THE BLOG
08/08/2014 06:10 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Kathleen Griffith, Managing Director of Business Development, mcgarrybowen

Kathleen Griffith spearheads the new business charge at creative 'Agency Of The Year'
mcgarrybowen where she oversees the NY agency's account acquisition strategy, organic growth, new capability development and brand marketing. Kathleen also contributes to efforts for the Water Tank Project, which uses art to draw attention to water scarcity issues and Leonardo DiCaprio's foundation, which focuses on the preservation of endangered species.

Prior to that, Kathleen was Senior Partner, Global Account Director at Ogilvy & Mather where she was responsible for aligning Kimberly-Clark's global proprietary offerings with the network's top local markets worldwide to ensure seamless integration. Before Ogilvy, Kathleen managed the General Mills Pillsbury business at Saatchi & Saatchi, a role that allowed her to deeply immerse in and gain a solid understanding of modern day female consumers' needs. Kathleen started her advertising career at Deutsch.

Her work has been recognized with awards, including a Cannes Gold Lion and an Effie. She has been featured as a 'Creative Innovator' by Conde Nast and been profiled by Citi Women & Co as a 'Spotlight On Success.'

A champion of women's causes, Kathleen has spoken on many panels, including S.H.E Summit and a PRWeek Roundtable, and supported the Cannes Lions 'See It. Be It' initiative to foster female creative talent. Kathleen proudly serves on two boards and is a Levo League mentor.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
After a few unexpected, devastating personal setbacks in my 20s, losing people that I really cared about and thought would be in my life forever, I finally got the message (although it was painful to learn) that nothing in our future is guaranteed and that any impression of security and stability is really just an illusion. Any material possession can be lost, any job or title disappear, any home decimated, any person taken. The only things you carry with you are your experiences, your character and your ability (which can only be learned through practice) to create something out of nothing. Through this I learned that there is NO greater risk in leaping with all your might than in simply letting life carry you where it may. In life, I can assume a certain amount of success (maybe 20% through hard work and attitude) but that to achieve anything great, you have to leap. While I've been called a risk-taker, I really just think of myself as an experience-builder.

The riskiest thing in life is to do nothing. The tingle and discomfort you get when you are deviating from the expected path, you can learn to perceive those sensations as good signs. Most anything lacks permanence, and if you can embrace that there really is no solid ground, you can fall forward successfully.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at mcgarrybowen?
In my professional career I've never found a single position that has everything in it that I needed to be fulfilled professionally. This has taught me that you need to draw into that position other experiences, learning opportunities and skills. I learned, for example, that I like to present in front of large groups--the very thing that sends most people knee knocking is what creates euphoria for me. And so I sought out conferences and large board meetings where I could present. I also love being around entrepreneurs and startup cultures, so I found ways to bring the 'outside in' even when working at large agencies. All to say, in modifying a position to reflect who you are versus trying to force fit into a position, you become more powerful and aligned.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at mcgarrybowen?
As it becomes increasingly hard to be top of mind for consumers, it becomes even more important to be able to approach clients as a business partner and consult with them across every facet of their business. The modern day executive needs a business background to help identify problems and opportunities, and we all have had to adapt to function more as consultants.

What has been personally exciting, is to watch the influx of young millennials, 'the Slash Generation,' into the workforce. This group is so curious and is not afraid to define themselves in many unique ways. They are not afraid to say, 'I'm a strategist AND photographer AND blogger AND graphic artist AND beer-maker... I am all of these things.' While I am still technically a millennial, this younger group of millennials are way more multi-faceted than I was at their age.

How has approaching your career as a 'jungle gym' made you stand out from the crowd?
My love of science in school was, more than anything, around systematically learning to be curious. In high school, for instance, I spent weekends at a small lab on New York City's Pier 11 dissecting an invasive crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, and looking for parasites--an undertaking in "curiosity" that landed me an award from IBM. Scientific literacy means questioning assumptions and the world around you. I continue to cultivate this growth mindset where I seek to learn, acquire new skills and develop myself across all spectrums of life. As a result, my career has not been linear and has been more of a jungle gym, as I swing to new rungs of learning. There have been periods of explosive growth as well as periods of introspection and investigation. Questioning and making decisions that may go against the status quo, but actually have great growth potential, have been my markers of success.

