Brand Union

News Berlin

Female agency leaders: What do they do better?

August 16 2017

75 percent of the Management at Brand Union Germany are female. Journalist Anja Janotta (for magazines Kontakter and W&V) wanted to know how that affects the corporate culture and whether a ´token man´ is still needed with some clients.

Pictured left to right: Caroline Theissen, Katie Taylor and Thekla Wege.


Since 2014, the WPP agency Brand Union has an office in Berlin – which is led by a female quota of 75 percent. Caroline Theissen is Executive Client Management Director and Managing Director Berlin and has two children. Katie Taylor is Executive Creative Director and also has two children. Thekla Wege is Executive Director Business Development and Corporate Communications and has one child. The magazine W&V wanted to know how the female management style affects the corporate culture, whether some clients still need a “token man” and why it’s easier for bosses than juniors to have children.


W&V: What differentiates an agency with a female management like yours from a male-dominated one?

Katie Taylor: We are rare creatures. In my entire career I have only worked in one agency where women were in the majority at management level – Brand Union Germany. The leadership culture in our agency is indeed more harmonious. We have less direct conflicts, discuss more and are generally more interested in reaching consensus.

Caroline Theissen: At our agency, it is really the matter at hand that is in focus and not one’s own interests or ego. You take everyone with you on the journey and are successful as a team. That truly is a motivation for everyone and there is a greater orientation towards consensual agreements. If something has to be decided in a take-it-or-leave-it manner, it always comes with a “please” and without anyone feeling affronted.


W&V: Do you also use this USP when you want to win a new client? Or is it from an external point of view irrelevant, whether men or women are the decision makers?

Katie Taylor: In a male dominated industry such as ours, it is indeed a differentiating factor. Our CEO Tobias Phleps is very proud of his female team, which he often brings in as a “reason to buy” with new clients. We ourselves use this USP if it is really relevant for the client, either because of the product, the target group and if we know that the relationship chemistry would work better due to this.

Caroline Theissen: I don’t see a competitive advantage in our gender, at least I have never consciously perceived it as one. In some male-dominated companies, I would even say it’s a disadvantage when only women show up. You feel a slight irritation in the air, which you then first have to absorb. It is not yet a matter of course.


Why clients still prefer to negotiate with men


W&V: In some situations, are a few ‘token men’ still needed?

Thekla Wege: I always consider very carefully which team goes to see the client – especially in new business meetings, it is often a safer bet to send a mixed team to a very traditional, conservative company, where we know that our contact persons in the meeting are male and over 40. I’m fairly sure that a purely female presenting team is still unfamiliar to some decision makers. In a pitch, we make it easier for ourselves if this small barrier is not there directly from the beginning.


W&V: Do you have to work harder to convince male clients?

Katie Taylor: It is true that women have to say something extremely clever in the first few seconds of a meeting to be taken seriously.


W&V: Which leadership qualities would you classify as being typically female?

Katie Taylor: Women put more emphasis on fairness, they don’t have to show off as much and trust in their own talents. They appear integrative and more empathetic.

Thekla Wege: I believe that women actually are more attentive to the needs of the employees – more sensitive I would say. But I do always find it hard to generalise here. Everyone has their own personality and respective strengths and weaknesses. Many of the so-called typical male or female characterisations happen in the mind in my opinion – still shaped by the way of thinking in the traditional understanding of roles.


W&V: Is there such a thing in creative work as typical female virtues?

KatieTaylor: The female factor definitely affects ways of working together and how ideas are developed. However, the creative talent and virtues are determined by individual factors and the cultural background of every single person – and the background is not related to the gender.


Are women bitchy?


W&V: Women, who assert themselves in the professional environment are often seen as being bitchy or uptight. Men on the contrary only as assertive. In what way have you had similar experiences?

Katie Taylor: Yes, this double standard still exists. A woman is always judged harder, is often unfairly criticised. But you learn how to handle it and how to win despite this!

