be successful, so I mapped out my plan when I finished school. 
I knew what my strengths were and I played to them. I am creative and enjoyed art and I loved business and being entrepreneurial. I was very lucky that I had supportive parents who were open-minded enough to let me follow my passion, which was not a traditional path. 

What’s next now that you’ve achieved your ambition?

I'm happy to be able to say that I achieved what I set out to do and enjoying my current role. I can now enhance and further build on my expertise in both financial services and technology at Delta Capita and I can work across various verticals with Prytek. I've tried to achieve being an M-shaped marketer, and allow myself to be an expert in several areas and lead a business function end to end. 

Leeya was Highly Commended in the Women in Marketing Awards 2020 Customer Experience category. It recognised women who are inspiring, encouraging and effecting change in their businesses to become human-centric. Tell us about how you go about placing human-centricity at the heart of your marketing strategies.

Human-centric marketing is a personalised approach, so you must put human traits and empathy at the heart of your strategy. In trying to understand your audience, whether it's your employees or customers, it's important to put them at the centre of your thinking. Ideally, you want to walk in their shoes and understand their problems in order for you to solve them. So that's the process I apply. It's a person-to-person environment, it's not B2B or B2C; it's P2P - people to people. Behind the business you are still engaging with a person. You want to grow together with your employees, customers and stakeholders and I help businesses to find their human connection. 

How have you felt the need to navigate your career as a woman in male-dominated industries? And what advice can you give other women with similar goals?

I have always been involved in mentoring programmes. I had a mentor early on in my career and it opened my eyes to the impact mentoring can have on your career. I have mentored women in all my roles and I believe in helping fellow women and sharing knowledge and learnings that can enable them in their growth.

Are there common areas of advice you give your female mentees?

In male dominated industries like Technology and Financial Services, it's really common that women don't speak up. My mother taught me to speak up and stand up for myself at a young age. So, I provide that guidance for my mentees. I have always spoken up, it's second nature. I'm direct, but professional. I have never felt-insecure about sticking up for myself. 

I also share my stories of gender inequality to my mentees for them to resonate with. On a previous executive committee I was the only female and I called out discriminatory behaviour when an executive spoke on my behalf. He thought he was supporting me, but I pointed out that he was taking away the platform for me to hold my own. It's important to manage upwards and call things out when needed. I have experienced this a few times, and every time I've spoken out, the individual has said they didn't realise they were doing it [making a mistake]. Unconscious bias is such an issue. Often it was because I was a 'young female leader'. For some reason male leaders tended to feel like they need to reach out and support me.  However, we don’t need that. Women are very capable of holding their own and walking their own path.

Have you any advice for women who find confidence in those times an issue?

There is an understated idea of what success looks like for a male leader versus a female leader. As a result, we end up masculinising our feminine traits. We are held to higher standards than our male colleagues. My advice is - be yourself. All you can do is make yourself comfortable and confident in your environment. In many of the environments I worked in emotion was seen as a weakness, so I used to take emotion out of work scenarios. But now we see during the Covid pandemic that empathetic leadership is needed. I have  had to try and unlearn and relearn over time. Ideally, we shouldn’t see vulnerability as a weakness. 

Have you had to adapt your leadership style, especially since Covid?

I've adapted gradually over the last few years. I had a leader say to me once  that I needed a tough skin to get on. Does that mean you should just take the feedback you receive? Are you allowed to have a conversation about it? Lingering on a point is seen as emotional. I have always been a caring and empathetic leader, but I did learn to lead through taking the emotion aspect out of it. I have adapted to learning more about my team and being personal in conversations. During the pandemic, we have had to structure those conversations in work time, virtually, whereas before it used to happen outside of the office, like going for drinks after work. Now, you're bringing your full self to work and there are more connection points than before. We have learned to spend more time connecting with people and as its virtual I have encouraged time with my team for a walk and talk session to have that connection time. 

Anna, have you adapted your leadership style to the environments around you?

It is interesting that ‘softer’ skills are seen as female – empathic, caring, listening, vulnerability. They were always important to me and I actively decided not to work in environments where those skills weren't valued. I didn't want to work for businesses where those personal and people skills weren't encouraged. I've never thought I was particularly 'emotional', but it is interesting that it can be seen like that. I just don’t see things in black and white; I take time to think and garner opinions.

Our Latest Pay Report shows that more women stick at ‘Head of’ level than make it to CMO compared to men. Leeya, Do you think anything can be done about the imbalance at the top?

I’m positive that we can. There is a lot of unconscious bias in business, so we have to be confident and stand up for ourselves. We can achieve balance - but it's not a one-off action. It must be consistent. It needs to be in everything we do and ingrained in our culture. We need to ask women leaders what they want - then plan companies and culture around that.

Anna, how did you get to where you are? Do you think women have to work harder to achieve their goals?

I was raised to believe I could do what I set my mind to. I planned my career, but I did wonder whether I could ‘have it all’ when I was thinking about having children. I also have other caring responsibilities, and there are only so many hours in the day. But it has made me more driven. You have to make sacrifices and get help where needed. I admit I can't do everything in my work and personal life. That has made me re-think my time and has pushed me to seek more of a balance.

And Employers need to offer support - flexibility is important because everyone's situation is different. What people need to achieve and succeed varies. Everyone faces challenges. There needs to be more acceptance of that whether you are male or female. The unconscious bias is that women, particularly, face these challenges. 


You can read more about the gender divide in the marketing industry and our interview series here.

Our 2021 Pay Report will be out soon.

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