FRIDAY 23 MAR 2018 2:17 PM


Talking to a female CEO is always fascinating. Global CEO of Hotwire, Barbara Bates gives an insight into what it takes to be a successful woman in business in the framework of International Women's Day.

Hotwire underwent a rebrand in September. Where do women in business fit in the new identity of Hotwire?

It’s very hard for me to separate ‘business’ from ’women in business’ because I don’t know any different. I think the fact that we have a lot of women in this organisation subtly touches everything we do. There are actually more women on the leadership team than men and that’s very unusual, especially for an agency our size.

Are there internal program​mes educating, guiding and empowering women to seek executive roles?

Yes. It isn’t just for women, but for working parents. We have a programme called ‘Thoughtful Working’ and it’s a workplace philosophy in which we don’t really care where you are to get your work done, as long as you are where you need to be. People can work from home, and so the flexibility helps new parents. Also, our maternity leave is great, lasting up to a year. Additionally, we hire part-time people, which is an easier entry back to the workforce.

We are owned by a parent company called Enero, which is big on diversity. They’ve actually brought together all of the women leaders within their agencies under a programme called ‘Enero Women’ where they bring in leadership guests.

Being a working mother is a daunting task, what helps you achieve balance between being a career woman and a mum?

I don’t believe in work-life balance, I like to say work-life integration, because life is never balanced. But with flexibility and If you cut yourself some slack, it is manageable. If you have the philosophy that you are hiring adults, then you have to make them accountable.

Being a CEO, have you experienced prejudice against you because of your gender?

Of course, but I kind of ignored it. If you come to the table really confident, no one will mess with you. However I do have a story to tell you. I remember working with the executive team of this company that were all white men. One time, one of the executives said, ‘Ugh, I could use a cup of coffee.’ As soon as he said that, I knew all eyes were on me. I’m sure my face turned bright red and I remember thinking ‘Do not look up Barbara, do not look up.’

What is the biggest victory you have conquered as a woman in this business? What are you most proud of?

I think getting this job, followed very closely by starting my own company and running it successfully for 25 years.

You were very supportive on social media for International Women's Day 2018's campaign theme #PressforProgress. What does Press for Progress mean to you?

It goes back to the story that I talked about. We’ve always worked with women’s organisations, but that’s about it. I was very passive and I think Press for Progress conveys that you have to actually take action. One big interest of mine is getting more women on boards of companies. For me, Press for Progress is a lot about swinging the pendulum far off of centre, before it actually settles back where all this is going to seem normal.

What are the steps society and companies should take in order for more women to seek leading roles? How do you apply those in Hotwire?

I think representation is very important. If young women don’t see women in leadership positions, they don’t picture themselves in them. I do think certain stages of a woman’s career is really different from a man’s because of motherhood and I think more companies are getting better about that.

What is the most noticeable change you have seen towards women in the industry in the last few years?

I would say the sheer numbers. The head of Pepsi, the head of General Motors, the head of IBM. These are big, global, billion-dollar companies that have women leaders and you never saw that before. I think women are much more confident to be themselves, they are now joining forces.

Did you ever have any issues in the early days with the client-agency relationship?

There were definitely uncomfortable situations. One of the things I hate, is when clients say, ‘The PR girls.’ The word ‘girls’ is one I correct all the time. Once in a conference room full of women during a pitch in San Francisco one of the executives walked in and said, ‘Oh is this the book club room?' That just happened a couple of years ago so behaviours like this are alive and well.

Are you hopeful about women’s role in the industry in the future?

Yeah! Equal pay is a major issue though. I was just having drinks with an agency principal who discovered that her male counterpart was being paid more than she was, so she got an attorney. Good for her. Money speaks pretty loud.

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