Prasad Sangameshwaran
Oct 09, 2019

'I was eight months pregnant and working on a pitch until 3 AM'

Merlee Cruz-Jayme, chairmom and CCO of Philippines-based, Dentsu Jayme-Syfu, provides a first person account of gender stereotyping in the advertising business and how women can fend it off. This is the second part of the article, taken from her address at Spikes Asia 2019

Merlee Cruz-Jayme
Merlee Cruz-Jayme
When I got into my first job as a copywriter, the first thing they gave me was a portfolio of diapers, sanitary pads, beauty products and food products (I don't even cook). It was completely stereotyping. 
These are the things I would write on for years and years. And I know my career was not getting anywhere. It's not that I didn't enjoy it. But if you keep on doing something, you can't expect any career growth whatsoever. So how can you smash that? “Get out of comfort zone and get into your courage zone.” 
So when I wanted to be a creative director, I asked, can you please give me something more challenging? And you know this is the time where you're supposed to be scared of what they give you, because they started giving me the toughest brands ever. 
I was handling a glue that you put on the roof so that it will stop leaks. I would go out and interview carpenters, construction workers. I may not be very good or a better creative than I was, but it got me out of my comfort zone. And I know I've smashed that in a way. And now I can write for anything. 
At one point, my boss left to start his own agency. I was next in line and I looked at the boxes to be ticked for me to be promoted. The first box would be pitches, check. Or awards, check, team's record, check, client relationships, check. There's an unwritten code that I cannot just go and say it's me who is ready for that job. I wait and wait. And then the new president had suddenly made it clear that there was another male contender for the role. 
And I looked at his boxes. There are no ticks there and no checks in his boxes. So, is this like a boy’s club? 
How do you smash this one? I simply asked for it. It's not popular. That is definitely not popular. But I went to the president and showed him my PowerPoint. And I said why I am worthy of this position. Thank god other employees backed me up and I got the job. But it's not typically done. But you have to feel you deserve it, you have to ask for it. 
The last case I'm going to mention is the issue of a working mother in an agency. There was a running joke in my agency that I am the most productive creative director, because I was a young creative director (as I had three children). They would always say how brave you are to have children while you're in creative… and I go, maybe brave is not the perfect adjective, its energy, energetic, maybe I have the energy for it. 
Because being a mom as a creative, I know what the problems are because of the long hours at work we have. Because of all the thinking we do, we don't stop thinking creative, creative ideas, right? My husband hates it. 
And what I do was, I bring my kids to work. I was eight months pregnant. I was working on a pitch until 3 AM. I would do that. And when I was being wheeled to the delivery room, I would tell my suit, can you hold on to the brief. We can work on that three months later. I mean, I don't want to stop because I know my career will get derailed. And when you are a mom, you don't want to sacrifice both worlds. 
You can't be either better as a mom, or better as a creative director. So you have to be both. My office cannot feel I'm a distracted mom and my family life can’t feel that I am a distracted mom, either. So how do you break this barrier? You have to mix the two worlds. The first thing I did was to shift my whole family close to office. So that when I have to work late hours, then I go home, I tutor my kids, I eat dinner with them and then I tuck them into bed. If I need to do longer hours at work, I go back to work after that. 
Or, for example, this is the toughest one. I was presenting in a boardroom, I present my creative boards, then excuse myself for a toilet break, I get out, go down the elevator. I have my driver ready who drives me to school, I have bought flowers, watch the last segment of the ballet recital of my daughter, gave the flowers, have a selfie as proof and then go back to work as if nothing happened. Probably, just the longest toilet break ever. But that is the energy you need to have to put up with being a mom in creative. So what's your glass ceiling? 
I went and asked some good friends, creative leaders in this industry, what is one glass ceiling and how to smash it.
Probably its lack of confidence. I think it's more like seeking permission from others, to let you voice your opinion, let your ideas be known. And actually permission to say something when I attend, say, a presentation skills workshop,
When you have an idea, you need to voice it, you need to present it, you need to pitch it, you need to make your idea known to others. My biggest realization is that I am my own spokeswoman.
And I cannot rely on others.
I was always told that people don't like women having ambitions. Otherwise, we'll get lots of enemies, especially from men. 
Therefore, I tend not to show my ambitions aggressively, which meant people thought I don’t have the confidence to succeed. And as a result, I missed the boat several times. 
So, for me, the biggest tempered glass ceiling is is made by us mostly – it's about the feeling that we are not good enough. 
When I was starting in a jury room when I was younger, creative and I would my first few times to judge and there are men and I always feel there are a lot more brilliant than I am. They're more creative than have possibly what I'm going to say is stupid and not as good. That keeps you doubting yourself, your capabilities, and you have to somehow smash that. And you have to keep pushing, you have to keep pushing and killing that inner voice that tells you not good enough, the inner voice that stops you from doing what you want. If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, if you think you can do it, just say, yes. And then you learn. And it's my guiding light all throughout. 
I have five things really, that I want to leave you with. One is you don't have to be bad, to survive a man's world. Whatever gender you are, be the good leader, you have to be brave, you have to be strong, you have to take risks. The second one is, be ambitious. Don't be afraid of being ambitious, I guess it's only fair that anybody can try to stretch and reach the farthest you can reach. 
The third one would be use your gut. It's a gift. It's a gift given to us. And it's like, it's your intuition. It's one thing we can put on the table as a leader. You can use your head, you can use your heart, but God somehow makes it right. You can read people, you can do the right thing and make the right decision by feeling it, use it. And then stay in front of the bad line. They say, behind every successful man is a woman, we have to stay upfront or you will be left behind literally, you have to face the battle, you have to face the challenge yourself. When I was starting my agency, there were moments when there were big problems coming in and I said, “How I wish my boss was still here”. I was used to being in an agency where there's a boss, and he would take away my problems. But in my agency, I was the boss. This is the time I have to just fight it out, the bloody faces, do whatever and learn from it. But it makes you better leaders. Embrace your femininity, embrace your emotions. If you feel like you're dressing up this way, putting make-up just to face the challenges of the day, that's okay. 
If you're given a problem and you lost an account, you lost the pitch, you lost a colleague and you feel like crying out the frustration, that's okay. That's even healthier. Put it all out. But if you feel selfish, and stop the other women from moving up, that's not okay. It's hard enough to be in a crazy world like this as a woman. All we can do is push each other up. In our office, we have what we call sisterhood. Every year, we look for the problems we're facing for women to be leaders and we do, what can we do? One thing is we bring their babies to work. And the babies are there. Sometimes, even the men babysit for the women. And we have a crib and they're all there. And somehow, the toxic environment of an agency floats away. I would say there's a special place in hell, for women who don't help other women.
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