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Dame Stephanie Shelley WACL 2017

What if you could not fail? M&C Saatchi PR reflects on the Women of ‘WACL Gather 2017’

6th June 2017

Gather‘ is Women in Advertising and Communication London (WACL)’s annual training conference for young women in the industry. This year, four M&C Saatchi PR delegates attended, with junior team members Isobel Turiff and Amy Sandiford-Watts accompanying the agency’s Global CEO and Co-Founder, Molly Aldridge as well as Kat McGettigan, Head of Consumer.

‘Gather’ 2017’s topic was ‘Work your way’, exploring how women can create the career, and life, that they want, on their own terms.

WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

Reflecting on last month’s WACL event, all we can still say is wow. Gather 2017 had presented us all with a myriad of opportunities to learn from others’ experiences and opinions.

The day was crammed with variety. From inspirational stories and no-holds-barred ‘speed mentoring’ with some of the industry’s most successful women, to an interactive ‘manel’ debate (a panel made up of some of the most successful men in the industry) which explored the male perspective on challenges women face in the workplace, each session was informative, encouraging and mind broadening.

Josh bayliss (Virgin) & Daren Rubins (The Lighthouse Company), WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

Josh bayliss (Virgin) & Daren Rubins (The Lighthouse Company), WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

      You could write reams on the wisdom shared, but in line with our philosophy of Brutal Simplicity of Thought, we’ve selected some key learnings below. We’ve also reflected on our main highlight, which for us was a speech from Dame Stephanie Shelley, whose story drew a standing ovation reminding us all what women are capable of overcoming in the journey to success.
    We learnt:

      • From Jan Gooding, who has risen through a 30 year marketing career to become Global Inclusion Director at Aviva:Whether you’re at work or at home, you must live your life fully every day. With a focus on the LGBT community, Jan reminded us that we must create a culture of mutual respect so people can be themselves. Reminding us that ‘you will enjoy the whole of your life if you join it up’.
      • From the hilarious and (in her own words) bolshie Claire Valoti, General Manager UK at Snap Inc., an advocate on why being authentic is key to success and who famously told Snap “I know you’re not going to hire me, I’m pregnant” (she was wrong): Don’t forget you. It’s what makes you special – and it’s how you’re going to thrive.
      • From Nicky Bullard, who sailed from one of only two women in her ad agency’s creative department to the top of her profession:Not worrying about being accepted will make you more confident. 
        (And be yourself. Everyone else is an idiot.)
      • From Tim Campbell MBE, Apprentice winner, who drew on his mother’s advice, reminding us that the path to success is twisting and that you should be your own brand:

        You’ve got two ears and one mouth, listen to the problem and be solution based. Be a tenacious sailor – change tack when the wind changes.
      • From Sarah Clift, who left a career as an ad creative to pursue her passion for filmmaking:

        Ask yourself what success looks like for you. And then ask yourself what would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?
Sarah Clift (Writer & Director),WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

Sarah Clift (Writer & Director),WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

Finally, none of the M&C Saatchi PR team attending had heard of Dame Stephanie Shirley. However, it was her story, delivered in a sparklingly funny, modest speech, that drew a standing ovation and moved us to tears.

Dame Stephanie was a child refugee and is the UK’s first tech entrepreneur. She’s now 83 – remarking ‘the older I get, the better I used to be!’. She founded her business in the 1960s, an era when a woman couldn’t even open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Despite the time’s constraints and expectations of women, she was driven by her passion, her love of maths and technology. When she found jobs for women were scarce in the tech industry she simply started her own company. The IT business, later known as Xansa, now part of the Sopra Steria Group.

Dame Stephanie recruited women who had been pushed out of tech when they married or had children and created a coding company with a working from home structure.

At the time, she was battling intense gender bias and had to sign her name as ‘Steve’ to be taken seriously. Of course, elements of this live on in 2017: she dryly noted that her bank still addresses all statements to her husband.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

Dame Stephanie Shirley, WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

The odds may have been weighted against her, but Dame Stephanie triumphed. Her team of women, working from their own homes, programmed Concorde’s flight recorder. And, when the company floated on the stock market, Dame Stephanie modestly observed that 70 of her staff members become millionaires. Yet in her success, she has never lost sight of the value of personality, noting: ‘it is people, not organisations, who make the world go around.’

Dame Stephanie went on to frankly discuss how her only son’s lifelong battle with autism challenged her on a personal and professional level. Subsequently she has and now continues to dedicate much of her time to charity work, poignantly closing her speech in reflection that ‘the more money I give away, the richer my life becomes.’

It was Dame Stephanie’s resolve to live gratefully and generously when the odds seemed set against her that inspired us all.

If Stephanie can achieve that in 1962, what can we do now – buoyed by the mentoring of the wonderful women of WACL? All in all, the day was a welcome reminder, of what we as women are capable of. We left with not only practical tips but a whole lot of motivation to consider what we could do if we knew we could not fail.

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M&C Saatchi PR left to right: Amy Sandiford-Watts (Digital Account Manager), Isobel Turriff (Account Executive), Molly Aldridge (Global CEO and Co-Founder) and Kat McGettigan (Head of Consumer), WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017

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ABOUT M&C SAATCHI PR & WOMEN

Isobel Turriff, M&C Saatchi PR, WACL Gather 2017, Kings Place, London, 25May2017, ©BronacMcNeill

Isobel Turriff, M&C Saatchi PR, WACL 2017, ©BronacMcNeill

M&C Saatchi PR is a global agency that advocates and practices equal opportunity for both men and women in the workplace stretching from North America and Europe to the Middle East. Consequently, the communications agency is not only co-founded by Molly Aldridge (Global CEO) and Chris Hides (Managing Director), but also has a predominantly female global senior management team, with female heads of market across all of its international footholds driving growth.

For further information please contact tash.cordeaux@mcsaatchi.com