Innovation is key to everything we do here at JPC, whether we’re helping our clients win multi-million pound bids, developing immersive experiences or building laser-focused campaigns. And with studies showing that having more women on your team vastly improves innovation efforts, I was curious to discover how this plays out at JPC. And just in time for International Women’s Day – 8th March 2020!
So, with this in mind, I caught up with three of JPC’s female leaders to chat about how they simplify the complex, humanise the technical and ultimately get clients closer to their customers through innovation and storytelling.
Polly Foster spoke to Jemma Clark, JPC’s Project Services Director; Claire Ellis, Managing Director; and Jeannette ‘JP’ Pritchard, our Founder and Chair.
PF: International Women’s Day this year is all about ‘collective individualism’, meaning that the small things we all do have an impact on our larger society and, together, we can help to create a more equal world. What are your thoughts on this?
JP: Collective individualism – that’s a really powerful theme for 2020 and a strong message that there’s a societal need to all move forwards together. I couldn’t agree with the sentiment more, and over 20 plus years of helping clients and growing teams I’ve witnessed how it’s the accumulation of the small day-to-day actions and behaviours that determine workplace cultures. That notion, combined with the celebration of people’s unique contributions, makes for a powerful discussion around this theme.
JC: I agree that it’s a really strong message. I would say I’m a pretty big advocate for women in business personally, and definitely think we’ve got a long way to go for equality in the workplace. But I think we’re fortunate that we’ve got a strong collaborative culture at JPC and we really try to embrace everyone’s unique skills and perspectives.
CE: For me it’s important to remember that, diversity is not just a women’s issue. At JPC we see diversity as a rich, creative blend of different skills and abilities. And capturing and celebrating both people’s individualism and their differences is what gives us our collective impact.
PF: Of course – in the year I’ve worked at JPC what’s really struck me is the lack of hierarchy. We take ideas seriously regardless of who comes up with them, so the best idea might come from the most junior member of the team, or from someone who doesn’t necessarily have a ‘creative’ role. Tell me more about how this openness helps us to innovate for clients.
JC: Absolutely, I think it’s our mix of different perspectives that allows us to be so innovative when we tell clients’ stories – coming at things from a challenging, outsider position that they might not have thought of before.
JP: It goes without saying that the more diverse a team of individuals you have round a table, with different backgrounds, experiences, genders etc., you are inevitably going to have a richer and more exciting outcome. The more diverse the collective the more rich and innovative the outcome of ideas.
JC: You need to get people together who understand the technical elements of the client’s proposition with people who understand the customer’s needs, and then together you can plot the customer journey and address their challenges and pain points in an engaging, emotional way that will ultimately help the client win more business.
Personally, I love sitting in a brainstorm with a mixture of creatives, content strategists, and account managers and seeing the stories take shape. Do I really care if there’s an equal ratio of men and women? No, but I do care that the right people, with that range of perspectives, are in the room. And often this naturally falls into a pretty equal split of men and women anyway.
CE: But you can’t get away from the fact that JPC was founded by, and continues to be led by, female entrepreneurial characters. JP and I both talk a lot about a sort of intuition for reading the room – we call it ‘Fingerspitzengefühl’. It’s a German word that means ‘the sense at the tips of your fingers’, a bit like Spider-Man’s spidey senses.
JP: And this is something that’s not exclusively a female trait – but it’s a strong emotional intelligence that runs through the women in our team. It’s an intuition to go with your feelings and be led by the gut. Going with the heart over the mind.
CE: Yes, it’s a sort of chameleon-like ability to read characters, and change the narrative accordingly. And I think it’s what feeds into our storytelling style – it’s a way of being able to captivate audiences, send them on a journey and bring experiences to life in a really imaginative and creative way.
PF: That’s really interesting, I love the idea of Fingerspitzengefühl! Do you find that this intuitive, collaborative approach works equally well when we work with male-dominated industries like tech and construction? Do you find any particular challenges or opportunities as a woman in these sectors?
JC: My specialism is experiential, where we build and create customer experiences through innovation centres or showcases. So I’m very used to being the only female on the construction site or in the AV meeting. I would very much like to see more women being part of that conversation, but I wouldn’t say that as a woman I have an advantage or a disadvantage – your success is based on your skills and abilities, not your gender.
CE: We cut through a lot of process and complexity in those industries – not because they’re male dominated, but because they’re highly technical. And I think our style and our approach, and perhaps some female intuition, helps us to do this. But I would equally say that every member of the JPC team is as capable as the next of bringing different perspectives and ideas that simplify an otherwise complex industry – and this is more to do with the creative, no bull**** approach at the heart of our culture, than something uniquely female .
JC: I kind of think that by saying that women might have an advantage it almost tips the balance back towards inequality. It’s not about having an advantage, it’s about being treated the same way. Getting mutual trust and respect from people who think ‘Gosh, she really knows her stuff’ rather than ‘Oh she’s a girl.’
PF: It sounds like we’re really seeing the benefits of our collaborative and inclusive working culture. Are you seeing other businesses adopt this approach too?
JP: Of course, lots of great work is being done to promote gender diversity and inclusion in so many areas and sectors, but it requires a degree of bravery – which takes us back to the International Women’s Day collective individualism theme. If we want to engender lasting effects and initiate real change in ourselves and others we need male and female role models to step bravely forwards and help assist their teams to achieve exceptional collective results.
JC: I agree that working styles are changing in general, and it’s good to see more companies embracing more equal maternity and paternity packages for example.
CE: And these indirectly benefit the customer as well. This is something we talk about with our clients quite a lot. They forget that employee experience and customer experience are intrinsically linked – if your employees don’t feel supported by your culture then they don’t reflect that back to customers.
One of the biggest problems is that vision and mission are often developed in a very small stakeholder group, and then cascaded to the rest of the business. But if you give employees the opportunity to contribute and have a voice, you’re already starting to create an environment that is more inclusive for them to work in, and the customer experience improves as a result.
PF: What can we, both men and women, do to accelerate this change?
JC: I think realising that both men and women are a combination of all traits. Some people would say I can be pretty assertive (or bossy!) and I’m very ambitious, which are maybe seen as male traits. But then at the same time, I’m very caring to those in my team. So being aware of how we pigeonhole each other is key.
PF: Like the GirlBoss movement. It’s meant to be empowering, but you’d never call a male leader a BoyBoss.
JC: Exactly, it’s stereotyping and patronising. It shouldn’t be anything to do with gender, it should just be the fact that they’re damn good at that particular job.
CE: I agree. The workplace should be inclusive and comfortable for everyone, but I think some companies have gone so far that they’re sometimes making it an uncomfortable place for men. There has to be balance and a recognition that we all have different workstyles, so offering flexibility and not trying to enforce one way of doing things is key to creating an effective work environment that fosters high performance.
JP: We can’t achieve change in a culture of fear or anger, it has to be one where we honour, respect and celebrate our differences – where that dreary little ego is kept firmly in check and thriving cultures can be born out of transformational leadership.
CE: Exactly, and you’re never going to be able to drive an inclusive, welcoming, comfortable, equal environment without making sure that there’s diversity at the heart of your organisation on the leadership team. Because if you don’t have that diverse representation within the group setting the vision and the strategy then how the hell is it going to filter down?
Thank you to JP, Claire and Jemma for taking the time to speak about this important topic. The JPC team will be spending the day celebrating and reflecting on our unique achievements, perspectives and skills. It’s this variety, and the respectful culture that enables it, that allows us to achieve the best results for our clients, and ensures that we love what we do. Happy International Women’s Day from all of us here at JPC.