Carat’s Top Women On Diversity and being Champions of Change


Carat's national executive leadership is 50 per cent female. B&T recently sat down with the women setting the agenda at one of Australia's leading media agencies to talk life at the top, and all that entails. They are: Catherine Krantz, general manager of Carat Melbourne; Gab Merrick, managing director of Carat Brisbane; Sarah James, chief digital officer; Georgie Nichols, general manager of Carat Sydney and Adriana Colaneri, chief marketing officer of Carat Australia.


Colaneri: For us we really believe that a big secret to our success has been in the diversity of our team.

I think we as women do think differently and bring different thoughts to the table and that’s been a part of Carat’s success. But the fact that we are a 50 per cent female leadership team was purely based on what our track records and what we have delivered to the business, many of us for a long period of time.

It certainly wasn’t due to a gender quota or anything like that, we all earned our positions and have added a huge amount of value back to the business.


Merrick: I think it’s a balance of that because I think merit is one thing but then there’s a proven bias that people will choose to work with people who are exactly like them. So if you then don’t give them a reason to think about somebody else then they just won’t do it, because as a human being that’s just the easier thing to do.

Would I as a woman like to know that I got promoted because of a quota because I’m a woman? I probably wouldn’t feel great about that; I want to feel like I’ve earned my position because I have a proven track record of delivering on the KPIs of the business over the past four or five years.

But I think there’s got to be a balance of that, people have got to be prepared to say, ‘Okay there’s got to be a couple of different people around an executive table, it can’t just be everybody like us’. Whether you formalise that or not, it’s a hard one.

But I think business is one thing, but you’ve got areas like public life and politics where that’s slightly different. Here it has to be based on merit.

Colaneri: We’ve been lucky because there has been a lot of females in leadership roles, but I think in some industries they need those quotas because whatever they’re doing now, it’s not working.

James: For us, we’ve been quite lucky in that coming up the ranks in Carat having senior female leaders to look up to. I think it’s self-fulfilling because now there’s so much more of us in senior leadership roles. So the women coming up through have many of us to look up to. So it’s promoting from within as well.

Colaneri: When I joined Carat there were only 12 people in the Sydney office and Catherine was one of them. So we had each other to look up to.

In my career I’ve worked with a lot of very strong female role models like Anne Parsons who ran MediaCom for many years, she’s brilliant. So I think I did have some really strong females.

James: It’s also about Adriana’s point – about finding a voice. I think that’s part of it for me, it’s that constant reminder that I have a strong voice and it’s quite a noise marketplace so being able to come to market with the right voice and confidence.

It comes back to having the confidence to have a seat at the table, that reminder that why shouldn’t we have that seat at the table? We have every right to and we get the opportunity to. That’s something that I constantly think- hang on, push yourself forward, keep pushing yourself forward because it’s so easy for us to take a step back. There’s no reason, we’ve been blessed with wonderful management and opportunities to push ourselves forward.

Merrick: That’s the point about diversity too. You feel confident that you fill your own shoes, you don’t have to fill somebody else’s shoes or a man’s shoes, and you don’t have to act like a certain other person. The point of diversity is that you fill your own shoes because you offer up your own voice and opinions. There’s a strength in that. I suppose support of other people around you who also have different points of view, no one is wrong around a table.

Colaneri: Even though we’re all women, we’re all very different and complementary of each other. It’s about giving us that voice, early this year we partnered with another event and Cindy Gallop was the keynote speaker. I think she’s done wonders for the industry and pushing women forward and putting pressure on the industry to say it’s not good enough to have all male panels at conferences.

Even in my role as CMO in Carat, when I’m working with people like B&T and your competitors, it’s really important for me that if we’re going to be associated with something there needs to be a 50/50 gender split otherwise we don’t want to be involved.


Merrick: I think when you’re a female, you’re the one who has to make the choice whether you have children or not. You then grapple with the issue, you worry about being able to come back and still have the knowledge.

When I went on maternity leave it was such a stress for me because I thought ‘how am I going to get back into this fast moving industry?’ I think a lot of young women that work in our businesses, and there’s a lot of them, they probably think the same way. When I did it nine years ago it wasn’t that bad, whereas now it is such a fast changing landscape- you’re out for a day and things have changed.

