How would you describe the overall culture at your agency?
LWD was built on four main principles: integrity, equality, generosity and excellence. And we’ve stuck to those principles over the past 30 years and went beyond, creating a positive work culture. We want our people to feel happy when they come to the office and supported in their personal lives so that they can consistently grow and achieve in all aspects of their lives. One way we accomplish this is by providing our teams with flexible work schedules that allow them to maintain a proper work-life balance. In the office, we all enjoy the sort of perks that are typically reserved for top executives, such as our on-site massage therapist. Outside of the office, we bring our teams together in meaningful ways, such as picnics, dinners and charity events. We take true vacation time versus “paid time off.” This has led to a culture of collaboration, positive forward-thinking, high employee retention and excellence in the service we provide. Our family-friendly policies have allowed us to leverage the best talent available, regardless of gender or life stage. We take pride in the ability of our people to have a fulfilling personal life as well as a career. We created a family, and their families have become our family.
In your opinion, what do you see as the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the glass ceiling?
Since I started in the industry 20 years ago, there has been a significant increase in the number of women in leadership positions. We are building strength in numbers and becoming more unified as our voices are being heard. This is the biggest change I have seen. The environment has become less competitive and more supportive and encouraging. In my opinion, that is the only way women are going to continue to break through the glass ceiling. We need to continue to advocate for one another and create an environment of mentorship that nurtures, empathizes and admires. LWD has been a leader in this regard as we have always encouraged strong female representation. Our agency is now 54 percent women, two-thirds of which hold leadership positions within the agency.
Do you think that women still face challenges in our industry, and if so, what are they?
Despite our great advances, women still face the challenge of the proverbial “boys’ club.” It’s not as prevalent as it once was, but it definitely still exists – especially when it comes to social activities. Because women get less social “face time,” they are held to a higher standard at the office. As a result, we often need to work harder and take on more responsibilities to get the same recognition as men. The proof is in the numbers. Although the number of women in the workforce continues to grow, women still get promoted to managerial positions less often than men and only hold about 20 percent of C-suite positions in the U.S. While there are several organizations attempting to address these gender-equity issues, they need to be at the top of every company’s agenda.
How should we tackle an issue such as equal opportunity?
The best place to focus is identifying and preventing unconscious bias. This comes from the top. The power brokers in a company must recognize what they are doing before they can do anything about it. In other words, education and communication are the solutions.
Companies should put clear equality policies in place and then follow up routinely to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly. Clear criteria should be set for recruitment, salaries, and merit-based promotions so that these decisions are minimally impacted by intentional and unintentional prejudices.
How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry, and what professional achievement are you most proud of?
LWD was my first job out of college. It was supposed to be a one-year “starter job” to gain some experience while I studied for my GMAT and tried to get into an MBA program. Twenty years later, I’m still here. I was employee No. 6, and I was hired to be the founder’s executive assistant. Today we have 95 employees, and I am the president of the agency. These days, it’s so uncommon for people to stay at one company for decades, let alone rise from the very bottom of a company to the top – but that is my story.
All of my professional achievements are tied to LWD’s growth and success, so it is of the agency I helped build that I am most proud. I think back to every pitch we won, all of the businesses and famous brands we helped launch, the joys and successes of our employees, and my own personal growth as an executive and leader. There aren’t many moments I would change. We set out to build a wonderful, family-first agency that delivers consistent excellence to our clients – and we did it! Along the way, I’ve been fortunate enough to build some lifelong friendships with my co-workers, clients and vendors.
Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why?
It will sound like a bit of a cliché, but my parents are the people who inspire me most. Immigrating from Pakistan, they both arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s alone and with only a single suitcase. They struggled to build their lives here, but overcame and did so successfully, helping their families along the way. When they recount their stories, I am inspired by the sacrifices they made. Being a minority woman today has its share of challenges, but nothing compares to what my parents faced. I am able to be the person I am today because of them, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Dick Wechsler, the founder of LWD, and my mentor and friend, has been another source of constant inspiration. Since my first day, as his executive assistant, he has always treated me as an equal. He never focused on the color of my skin or my gender. He only saw the talents and contributions that I brought to the table, allowing me to evolve and thrive while continuously pushing me to take the lead. When LWD celebrates its 30th anniversary on March 17, I will be most grateful to Dick for taking a chance and hiring a 23-year-old kid right out of college, for inspiring me to always be my best, and for trusting me with his agency.