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Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin

(Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

Motherhood or career? A dynamic duo’s case that women can do both Add to ...

It’s noisy at Drake One Fifty in Toronto’s financial district, and my two lunch companions are worried that our conversation won’t record properly.

Not wanting them to be preoccupied, I tell them not to worry or perhaps to think about leaning closer to the little device sitting between the water glasses. Janet Kestin does not miss a beat.

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“No leaning in at this table.”

It’s a jab, of course, at Sheryl Sandberg’s hotly debated career advice book for women, Lean In. But it’s an affectionate one. The more conversation about women’s progress in the corporate world, the better, according to Ms. Kestin and her creative partner, Nancy Vonk.

The former advertising executives’ new book, Darling You Can’t Do Both, is a book about leadership from “two women who had exactly no ambition to be the leaders of anything,” and about women’s career empowerment from a pair “who had to be pushed through the glass ceiling by others (including men),” they write.

They are hoping it can further that conversation while also being accessible. (Some might say that “accessible” is not the best word for books by women at the upper echelons who are either urging others to lean in, or in Arianna Huffington’s case, to sleep more.)

Rather, the pair, who were chief creative officers at Ogilvy Toronto for 13 years, and the minds behind Dove’s award-winning Campaign for Real Beauty, want to impart small bits of advice that feel achievable for women at any level in their careers.

It’s advice such as being wary of imposter syndrome – that tendency for people to believe they have faked their way to success, which they say just gets in the way. It is something both women have experienced, which sounds silly coming from a pair whom Advertising Age named among the “100 Most Influential Women in Advertising” in 2012.

If it hadn’t been for Ms. Vonk, Ms. Kestin wouldn’t have received that title – she wouldn’t have come back to advertising. When they met in 1989, she had left the industry altogether and was freelancing for the children’s magazine OWL while staying home with her young son, Devin. Three years later, their boss at Ogilvy convinced her to come back.

Working with Ms. Vonk was part of what enticed Ms. Kestin. It was the start of a working relationship that, they say, has meant two heads are as good as 10. They evaluate each other’s work and laugh uproariously at each other’s jokes. Ms. Vonk doesn’t bat an eye at her partner’s decision to wear a headband with two triangle peaks that look like cat ears – a giveaway at a recent Internet Cat Video festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox – out in public.

Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin are out of the advertising game now. Their company, Swim, consults with individuals and businesses to teach them leadership skills.

The mistakes they’ve made professionally are also addressed in the book, such as being reluctant to ask for better pay. The book cites a stat that 57 per cent of young men negotiate their first salary, compared to just 7 per cent of women. It’s from a well-known 2003 study, but bears repeating because of the long-term effect this behaviour can have.

“If I as a woman start at just $2,000 less than my male buddy, it doesn’t seem like that big of a difference. And then over a career – 30 years, 35 years – depending on the profession, you are leaving $350,000 up to even $700,000 on the table,” Ms. Kestin says.

That is as good a reason as any for women to learn to advocate for themselves early on. “I couldn’t imagine having what I would have considered the gall to do that,” she says. “...We don’t serve ourselves well.”

The same goes for the common instinct to say yes when one has already taken on too much; “self-sabotage,” they say, because the work often suffers.

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Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin are out of the advertising game now. Their company, Swim, consults with individuals and businesses to teach them leadership skills. But they still judge ad competitions, and keep an eye on interesting work. Here’s what has caught their attention lately.

New Zealand Transport Agency: “Mistakes”

This ad targets an unusual group for a safety campaign: people who are good drivers, but who tend to go a little too fast.

On a quiet country road, a father pulls out to make a turn, cutting it too close with an oncoming car. The other car is going too fast and does not have time to stop. The action freezes at the moment when the two men realize what’s happening. In shock, they open their doors to meet each other on the road. The father apologizes for his mistake; the other man regretfully tells him that if he were going slower he could change things. The father begs for help, for himself and his son in the back seat. The stricken driver says he’s sorry and they both return to their vehicles to meet their fate.

Ms. Kestin is a little emotional just describing the ad.

“Just when you think you couldn’t find a new idea to talk about speeding,” she says. “It’s a totally new way of thinking about it. It just blew my mind.”

La société de l’assurance automobile du Québec: “Texto 2013”

Another road safety message, this one from the consistently creative Quebec agency lg2, tackled texting and driving. Unlike other campaigns showing graphic crashes, however, the agency decided to communicate a simple idea: get people used to waiting for your response. In conversation, people are shown greeting others’ questions with uncomfortable silence before giving an answer. Awkward in person, sure, but totally acceptable over text message – and necessary when driving.

“They take an angle I’ve never heard before,” Ms. Vonk says. “The simple insight is, ‘Is it going to kill you to wait 10 minutes?’”

Watch the videos: Texto 2013 television campaign

Google+: “Hangouts - same sex marriage”

Both Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin are happy to see a trend toward more emotional storytelling in ads; a welcome break from the constant battle to have the most clever one-liner, they say.

Google did an exemplary job with a video about gay couples in France, where at the time same-sex marriage was not legal. It showed couples using Google’s video-messaging “hangouts” to reach a mayor in Belgium who agreed to officiate their marriages, and had the power to do so where he was.

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