Nicola Mendelsohn

Advertising Executive

Location: London, UK

"It came down to a very basic belief: If you believe in change, you have to do it, embrace it and be prepared to lead it."

When I first started in advertising I – like almost all graduates – was schooled at the training courses on offer at “The IPA” (The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising), the UK's trade body for advertising agencies.

Luminaries in the advertising industry had led it. A quick look at the forty or so of past presidents told the story of a great deal of social change and how the advertising industry had evolved over the last century or so. But in the 94 years of its existence, the IPA had never been led by a woman. And so when I was asked if I would take on the presidency, it seemed crazy to me that in a forward-thinking industry like advertising, there could still be a glass ceiling we had yet to smash.

But I had to think carefully about it. Sure I considered whether I could do it, if I had the right qualities and if I could make a useful contribution. I also had to weigh up how I could keep my focus and energy on my business at the same time as taking on such a challenging role.

It came down to a very basic belief: If you believe in change, you have to do it, embrace it and be prepared to lead it. Someone had to say yes and become the first woman to lead the industry. I know that – at great loss to the industry – many brilliant and pioneering women had been overlooked and passed over. And also others – including those I look up to and admire - were asked but said no. I just felt it had to be done.

Whilst I became the first and in time there will be a second, we set about making changes to encourage younger women to take on executive positions. We also worked to provide mentoring and advice, to celebrate and champion women and to overcome the inherently male infrastructure.

And the great lesson – and one you can't stop learning and relearning – it's amazing how much people want, accept and embrace change. The modern workplace is filled with talented and open-minded people who are always looking for a better way to do what was done before.

I never wanted to go through life and feel that I should’ve , could’ve, would’ve done something. The support for what we did reinforced my view that when you are faced with two futures – to lean in or to lean back – the way to make a difference to you and to others is to lean in.