Women and the C-suite: Five Senior Female Professionals On Their Journey to the Top

As the 8th of March ushers in the 110th International Women’s Day (the first was held in New York in 1909), we talk to five trailblazing senior female professionals from the creative industries, and ask them how they deal with the challenges facing women in the workforce today, and the key qualities that you need to succeed.

What are the biggest advantages of being in a senior role? What advice you would give your younger self if you could go back in time? And how do you deal with the nagging question: ‘What’s next?’

The career climb can be challenging, frustrating and fulfilling in equal measure, so how does a high-flying woman maintain momentum and passion?


Elizabeth Finn, Managing Director of brand design consultancy Cowan London

“At one point in my career I was working really hard, but I wasn’t succeeding. This sense of failure hit me hard, and I realised I was too dependent on work for a sense of self-worth. Now I ensure I have interests outside work to keep me fulfilled and challenged. Work is hugely satisfying, but having other outlets for my energy and creativity keeps me fully engaged. They also enable me to bring greater objectivity and clarity to each new role.

“The greatest benefit of being in a senior role is the ability to affect the culture of a business and to have a positive impact on team members and their performance by creating an environment that we all want to work in.

“It’s important to remember that you don’t have to fake it to make it. I spent a lot of my early career trying to be like everyone else, until I eventually realised people actually rated me for me.

“So do what is interesting and challenging to you, and the rest will follow. The roles I did well and most enjoyed were often the ones no one else wanted, but I could see a big problem that needed solving and couldn’t wait to fix it.”


Mary Lewis, Creative Director and Founding Partner of brand design consultancy Lewis Moberly

“In today’s world, change is constant and a leader is never without a new challenge to take on. This is what makes you what you are. Tackle the big challenges head-on. Resolving them is hugely inspiring and makes the smaller ones just glide.

“It’s important to step outside your comfort zone – always say ‘can do’ and then do it! This is also true for those looking to rise through the ranks. It’s tried and tested advice, and to make it work you must make all experiences valuable – even the not so good. They all count!

“Similarly, don’t necessarily follow the conventional career path as indirect routes can be just as valuable. This applies not only in developing throughout your career but in how you execute ideas. In the design industry, it’s especially important to take your inspiration from everyday life. It’s all there and available.

“One of the best tips I received was from fellow designer John McConnell, who told me to say one thing and make it good. It’s advice that has stood me in good stead. My other lasting advice is to stay grounded. Success and accolades are wonderful but it’s your own reckoning that has true value. And remember that you’re definitely as good as you think you are. And better.”


Rachel Smith, Creative Partner at & SMITH, branding experts in the hotel, food and drink industries

“The major plus of being in a senior role is having complete flexibility. Whether that’s when and how to work, or what work to take on.

“Not having control over which jobs I would be given when I first started my career was an issue for me. I remember excitedly waiting to be handed a great new project and then feeling frustrated when I was needed on something else. I still get that twinge when my business partner starts something I’d love to run myself!

“I remind myself of this feeling when working with our more junior designers, as it can really affect motivation and be disheartening, especially to someone who is creative.

“Over the years I’ve learnt that you must always give people time, and try and be as helpful as you can, whether that’s with an intern, a freelancer or a client.

“It’s amazing how different people and connections pop up over the years, and a bad reputation is pretty hard to shake off.”


Emma Wood, Senior Account Director at me&dave, an integrated branding agency specialising in property and the built environment

“I started at me&dave as an Account Manager. Climbing the ladder within the agency means I have more autonomy. As well as managing the client services team, I have an active part to play in shaping the future of the wider business. Exercising my own strong creative opinion, I work with the partners to aid and drive the agency’s vision in a real, hands-on way. I think this is rare for our industry.

“It’s crucial to stand up to, support and challenge your peers. And MAKE YOURSELF HEARD! Be fearless, be fierce. The real-estate sector is dominated by men, which has made it hard for female voices to break through at times. Thankfully, this is changing – there are some really driven, successful, amazing females in our world now.

“Professional women should never be afraid to show emotion, get excited and have fun in a corporate world. And don’t be nervous about making mistakes – it’s the best way to learn. You might think you’re the only one who’s slipped up in a certain way, but I can guarantee you won’t be.”


Leigh Chandler, Creative Director and Partner at brand design agency Vault49

“I never dreamed I would ever be a Creative Director, so there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t consider it to be a privilege to be in this position.

“I stopped chasing titles some years ago, though, so I rarely think about what’s next. Instead, I challenge myself to continue to learn – and I get out and take in the world. But I also find it fulfilling to learn from the people I work with every day.

“I hope I never tire of that magical feeling you get when a great idea makes your heart sing. The day I stop feeling this is the day it’s time for a change.

“Having responsibility for my team’s growth and education is a real privilege. Opening their eyes to what can be and the possibilities of design are so important to me. Some of the people on my team started when they were Junior Designers and they’re now Design Directors. It’s so rewarding to see their development. It’s crucial to keep an open and honest dialogue with everyone. Most of all, have fun. And if you’re not happy, move on.”

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