Hannah Ainsworth

Senior Global Marketing Manager, Isobar

For Women’s Equality Day on 26th August, we spoke to women across our network about what they’ve learned from Dentsu Aegis Network’s leadership programmes and where they want that knowledge to take them in the future.

First up, we spoke to Hannah Ainsworth, Senior Global Marketing Manager for Isobar, about her experiences on our Women and Leadership programme.

The most unusual (and useful) thing I learned on the Dentsu Aegis Network Women and Leadership programme

I learned that women aren’t women and leadership isn’t leadership. And by that I mean, my interpretation of the meaning of these words was entirely incorrect.

So I un-learned leadership, on the Dentsu Aegis Network Women and Leadership (WAL) programme, and it’s probably the best thing I have ever done.

Until this point in my career, I had fumbled my way into a job not thinking about progress, not least leadership, and instead thinking about “survival”. Keeping your head above water but not enough to be picked off by birds, is a balancing act that I think many young people in agency-world can relate to.

Somewhere along the line I learned that leaders were a type. They looked, felt and behaved a certain way. They were male, and they were born fully-formed, complete with booming voices and puffed chests and a cool, clear head. Their effortlessness was matched by an ability to keep their own career the central focus at all times. From day dot — they stepped out of the womb buttoned up, with a vision and game plan.

Until WAL, I didn’t identify with this person, so I wasn’t a leader.

Perhaps a disempowered female experience had made me apathetic — I had assumed my future was in someone else’s hands. (Shout out to the director who advised that I “would fly first class one day if I married the right man,” - thankseversomuch).

The same goes for my incorrect interpretation of women in the work place. I had assumed we were types too. Whether my liberal snottiness likes to admit it or not, somewhere along the line my brain had found it easier to bunch us into homogeneous groups. We lived under the same conditions so I assumed everyone on WAL would slowly merge into a vaguely ambitious female blob.

I was wrong.

Looking around the room at the end of the program I saw all sorts of characters. Each one completely different to me. Different races, faces, voices, skills, and sensibilities. Every person a leader. Each with strengths and weaknesses that can be bundled, moulded and shaped into different packages that can flex to different conditions in the work place.

I soon discovered that leadership is something you practice and work at. It is coached. In the same way you can unlearn bad habits, you can teach good ones. And leadership is the result of dialing up or down temperament and approaches depending on who you are and the situation you face.

Fundamentally, I learned that what I want to become is largely in my hands. I learned to ask, to coach, to influence. I learned to accept and let go. I learned that learning leadership is to focus on my strengths and less on my flaws. I learned that the most powerful thing to do is to use my own voice and to give a voice to others, and that the only way we can achieve equality is to take the reigns, stage interventions and go get it ourselves.