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Don’t be afraid to stand out as the only woman in the room

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Agency boss Yael Geffen offers advice on rising to the top of male-dominated industries

It was never Yael Geffen’s intention to join the family business. In fact, she was a “real creative hippie” – a writer and performer who wanted a career in theatre, arts and film.

After attaining her Master’s degree in marketing, brand strategy and communication she travelled abroad for what was supposed to be a six- month period. 

However, this short-term hiatus became an extended six-year sojourn living and working in New York and Los Angeles. “When I did finally return in 2008, joining the family business, after garnering a wealth of experience in prominent US advertising and entertainment marketing firms, seemed like the logical next step.”

What are some of the challenges that you, as a woman, face constantly or have faced in your career?

Over and above the entrenched gender-based stereotyping that still exists and is a very real struggle, in male-dominated industries there is very often a “boy’s club” which is not very easy to break into.

And women often don’t champion one another as they should but instead see each other as fierce competitors. This is a completely outdated concept as the most successful women in the world champion one another.

How have you overcome these challenges?

I made the same mistake most women do when entering a male- dominated industry or striving for a top position – I assumed I had to be one of the guys and act more like them. When I lived in New York and was the only female in management at the company I worked at, the guys would toss a football around at every meeting but they never thought to pass it to me.

One day I asked them to include me and, although they were shocked, they obliged. I realised then and there although I did want to be accepted by them as a peer, I definitely didn’t want to be one of the guys – because I’m not. Respect tastes better than attention.

What advice do you have for other women getting started in the industry?

Be authentic and don’t be afraid to stand out as the only woman in a room as it can be a distinct advantage in terms of being heard and remembered.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of being your own advocate.
  • Continually expand your network and develop contacts who will champion you in your industry and champion others as well.
  • Trust your instincts. There is much to be gleaned from statistics and data analysis but relying on them too heavily can cause you to miss opportunities.
  • Do not be afraid to be vulnerable. Some of my best allies in business have come about as a direct result of sharing and just being open.

Who are your female role models?

Arianna Huffington, founder and chief executive of Thrive Global and HuffPost founder is inspiring. I really like her value system. She believes, as do I, that working 24/7 to achieve success is a myth.

I think Pink is an awesome role model for our female youth – she is so talented, fiercely individual, is a terrific mom and celebrates being authentic and vulnerable. In politics, women like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden who, with her baby on her lap in parliament, redefines what a powerful woman in politics is.

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