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Over the last year there’s been a resurgence of the national dialogue about women in the workplace, specifically about women in the executive suite. It sparked when Marissa Mayer was appointed as Yahoo CEO and subsequently banned telecommuting. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead fueled the discussion even before its publication. Countless women, including me, picked up a copy when it was published.
While this discussion has raised a lot of debate about things like gender equality in the workplace, one thing that isn’t debatable is that there are not many women at the executive level. Even fewer who are CEO’s. Daina Middleton, Global CEO of Performics, a search and performance media agency, is one of the few.
During her 16-year tenure at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Middleton held several key marketing positions including Director of Advertising for HP’s $28 billion global Imaging and Printing Group, managing both digital and traditional mediums. She served as a Senior Vice President at Moxie Interactive before moving to Performics in 2010.
Middleton’s book Marketing in the Participation Age: A Guide to Motivating People to Join, Share, Take Part, Connect, and Engage is how she happened to come to my attention. Because she’s part of a relatively small group – female CEO’s – I was curious to learn more about her. I wondered what challenges she had faced along the way and what she would tell her younger self. She graciously agreed to answer my questions.
What was your biggest professional challenge?
Without a doubt leading the turn-around of Performics. The company had been bought, sold, or merged four times in five years. The vision was not clear. Employee morale was low. At the same time, there were some fabulous gems inside the company. I could see the potential and knew there was great opportunity. Earning the trust of all employees was a key part of the journey.
What was your biggest personal challenge?
I lost my first husband to a Frontotemporal dementia. Given the nature of the disease, I lost him long before he passed away. My kids were very young: two and six. There were a number of difficult decisions that had to be made and yet life had to go on for me and for my kids.
What was your greatest success?
My children. They are now 20, 24 and I have a son gained through marriage who is 26. They have matured into amazing individuals. I am so proud of who they have become and enjoy watching them progress on their individual journeys.
What was your biggest surprise in business?
That gender differences are not more openly recognized and talked about. There are many gender nuances that can cause misunderstanding in the workplace. For example, women make decisions differently than men. Women like to include others in the process, gather a great deal of information. Men are more individual in their decisions and quicker to act. I have seen several very senior women lose their jobs because their peers and boss didn’t feel they could make their own decisions because they were going about the process differently. If we recognized these differences and talked about them more there would be fewer misunderstandings.
What would you tell your younger self?
To have more confidence and believe in myself. I now know my instincts tend to be right and I generally know what to do. I often admired skills in others and didn’t believe I could do something until I had more experience, or a better education, or had performed a different job. I trust myself more and waste less time second-guessing myself today.