11/15/2014 10:41 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2015

Women in Business: Lesley Bielby, Chief Strategy Officer at DiMassimo Goldstein

Lesley Bielby is Chief Strategy Officer at the independent advertising agency micro-network DiMassimo Goldstein, and Managing Director of the network's brand consulting and consumer research division, Propolis, where she combines her skills to provide clients with consumer or customer insights in the context of brand strategy. The integrated micro-network is the DiMassimo Goldstein answer to a world ever more fragmented by the wealth of emerging insight and communications channels, giving the agency the ability to keep pace with the accelerating speed of change, while having the flexibility to bring the right people to their clients' tables.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was born into a very working class Scottish family to very young parents. But I was never aware of my social status. They taught me that you can do whatever you want if you want it badly enough and if you work hard enough for it. When I moved to the U.S., I realized that the vast majority of corporate leaders had come from similar backgrounds, so I was in excellent company, sharing their values of hard work, humbleness and a strong appreciation of everything they achieve - because they are always in the context of where they started. Never a day goes by that I don't look back and wonder how this girl from Paisley managed to get to the role I'm in now. Part of me feels like a fraud while the other part would like to pat me on the back and say 'well done'.

Also, years ago, I survived a life threatening illness. As most survivors will tell you that the sole benefit of such an awful experience is instant clarity. Everything you do from that moment on is in the context of gratitude and priorities. Often, during trying times, I have asked young folks who report to me 'what's the worst that can happen?'. And typically the worst isn't that bad at all. It has also helped me to be bolder in the decisions I have made in my career and in the recommendations I make to my clients.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at DiMassimo Goldstein?
During the early part of my career in advertising, I took time out to train as a psychotherapist in the UK and left the advertising business to practice. I had a shared practice at a clinic for a few weeks but then bailed because it's a very lonely profession and, interestingly, it can be quite dull. However the art of listening and interpreting the true meaning of what people are saying really helped me as a researcher and strategic planner, where my primary focus is in understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DiMassimo Goldstein?
I have worked at DiMassimo Goldstein twice - the first time I was only here for six months and, against my gut instinct, I accepted a position at a large international agency. However when I told Mark DiMassimo that it wasn't for me, and that I was leaving, he and Lee Goldstein instantly asked me to come back. This was a huge highlight for me both personally and professionally and I am thrilled to be back where I belong. The agency had been growing fast, and since I re-joined we have continued that winning streak and the quality of work just keeps getting better and better.

How is DiMassimo Goldstein making a difference in the advertising industry?
I am so tired of the digital vs. traditional war. I know our clients are even more tired of it. At DiMassimo Goldstein, it's a non-issue because the agency was born hybrid 18 years ago to help clients solve their business and marketing problems no matter what medium. At its core, the agency is still about finding big and bold ideas to help our clients leap ahead of their competition. But now there are so many new ways to get insight into consumer attitudes and behaviors and there are literally limitless ways to express these ideas and engage people today. To us, this is very exciting.

Additionally, I came to the agency this time round with the idea of bringing a separate brand consulting and research company which could live under the DiMassimo Goldstein umbrella, but which could work independently too. This was embraced wholeheartedly because the media arm of the agency, Proove, had already adopted this model successfully. Now, DiMassimo Goldstein has done the same with our design practice, Formless, and intends to keep expanding in this way - essentially creating a micro-network of entrepreneurial experts that are available to serve as AOR for clients whenever they need us, or on a project basis. I really believe this is the model of the future.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in advertising?
If you really do love the industry and are willing to work hard, get educated in a relevant field and then network like crazy. Don't do it if you don't love advertising because life is too short to not do what you love. Demand that everyone you meet give you the names and contact information for at least three people with whom you can network. This industry isn't for the faint hearted, but I believe that those who managed to find strategic and creative ways to get hired into their first job are more driven than others, and therefore more likely to succeed.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Early on, technology actually made the issue more challenging because there was no way to separate family time and work time. I think we have evolved now to believe that it isn't about splitting time between work and family. That's just not feasible. Technology allows us the ability to integrate the two. That being said, uninterrupted personal or family time is critical to anyone's sanity - whether you have children or not. I'm extremely lucky because my husband works flexible hours and is therefore at home much of the time. I commute from Boston to NYC for a few days each week, but am able to work from home for the remaining days. This means I can take my kids to school and have dinner with them. Also, as anyone who works from home will tell you, it's a great time to write, think and get a lot more done.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
This industry has been reasonably kind to women lately. Within any organization women tend to be promoted in marketing, but are overlooked in other management roles. Because we work primarily with marketing executives, there is balance in our industry and often, more women than men on any given team, but I know that on a corporate level, this is fairly exceptional.

Despite this, I still get depressed by the tiny number of female CEOs across all industries and the belief that women need to sacrifice everything to get to the top role. Maybe I'm being over optimistic, but I think the next generation of male and female prospective CEOs will both want to get more out of life than dedicating 100% mind, body and soul to the company. I really do believe equality at the top will only change if men and women are both aligned around this.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have honestly not sought out enough mentors in my career but have been lucky enough to have had some incredible bosses over the years, including Mark DiMassimo today, who have played and continue to play a mentor role. I have used career coaches in the past and that has been incredibly helpful. But I would strongly recommend that other women get as many mentors as they need - both male and female. It has definitely been an oversight on my part. However I have mentored many people - especially young women - and have taken great pride and joy in doing so.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire any woman who proves that women can excel anywhere. Whether it's Madonna, Jennifer Saunders or Tina Fey - they don't have to be in the corporate world. Every woman who does this proves that anything is possible.

What do you want DiMassimo Goldstein to accomplish in the next year?
I want us to grow and thrive, continue to love what we do, and make great shakes in the industry. And I strongly believe we will.