Women in Business: Denise Delahorne, DDB Worldwide Communications Group

03/20/2015 01:54 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2015

In her 29-year career at DDB, Denise has held senior leadership positions in account management, business development, strategy and research working on behalf of clients like Ameritech, Clorox, Dairy Management, Dial, General Mills, Morton Salt and State Farm. She has experience across a broad range of products and services--from cereal to cell phones, salt to soap, and appliances to insurance and financial services. Throughout her distinguished career, she has led her teams to win numerous creative and marketing awards for developing effective advertising that drives results and wins the hearts of American consumers.

Denise began her career in advertising after receiving her MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago. In the years prior, she was a registered representative for Prudential-Bache Securities, gaining first-hand experience with the power of a brand name in marketing financial services and acquiring customers. Prior to that, she was a cold caller for Smith Barney Harris Upham responsible for prospecting high net worth individuals. She holds a BS in Psychology, magna cum laude, from Tufts University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My father died when I was four-months old so I was raised by a single mother who held a full-time job, a part-time job, and was going to graduate school at night while try to be a good mother to my sister and me. She was a force of nature (still is) and set a larger than life example of what you can accomplish with an education, energy and persistence. Most of all, she taught me that however bad a hand you are dealt, you can always find a way to rise above it.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at DDB Worldwide?
Before I got my MBA in at The University of Chicago - after which I joined DDB - I was a stock and commodities broker. The pace was frenetic, and at the end of every day, I knew what I had accomplished based on how the market closed. I tend to think of everything - financial and otherwise - in terms of return on investment and I'm more focused on outcome rather than process.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DDB Worldwide?
I have been very fortunate during my tenure because I have worked with people who recognized and weren't afraid of the fact that I didn't fit neatly into just one discipline but instead appreciated that I could add value in a range of ways. I had a long career in account management before transitioning over to business development and ultimately, strategic planning and research. The real highlight has been that I have been given the latitude to re-invent myself and develop new skills so that I stay relevant in what is, by advertising's very nature, a very challenging environment.

Tell us about DDB's latest Life Style Study and its findings.
The DDB Life Style Study® is the nation's longest running and largest longitudinal study of attitudes and behaviors. This annual study has been in existence since 1975 and enables DDB to provide exceptional insight into American consumer attitudes and behaviors. The latest data release is about gender equality in the workplace. The findings make clear that although great progress has been made on some issues - like the belief that equal jobs should receive equal pay - there is still a lot of work to be done. The majority of men and women recognize that gender discrimination in the workplace happens a lot and that women have fewer opportunities in the workplace than men. There is also a sizeable group that recognizes the double standards that exist for women to break the glass ceiling, with 50% of adults saying that a woman has to be a superstar to get to the top of her profession whereas a man just has to be above average. Perhaps most distressing is that even women hold some of these gender biases, with 17% of them believing men are naturally better leaders, and 21% thinking the President of the United States should be a man.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think I am pretty good at distinguishing between what is important and what is not. I give it my all when I am working on a time-sensitive project and put in long hours when that is what is required and often joke that I'm paid by the year. But when something can wait until tomorrow, I don't hesitate to walk away. Everyone teases me about carrying around 2 iPhones - one for work and one for life - but that really helps me create boundaries during my personal time.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I don't mean this flippantly. It would have to be the attitudes of many men. Until we have cultural condemnation of gender discrimination, women will continue to struggle for equality in the workplace.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I recognize the importance of mentors and so I make an effort to pay it forward. When colleagues seek my opinion to help them deal with a difficult situation or want career advice, I'm flattered. I have a collection of notes that I have received from people saying that because of something I said or did or an example I set, they were able to resolve their issues and ultimately thrive. When I wonder if I've made a difference in my career, these notes are reassuring.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire the women who are trailblazers, like Shirley Chisholm, or courageous like Malala Yousafzai, or selfless, like Edna Adnan. These are women who have changed the world with their determination and grace.

What do you want DDB Chicago to accomplish in the next year?
I want DDB to be recognized for all of the great work it does on behalf of its clients and be rewarded with more business success. Beyond that overarching goal, I hope that Better by Half, DDB U.S.'s gender balance initiative, continues to gain traction and followers. We are trying to bring men and women together at every level to discuss and find opportunities to promote gender equality in the advertising industry. Research has shown that when there is better gender balance in leadership positions, companies perform better. Our perspective is that gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart business decision to make.