Caroline Theissen: On the other hand, it is often not the men who are the problem, but the women. Amongst themselves women often don’t do each other any favours. Especially on social media, it is often unbearable how we mutually insult and judge each other. Everybody knows best, ones own way is the only right way –  and of course also the hardest one – everyone else is an idiot, an uncaring mother, a women’s libber, a disgrace to feminism, a bore etc.

Thekla Wege: Luckily, I haven’t had any negative experiences. But I have experienced bitchy, uptight men and strong-willed women, of course also the other way around. With that I want to say that everyone brings with them their own personality into the job and I don’t link that to gender.


W&V: Is the topic male or female boss even still a current topic? Or is the only thing that counts today talent and performance?

Caroline Theissen: Well, at our agency it is not a topical theme anymore. Talent and performance is what counts. That’s the reason why we are so many women at Brand Union!

Thekla Wege: Of course, first and foremost it is talent and performance that counts. However, for many it is surely still an issue whether their boss is a man or a woman. Unfortunately, we haven’t reached the point in our society yet, where it is normal and doesn’t need to be thematised what gender the leadership personality has.


W&V: Has Generation Y not long outgrown this differentiation?

Caroline Theissen: It would be nice if Generation Y had outgrown this differentiation. However, I believe that they must consider it, as this generation is encountering the previous generation in their work life. Especially one other significant topic is being added: What about the men, who want to connect career and family in a better way and also want to take parental leave or work part time? They do not have a lobby at all yet.

Thekla Wege: The young women do not make any differentiation between themselves and their male colleagues. Just as little as the men. Women are becoming braver and are escaping the traditional understanding of roles, which in my opinion takes place in the mind anyway, rather than in the reality around the meeting table.


For bosses, it is easier and better to have children than for juniors


W&V: You all have children. Ms Wege is currently on maternity leave. How do you organise your family life parallel to your managerial functions?

Caroline Theissen: Of course, without being well-organised and flexible, it doesn’t work – and without a partner, who jumps in at last-minute meeting changes or “emergencies”. Being a mum makes you efficient. One or two all-nighters are obviously still necessary. And we put the team together in such a way that we meet the requirements of the client.

Thekla Wege: I have 12 months maternity leave, but I’m still available to the office at all times if worse comes to worst – and I’m staying in the loop. It is important to me to stay close to the action, at least with one ear, and of course also back personnel and corporate decisions. During this time, my tasks have been clearly shared and allocated. We are very well positioned.


W&V: But spontaneous tasks from the client are harder to manage with children, right?

Thekla Wege: At the end of the day, we are a service contractor and must of course perform. The only things that help here is a good team structure and organisation.


W&V: Is the balancing act especially hard when you are a boss?

Caroline Theissen: I think it’s almost easier being a mum in a leading position than when you are a junior or are at a middle level, because to some extent you can get out of the daily business and have the option to organise your work in a way that is compatible with your private life. But: you also need good people, who you can fully trust and rely on.


W&V: Mrs. Wege is on maternity leave and had to organise a babysitter to be able to do this interview. Are you used to this the other way around as well, that similar arrangements are made for male colleagues, i.e. that work meetings are tailored to their family situation?

Katie Taylor: Of course, that is part of our culture!


Networking for the career


W&V: Going back to the differences between you and your male colleagues. Are men better at networking for their own career?

Thekla Wege: When it comes to the topic networking, men are actually a bit ahead of us. For hundreds of years, they have simply been used to spinning and expanding their network, maintaining it and using it – previously often in associations, which women wouldn’t even have access to. Women have to become better on this field and see a good network as a stepping stone for their career. It is important to make new contacts and to maintain these, to expand your network.


W&V: And finally: Do you have something like an insider tip that you can give your young female colleagues in terms of networking?

 Caroline Theissen: What is essential is to not jump through hoops, but stay authentic and honest – this works best in the long run. Imposters will eventually be debunked. When networking, you work best in an environment where you feel safe and strong.

Katie Taylor: Dear women, please don’t hold yourself back, but “big yourself up”. I guarantee you that this is the case with your male colleagues. I personally am convinced that women talk themselves 30-40 percent down, whereas men talk themselves up by the same factor!


This interview was originally published in German on W&V online, 14 August 2017