What advice can you offer women who would like to have a similar career to your-self?
1. Keep on going. So much of success is just about putting one foot in front of the other, day in, day out, at times minute by minute... through fear, change and insecurity. Ariana Huffington shared one of her favorite quotes from the great stoic Marcus Aurelius and part of it is worth putting in your wallet or if you are more bold, plastering on your wall. It reframes obstacles with this perspective: 'you are here for my benefit through rumor may paint you otherwise.' Embrace everything as if it was here as a perfect gift for you and keep going.

2. Believe in the power of great brands and their staggering potential to challenge and reinvent the ways people think and act. Just like building a commercial brand, building a personal brand requires you to first consider yourself a brand (I know, stick with me) and then figure out answers to these four questions: your point of difference (what makes you different?), your brand values (what you stand for?), your brand personality (what you present to the world?), and your associations and partnerships (who do you align with or not?). When done right, this is an amazing exercise in clarity; it allows you to establish what you stand for (and don't). It then allows you to make deliberate choices based on what is aligned with your brand vs. default to whatever comes next. This in turn helps you reach people in new and meaningful, value driven ways.

3. Don't subscribe to the status quo. Focus on the positive change you want to create in the world and what you want your legacy to be. At times this will mean your life doesn't look like everyone else's and you may at times need to walk alone.

4. Network. Network. Network. I used to cringe at the idea of going into a room and introducing myself to strangers. I felt like a cheap salesperson and I allowed myself to hide behind the excuse that I am naturally shy. One day I decided to force myself to meet one new person every day. When you introduce yourself to new people in both formal events and networking settings, as well as just on the street, your network and world expand exponentially. I've met people like Queen Rania of Jordan through this practice. Then you are no longer just you, you are also your network... as Maya Angelou once said, 'I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.'

5. Get involved with stuff that matters. I mentor a lot of young women and hear them say that they are not sure if they are on the right career path. It is a huge source of turmoil and I can relate to having felt this way. They are profoundly conflicted about what to do next in order to have a career they love. I remember at age 25 sitting in my cubicle feeling like an impostor since everyone else 'seemed' to know exactly what they were doing at all times and I just had ques-tions. What I tell young women is to tap into a single issue space (e.g., environment, women, education, health, etc) and get involved in it. For me, that is women's rights in terms of representation and economic empowerment.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Balance is another word that was created to make us feel shame and even more pressure to manage it all. Let's #banbalance. Someone I admire said it well, between professional and personal your focus just sloshes back and forth and it gets messy. Sometimes work is so far to one side it slops over and life runs completely dry (and vice versa). It is more like a system of droughts and rainy seasons.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
More than 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women. And yet the figures in my industry don't reflect this demand: with just 3% female creative directors worldwide.

Our industry needs to not only encourage female creative talent as it has strong implications for the messaging that young, formative women are in turn exposed to and consuming, but also I believe that female creative solutions are needed to shape answers to the world's biggest problems.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've a mixed group of personal mentors, both men and women across different industries. But I personally focus on just mentoring women in my industry because we are so far from parity and, quite frankly, too much talent is not making it to the top.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are the obvious leaders like Hillary Clinton for her commitment to diplomacy and pushing policy as a way to drive social impact. Meeting her when I was 16 and a few times since has taught me what it looks like to be in boiling water and still exert calm. Also, Geena Davis and her Institute on Gender in Media, for her commitment to reduce stereotyping and Diane Von Furstenberg has been a true inspiration since living in NYC, as she manifests her creative vision.

But there have been so many other unsung women who through a speech, quick conversation or chance encounter inspired my admiration. The woman whose name I do not know, but who approached me at Tina Brown's Women In The World Summit to say she scrounged up the few dollars she had to buy a ticket from India to help fundraise for her cause and how I wanted her to stay with me because I could feel the urgency behind her mission. Those are the sorts of women I want to speak to, learn from and share.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
Support more women. Drive meaningful social impact. Learn from change agents and more young people. Continue to partner with the worlds greatest brands. Leverage new technologies. Reach consumers in unexpected ways. Demonstrate the power of branding and brand building. Flex my entrepreneurial muscles. Stay grounded.