Grey Canada’s President & CEO Stephanie Nerlich is a career-driven woman who has the charisma of a successful leader and a culture creator. She is also a loving wife and a mother of two. She leans in to what she believes in and passionate about. I am honored to have interviewed Ms. Nerlich last week and share her attitudes toward work and life to our aspiring readers. Enjoy!
In today’s society, work-family balance can be extremely challenging for men and women alike. Nerlich points out that life is full of trade-offs and that one can never attain everything all at once. It is therefore essential to have a partner who can contribute equally to split up the parenting duties. In the case of Nerlich, she is grateful to have a caring and devoted husband, Chris, who shares the parenting duties with her perfectly. While Ms. Nerlich is responsible for getting her two girls ready for school in the morning, Chris spends time with them in the evening after work. Stephanie recognizes herself as a career-driven parent rather than a working mother. She is loyal to her aspirations and manages to maintain professionalism even when she has her own family.
“I am really opposed to an organized mentor program that picks names outs of a hat because I think that people will be more successful when a [mentor-mentee] relationship is built naturally.” Throughout her career, Nerlich notes that she is fortunate to have both male and female mentors who act as great role models to provide her with career and personal advice. However, there are a lot of women in the workplace who do not feel comfortable to find mentors or have male bosses who are ineffective in leading them. Nerlich offers an inspiring solution to the situation; instead of being passively assigned to mentors, women should take the initiative to seek out the right person for advice. The success of a mentor-mentee relationship lies on the personality match of the participants. Therefore, Nerlich advocates a natural way of seeking mentors. One should get to know the person well rather than being predetermined in the process. Some of the possible approaches as suggested by Nerlich include ice-breaking programs, community-based and school-based mentorships. Nerlich devotes great effort in fostering female leadership exchange in the community. Being one of the founding board members of Ad Women of Toronto, Nerlich turns the idea of naturally formed partnerships into reality for women in the Ad Industry.
“There are not enough women on boards in major organizations in the world, and there should be [more], in fact studies have shown companies with women on the board perform better in the market. Why not as many women? – historically boys clubs maybe but also maybe they haven’t asked for that. Everyone has to ask for the opportunity they believe they want, and to be successful it has to be driven by passion.” Despite decades of effort and the greater presence of women with college educations, there is still an enormous gap between men and women in the executive management level. A lot have chosen to blame women for their natural lack of ability and their greater emphasis on performing family duties. Nevertheless, Nerlich chooses to interpret the situation from another viewpoint. Instead of putting it as women are not the one to be chosen or promoted to the top management level, Nerlich thinks a lot of them actually choose not to take the responsibility despite being very qualified. It may be a woman’s choice that she does not want to lead.
“I encourage women not to do that [hold themselves back in career], their voices are extremely important.” Is there anything that men should learn from women? Owning over 20 years of leadership and management experience, Nerlich thinks in the affirmative. First of all, female leaders are often more effective in creating culture than their male counterparts. Due to both nature and nurture factors, women are generally more concerned about human conditions and are better at creating a harmonious corporate atmosphere. On top of that, women are also more capable in handling multiple tasks.
Interviewing Nerlich was a rewarding experience to me and I hope this post offers you all some meaningful insights. The take-home message is that: We, as aspiring students and females, should be able to dream big, voice our passion out, ask for what we need and be the one to take lead.
University of Toronto (St.George) ’14