“Empowerment,” “empathy,” and “vision” were some of the core themes at the second Female Founders Day, held in partnership with Greenspring Associates and part of GroupM’s ongoing Innovation Series.
Leaders at a dozen companies focused on retail, commerce, finance, and marketing spent a recent morning at GroupM offices overlooking Manhattan’s financial district, telling personal and professional tales of challenge and success, of becoming leaders and bringing diversity to the workplace.
In the day’s first keynote, WPP Chief Client Officer Lindsay Pattison told of soaking up knowledge and skills while building personal networks at companies like Young & Rubicam, IBM, and Wunderman, and of advocating for cultures that bring “the two Es,” — “empathy” and “empowerment” — to the office.
She encouraged the room of some 200 women and dozens of men to build networks of “allies” who encourage each other across disciplines. She recommended programs like “Mind the Gap,” “Walk the Talk,” “X Factor,” and “Fast Forward,” which help women rise in the workforce through coaching and education, and by incorporating structural changes in company systems.
“Mark Read, our new Global CEO, is more committed than ever to global equality,” she said, supporting forward-thinking strategies, building an executive committee that’s growing in female representation, and naming women to leadership.
Natalie Massenet, the much-heralded founder of NET-A-PORTER who is now Co-Managing Partner of Imaginary Ventures, held a keynote chat with John Avirett, General Partner, Greenspring. She spoke of balancing a team, encouraging traits thought of as typically “feminine” — empathy, intuition, and creativity — along with the “masculine” traits of systematic thinking, developing KPIs, and demanding ROI.
She was quick to say that both men and women can exhibit the full range of these attributes, and praised her partner in Imaginary Ventures, Nick Brown, for exhibiting many sides.
“I’m a really big believer in yin-yang, front office-back office,” she said.
When building a team and coaching founders in her venture firm, Massenet said, “I look at who they are, at the individuals in the business.” Doing so, without prejudice, she has wound up with leadership balanced between men and women, while supporting more female- than male-led startups.
Knotch CEO and co-founder Anda Gansca echoed the sentiments, calling on leaders to build “empathy bridges” that foster diversity of all types and help introduce wide-ranging perspectives to companies, strengthening them in the process.
As a woman and an immigrant from Romania, she found herself confronting potential investors in her digital content tracking and measurement platform who were more accustomed to the “hoodie” and “bench-pressing coder” tech cultures of Silicon Valley and New York, she said.
"It's really about embracing things that are different about yourself and sharing why those things have made you a stronger entrepreneur and leader”
- Anda Gansca, CEO & Co-Founder, Knotch
Companies represented in the room were backed by such leading venture firms as Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Greycroft, and RRE Ventures, as well as Greenspring.
Making ‘Difference’ Positive
If Gansca had “come into the ecosystem” as an insider, she said, she may not have had the epiphany to create something new: technology that tracks content across the traditional divide of paid and owned channels.
“Being a woman and an outsider to the industry helped me build our go-to-market strategy in a very different way,” she said.
She encouraged attendees to even allow for discomfort when cultivating diverse teams and contacts.
"When someone is different from the traditional successful entrepreneur or executive type, they don't fit past patterns of success,” she said. “That creates hesitation and maybe discomfort among those who have to make an investment or hiring decision.”
“That feeling should be embraced and should be a positive rather than a negative," she added.
Haylee Adkins, VP Strategy Special Initiatives at ad-tech firm DrawBridge, leaned into her rare status as a woman in tech sales, adding “smiley heart eyes” to communications to make herself memorable in a crowded landscape, she said in an interview.
“Meeting with a lot of ad-tech companies, media companies, and investors, you find that not nearly enough of them are led or founded by women. Some don't have a single woman on the leadership team,”
- Hana Farahat, Partner Global Corporate Development, GroupM.
Building Lasting Value
Throughout the morning, energized attendees exchanged contacts, talked of creating personal visions and career goals, and of rejecting “self-limiting beliefs,” a key tenet of “Mind the Gap.”
Farahat, who led the team responsible for hosting the event, succinctly summed up the day’s mission:
“I am especially excited about Female Founders Day because it's not just a business initiative,” she said. “I hope we all agree that diversity is important for many reasons: fostering innovation, retaining the best talent, improving employee performance, and generating long term value for investors.”
“Gender diversity is a very important component of that,” she added. “It is not just about women. It’s about talent and innovation.”