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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 ...

The “allergic reactions” many women have to networking and self-promotion are also a target. “Women tend to believe it’s a meritocracy and you can sit back and wait for the right thing to happen,” Ms. Vonk said. “...Bosses are paying attention to 50 things at a time. You think they know all about you. No they don’t. They only know what’s really obvious to them, and they may have your story totally wrong. So taking control of that narrative is really important.”

So is finding a mentor – not always an easy task for a young person approaching busy superiors.

Ironically, the discouraging title of the book was inspired by a mentor.

It comes from advice Ms. Vonk received in 1993 from her boss, Mark Hilltout. Then the creative director at Ogilvy, he was leaving for a job in the agency’s New York office and told her she should fill his shoes. But, he advised, she shouldn’t have children.

“Darling, you can’t do both,” he said.

It sounds like a story from another era, and in some ways it is – Mr. Hilltout was smoking a cigarette in the office at the time – but the fact is that motherhood still often deflects women from the leadership track. Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin found it easy to hire women for junior positions at Ogilvy but almost impossible when they were looking for seasoned art directors or copywriters.

Their book is not an account of subjugation by men. (Much of the advice is relevant for men as well, though it is clearly targeted toward women.) The writers talk about the many men who mentored, supported and promoted them through the years. And they also discuss regretfully the senior women who confess that they hesitate to hire women, because they don’t want to deal with the headaches when those women have children.

The pair pull no punches when they discuss what they call a “notoriously sexist” industry. As a junior copywriter asking for a chance to work on a high-profile beer account, Ms. Kestin was informed by a male creative director, “You can no more understand beer than I can understand tampons.”

Ms. Vonk, by the way, was so irritated by her boss’s advice that soon enough she marched into the office proudly bearing what she calls, exaggeratedly, a “revenge pregnancy.” Ms. Kestin says that “the day Nancy had a baby” was one of the best of her life – if they had a Vulcan-mind-meld-type understanding of each other before, it was only heightened. After they were promoted, they helped cover for each other for doctor’s appointments or other obligations, and even a leave of absence when Ms. Vonk wanted to take some time away with her daughter.

It’s an issue that goes beyond the industry: Women often do not receive the support they need after having children to continue their way up the corporate ladder. What’s worse, they often take themselves out of the running for senior positions because they internalize the idea that they can’t be both a mother and a dweller of the corner office.

“The number of women out of school is bigger and bigger and bigger, but nothing is moving at the senior level,” Ms. Vonk says. “Where did the women go?”

They say the very idea that mothers come back to work as employees with lesser value is a flawed proposition.

Having that focus outside of work grants people perspective, the pair argue. Parents often develop greater patience, empathy, and coping skills. Those are traits bred out of necessity when faced with a tiny, screaming, irrational being, all while sleep deprived. But they can also be valuable in a work setting.

“Work eats up most of our waking hours during our lives. So it’s good to be passionate about it,” Ms. Kestin says. “But it doesn’t mean that’s the only thing. It’s good to have things that you love. It only makes you love other things more.”

“That’s one of the key messages in the book: Actually, you can do both,” Ms. Vonk adds. “It calls for challenging your own buy-in to the idea that it can’t be done.”


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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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