Colaneri: I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and I’ve had two children during that time. I think that when you go on maternity leave it’s not just that 12 months, it often puts you behind maybe two years. But we’ve been very lucky at Carat where we have a lot of support, you’re still involved in the business whilst you’ve been on maternity leave. You’re kept in the loop on things, you’ve already had those conversations early on in the piece what role you’ll be returning to. That worked really well with me, but it was incredibly daunting.

At the time, I didn’t have many female role models who had children. The generation ahead of us opted to have the career rather than the kids. So what’s really important for me and the women at Carat - we’re a lot more supportive of women that want to come back to work. What’s most important is having options; for me it was about keeping one foot in the door. Even if I was in the office for two days a week, that was important.

Krantz: Something that was really important to me was maintaining my voice in the agency. The industry moves so quickly and the tech side of it can get ahead of you, so for me it was making sure that the position that I earned pre-children was something that I could maintain when I got back into the agency, whether that’s part time, full time, case by case basis.

It was my decision making, my contribution to the agency, the seniority that I had got to was something which could be carried forward. Because otherwise you do end up in a situation where you’re always behind, I think to a point that’s unavoidable. I’ve seen guys progress past me in the time that I took out that we trained. But in saying that you weigh up what that equals and that equals three gorgeous children. I’m very content that I’ve got the family component that’s matched with an awesome job in an awesome company, that’s a happy outcome for me. But my career was very much an important part of the overall.

Colaneri: You can easily get a job back in media but is it at the same level of influence? That’s what’s critical.

Nichols: For me as a working mother, trying to get in a leadership position when you’re working in a service industry like ours, and trying to get that balance between raising kids and having time with your family, and making your clients a priority and your staff a priority, it gets tough. So I think finding that balance has been the biggest challenge for me so far.

We are getting much better as an industry at that. A lot of women are working part time, there’s a lot of job sharing, but I think there’s definitely more that we can do and I think it’s been very difficult for anyone who wants to be client facing to work part time.

Merrick: It’s not that you can have it all because there’s always sacrifices and balances. You’ve got to make your choices. But I think a lot of the women that came before made the point of saying that having a child and a career was not a possibility. Whereas I think the environment that we operate in now and this business in particular makes it a very real tangible option for you.

Colaneri: I mean to move it away from mothers, but we’re also really big on giving flexibility to all of our teams not just the working parents.

Krantz: We did a lot of research around what was important to us and our staff in terms of work/life balance. I guess going into it we weren’t quite sure what it would be, there were some hypothesis, but I guess the outcome was that it wasn’t necessarily one size fits all. That work balance means something to someone in a certain role is different to somebody else, be it our mums or the dads.

We talk about mums but we’ve got some really active dads in our team as well. So I guess what we wanted to do was introduce flexible work hours policy which allowed people to pick and moderate their day and accommodate what they’re passionate about and what they love outside of work. Whether that’s spending more time with family, sport, hobbies and that kind of thing.

Colaneri: There’s a lot of 'slash-ies' that need that extra time to accommodate their pet project.

Krantz: It was really well received, it was positioned as a trial because we didn’t know how it was going to go. But it was deemed a success, in that it was largely un-disruptive to the workplace, the benefit that came out of was seen on all levels not just the juniors. I think that it’s those sorts of things that sit not as a paid reward but are definitely seen as a benefit as working in the agency. There was an appreciation of the offer, so in that sense they understood the debit/credit side of it, so wanting to do the right thing by us because we’re doing the right thing by them.

Merrick: We’ve got a very similar approach to that, in our lovely town we don’t have daylight savings so we work differently. But I think that flexibility encourages diversity in the workplace then encourages diversity in the workplace as well. Because what you do is attract people who have a slightly different mindset to others, because they have the ability to be more flexible. So you’ve got people who love surfing, active parents it just makes for a really great environment.

James: People are just generally happy, people come to work happy and it makes for a better culture.

Merrick: It’s about being able to come to work, contribute and actually enjoying your surroundings and the people that you’re with because you know you’re appreciated and given the ability to be flexible.


Colaneri: I always say ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil’, because being really persistent is important. Also in our industry I think it’s important to be incredibly resilient and adaptive to change, because there is so many things that have changed over the past 20 years that I’ve been in the industry. I often think that it is survival of the fittest.

