Over the last year, I’ve been asked a lot about how it feels to be a female in the predominantly male advertising industry. More often than not I respond with a puzzled look because truth be told, I have never really faced adversity in my career. So, I have to wonder why? Why has my experience been different than so many others? After all, it's true – I'm a female Creative Director, and when I started climbing the career ladder I was one of the 3%. I have worked for men in almost all of my jobs, sat in many conference rooms where I was the only female, and yet I still didn’t feel like this was any kind of “predicament."
I needed to understand WHY.
What I discovered was a commonality among the people I surrounded myself with and worked for. As I moved along my career path, and interviewed and accepted positions, I ended up working for men who naturally empower women. These men were expressive, kind mentors who challenged me and wanted to give me the floor when I was ready. No different than the way people have habits in romantic relationships, being drawn to people who may treat them in a certain way (good or bad!) – I believe I had a natural inclination towards bosses who would give me responsibility, let me shine, mentor me with respect, value my opinion, but most importantly allow me to challenge them.
Challenging myself and those around me is part of my DNA, and something that I am realizing comes from my Jewish upbringing. Growing up, I attended private yeshivahs where it was common to juggle nine Hebrew subjects, many of which were devoted to “probing ancient Jewish texts” to seek deeper meaning and truth.
These were deep commentaries where one could spend hours agonizing about the meanings behind a single word or examining multiple viewpoints.
This habit of questioning everything was prized growing up, and “thinking for oneself” was a quality I was encouraged to embody.
At the time, I probably complained about staying in school for 12 hours, but now I am thankful I have the rigor to volley with the best strategists, argue the merits of a headline, question the briefs, or our goals and objectives. At the heart of this learning style is also the ability to walk around and see things empathetically from various points of view.
As I envision the environments in which women don’t succeed - it is where their opinion is not equal, or valued or if they aren’t being HEARD or given the credit nor credence of their point of view. It’s not like I haven’t encountered the industry clichés.
I have had to shut down unwelcome advances, and have shouted above the fray of male colleagues with a booming voice, but I now realize that I am lucky it wasn’t worse. I was fortunate to be spared a lot of what has plagued my industry – women who have been shamed, coerced and made to feel uncomfortable. Sadly, it is becoming clear that my situation is unique.
So, my advice to women of all ages, ethnicities, level of seniority and even industry: Be careful where you spend your time - don’t just size up the work opportunities when deciding on your next move - consider the ecosystem.
Think about the way you felt in an interview, ask to meet the people you will be working with directly – make sure the environment is hospitable towards not just you, but women as a whole. Even after you have accepted a position - always continue asking yourself if you feel heard, supported and equal. If the answer is no, move on and find your tribe - because it’s out there, I promise you.
We are living in exciting times – with a seismic shift upon us – #metoo and #timesup are not just moments- but movements that are defining our here and now and also creating a BEFORE and an AFTER. They are allowing our shared voices to have power, and conversations to be had out loud.
I hope this movement makes it easier for any woman to walk away from a situation that doesn’t serve her – and to find support. Women are lifting others up in a way that I didn’t see when I was moving through the ranks- and it’s thrilling to witness.
I know that as a female leader in my field, the most important role I have is possibly as a shelter – where other women can come to talk or seek advice, but it is also my job to create a safe, welcoming environment for anyone who hasn’t had a voice in the past.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.