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Confidence issues are prevalent for women within the industry today, says Fenella Grey, UK MD of Porter Novelli

4th April 2018


We catch up with Fenella Grey, UK managing director of Porter Novelli, and ask her how she thinks women must be supported into leadership roles in PR and find out how “people, passion and purpose” have helped her rise to the top.

Why do women need to be encouraged to take leadership roles?
Women need to be given the opportunity and be supported on their journey to achieving whichever career path they want aspire to. We founded Omniwomen because we not only wanted to increase the number of women in leadership positions, but we wanted to increase their influence within the industry.

Confidence issues are prevalent for women within the industry today and I think resilience, power of effecting change and influence, are still common areas women don’t feel confident with even amongst those in leadership roles in PR and marketing today. One of the great benefits of Omniwomen is that we talk about weaknesses and vulnerabilities – and significantly, that it’s okay to take risks and fail. We shouldn’t be scared to be open. Since the launch of Omniwomen UK in 2015, female representation in senior management across Omnicom companies has increased by 20%, up from 40% representation three years ago. So there is real evidence that these kinds of initiatives really work. Omnicom’s UK senior management teams and boards comprise an average of 48% of women, above the industry average.

Why do we need more women as leaders?
We all know businesses are more successful and more productive if there is diversity at the top, not just in our industry but beyond. It’s better for business, society, our clients and produces better work.

What practical things can a business do to nurture female talent?
It comes back to having an inclusive, open and flat structured environment with formal and informal channels so people can discuss challenges, issues, and speak up more personally about career journeys and make the approach more human and genuine. There is no one size fits all to leadership – contemporary leadership is about bringing your true and authentic self to work and getting people to follow you in a way that’s right for you and the business. Encourage women to achieve what they want to achieve, coaching around confidence, resilience, diminishing the all too prevalent inner critic and imposter syndrome and focusing on the positives.

Are mentors a good idea? Do they have to be women?
They are a fantastic idea; I think they are a necessity. They bring something different to line managers and sponsors and give you objective counsel that doesn’t link to your career progression in a promotional sense. They give you wider perspective, imagination, creativity and emotional support. It’s important to find the right mentor for you so you can have open conversations that aren’t political.

I absolutely don’t think they have to be women – to effect change and drive forward progress, men have to be part of the solution and have to be part of affecting change. They have to be allies and we need to have them on side to get to meaningful equality.

How did you succeed in getting your position? What helped and encouraged you?
Drive, ambition and confidence or seeming confidence. It’s a skill to have a mask of confidence when you don’t really know what you’re doing! I felt strongly that I wanted to make my own mark on agency with people who are all in it together and that has been my key driver to seeking and being in the MD position.

To succeed, you obviously need the right support at home too. A feminist husband and two girls under eight who live by ‘Rebel Stories for Girls’ are good motivators for being the best I can be. And obviously my mentor, Karen van Bergen, is great at helping me think through options and being imaginative.

For me three things have helped me get to my position – people, passion and purpose. You can’t get to where you are without the right people around you and you can’t get to where you want to be if there’s no genuine interest and passion behind it. Fundamentally, if you have a sense of purpose in terms of what you what to achieve out of your role and in your agency, then everything falls into place.

Article written by Fenella Grey, managing director of communications firm Porter Novelli



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