Krantz: I would say ‘trust your instinct’. I think that instincts are a really underestimated business criteria and something that can glean a lot of success in that it’s your guiding principal built over time. Often it’s your first thought that’s the best thought, but sometimes people second guess and double judge. I think more often than not if you listen to that, it’s the right way to go.

This was key in some of the decisions I made about returning to work after having children; decisions I made about my role progression, things I thought I was capable of whilst maintaining my work/life balance, moderating what I thought I could take on successfully and not taking on too much so as not to upset that balance. I think that’s a really important part of knowing who you are and what you’re capable of.

Merrick: If I had the chance to talk to my 18-year-old self, I would continue with the theme of, ‘It’s about not trying to be somebody that you’re not. It’s about being authentic and trusting your gut’, because at a point as a female in this industry you try and be all aspects and think, ‘Can I be more like a bloke? Can I do this?’

Then you have to say, ‘No, no, no, just be yourself, trust your instinct and go with yourself and things will work out’. You’ve got to carve your own path, you mustn’t try and be somebody else. Take elements from people that you admire, but don’t try and be like anyone else.

James: I would say follow your passion. Coming from a digital specialism for me by following that passion has really lead to my success because there’s always been a fire and I’ve been driven by that. That fire is something that I’ve continued to follow now, and I’m really passionate about it. That’s key for me.

Colaneri: I agree; I don’t think there’s ever been a day that I’ve woken up in the morning where I’ve not wanted to go to work. I’m really proud of that. That’s how you know you’re in the right place.

You can see it in the people you manage, the ebb and flow – some people will exit the business or the industry completely. It’s almost hard to empathise with how that feels because quite honestly this is what I was supposed to do.

Merrick: I lucked out landing in an agency almost 25 years ago as a media assistant and realising that this side of the business actually exists. Then probably within about a day and half thinking, ‘How lucky am I that I happened upon this! This is the best thing since sliced bread’ and it just grows on you.

For me it’s the perfect balance of being analytical, logical and creative all in the same vein. It’s wonderful.

James: I was going to build on that and say, how many people do you [B&T] interview that say the just fell into media? So many people fall into media.

Merrick: Especially 20-something years ago it wasn’t a part of the industry that was at the forefront, it was the creative or full service, then all of a sudden it’s the media thing.

Krantz: I think it’s exactly that, it’s the balance between art and science. You get to do a little bit of everything, it’s a combination of all of those things. You’re not necessarily going down a singular path.

Plus, the people – that’s what it is when you get down to it – working with clients, working with teams. Once you graduate out of the technical side of what you’re doing, essentially what you’re doing is working with people. That’s something I’m particularly really passionate about.

Colaneri: We’ve all worked at a number of different agencies over the years. I’ve been at Carat over the past 11 years. I’ve worked with a number of managers and CEOs and it’s been incredibly supportive of my career path and helping me find the role that maybe I was born to.

I think that’s been the case for many of us; understanding our strengths and weaknesses, working with that, and finding the roles that work to those strengths. It’s really paid off; we’ve had our most successful year this year so we’re really pleased but it wasn’t an overnight success.

Merrick: It was the guys too.

Colaneri: There are some amazing men who are incredibly supportive of us, a lot of them are dads as well and they get the same flexibility that we do as women. It works, it just works.

Nichols: I think I would tell my younger self to take time out to keep learning. I think that’s a massive part now because you get so caught up in the day-to-day and I think, particularly now with the rate of change in digital and technology, you need to making sure you’re continually educating yourself.

We all get caught up in our day jobs and for me it’s about making sure you set yourself two or three hours a week to take time out to keep up to date with what’s happening in data and technology and digital to see where the industry is going and not get caught in your day-to-day clients and the work you’re doing, and make sure you’re continually pushing yourself and driving yourself forward.


Krantz: We have in-house recruiters and a set team which do a lot of the recruitment, so I guess from that point of view it’s the absolute starting point, making sure that we have a wide range of candidates to choose from.

It’s obviously a very competitive industry so finding talent can be challenging, but at the same time it’s important that we don’t go into it with any preconceived notions of what the right person for the role is for both entry, mid and senior tier as well. I think that all of our guys and girls get exactly the same opportunities in terms of training, mentoring, coaching so on and so forth. We do regular salary reviews as well, and I’m very pleased to say we have a ‘same pay for same role’ policy.

Merrick: It’s a banded salary but it’s equal, so if we have an intake of graduates- female or male- they all get paid the same. At the end of the day, for the higher end of the scale and for business managers, there’s a salary band dependent on experience, whether they’re newly promoted or been in the role for five years. It’s the same band across both genders, there’s no difference.

Colaneri: I think when I was young, when I had a business director role and I was managing a team I definitely noticed a difference in how the males versus the females negotiated for themselves. Men are much more forthright and knocking on your door frequently for promotions and pay rises.

Whereas the females seem to be a lot more complacent and wait for you to come to them, so I think that’s part of our job to change that and give them that confidence.

Merrick: As a business we have a pretty robust performance assessment scenario. There’s a calendar of things we do in terms of setting goals, performance reviews, regular check-ins with people. So I think it’s all about feedback; you’ve got to give constructive feedback to people, but to talk about what’s really good about a person, how they can improve – just not in negative ways.

It’s not a one size fits all – you’ve got to really try and feel who’s in the room with you at a particular time. As a female, having known how I was treated over my 20-year career, you try and balance that, and you’re a lot more positive with the women because you want to give them a lot more confidence.

James: I mentor two women who are up and coming and a lot of it is around helping them feel confident to go to their managers with plans, what’s coming up for them, what their succession plan is and what’s next. But you still need that constant reminder and constant encouragement that you have a voice and you deserve this. It’s definitely something that we need more encouragement in as women.


Colaneri: I think part of that has happened naturally because the men that are now in leadership roles have partners that are also career women. So they understand why it’s important to have that balance. Recently when we partnered with Cindy Gallop we took a number of our young men to a session and I was blown away with their response, they were saying, “This is amazing, we’re so proud to work for a company that supports diversity and Cindy’s message. When we’re in leadership roles in the future we’re going to make sure that this doesn’t happen”.

I think it’s really important that we’re starting early in seeing those messages with the 25-year-olds in the office. Also, it’s important for them to work with female leaders [and see that] it’s not that special, it’s normal.

Merrick: A leader is a leader; it’s the person that mentors and manages them. It doesn’t have to always be a man. In Brisbane our leadership team is all female; it’s not by design it’s by merit, but what we actually have in Brisbane is a very even balanced agency from the business director down – we’ve got 50/50 split.

These guys are seeing a group of five women lead the business. But no one sits there and says, “These women are running the place”, but rather, “These are the people and the leaders who are running this businesses”.

Colaneri: The future of agencies is that kind of diversity. It just has to happen, it’s a given, otherwise how can we do the best work for clients? Clients are starting to demand more diversity in their teams. 85 per cent of women are the end consumer, and also we talk so much to our clients about innovation, disruption, all of these things. I don’t think that you can deliver that with a homogeneous group of people.

James: Catherine mentioned that we’ve got internal recruitment, but I think also it’s happening more organically now – that diversity – because we’ve got a diverse culture which is attracting more diversity.

Nichols: There are some agencies who are much more supportive than others, and there are some men at the top who are fantastic advocates for working parents in their agencies, and I think that’s a really important part of it. We do need both men and women to be driving this, it can’t just be coming from women because it just feels like it is going to become a gender issue and I don’t think it should be, it should be a parent issue.

I would love to see more men stepping up, and if we could have forums where there’s men and women driving it together I think we’d have a lot more success. I’d love to see some job-sharing dads – those kinds of things in the industry would be fantastic but you don’t see a lot of it at the moment. And it’s not talked about but it should be something that we do look at moving forward.

There’s a lot more women coming up in the ranks and there’s a lot of marriages within media, so as the women get the mores senior positions it’ll be nice to see some of the dads working part time and helping out with the kids as well.

It’s good to have those gender shifts because while our workers are important and we all love the industry, we also need to make sure it’s sustainable for us moving forward and that we’re supporting people. And it mightn’t just be people with kids, it’s people with passions outside of work and that’s how we look at it at Carat.

This article originally appeared as a three-part series on B&T

Authors: Hannah Edensor & Erin Doyle

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