FROM BUSINESS TO POLITICS: ARE LEADERS PROVIDING A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR SPEAKING UP?

Feb 21, 2019

Evita Puente

 

Evita Puente is a Berlin School graduate of our Cannes Creative Leadership Programme and Executive Creative Director at Pescador Public Strategies LLC, a Texas-based marketing and branding firm on a mission to empower American Latinos to build their identity in the American political landscape through research, strategic planning and storytelling. Throughout her career, she has seen the influence of listening out for the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ in order to engage and connect with more diverse audiences, as global culture rapidly shifts. She has also witnessed this dynamic on an internal business level, seeing the positive effect of enabling a more authentic multicultural workforce that reflects the audience that it speaks to. We spoke to her about the value of creative acumen, empowering diverse creative voices, and how the Latino perspective has shaped her role as a creative leader.

 

 

You describe yourself as a ‘creative instigator’. Can you tell us what it means to you?

There are so many areas, today, where creativity is at the intersection of making ideas happen. Creative leaders have to be very versatile in the thought-leadership they provide for fellow leaders of business, enterprise, digital, and technology and how they need to lean in against those areas. Even in engaging with departments such as HR when dealing with diversity and inclusion – it’s important to be creative at that level. When we think of the soft skills that creatives traditionally learned in agency environments, there’s a lot of creative thinking we can now bring in to different departments. For me, that’s what instigating means. At Pescador, what we’re really instigating is the Latino vote. From a mission perspective, we’re here to partner with progressive leaders and help them to make authentic connections with the Latino community, and to see that that community get properly integrated into the political conversations that are happening in the US today.

 

What are the qualities of a leader whose responsibility it is to act as a beacon between the more corporate and creative sides of business and politics?

In the old-fashioned world, creative leaders were probably guilty of getting over-excited about the creative ideas and, looking back, we may have looked at more traditional business leaders as being the ‘order-takers’ at the end of the funnel. Now that so many of these creative leaders are taking on in-house roles, they are seeing that they don’t have the same kind of voice that they once had or the same ability to make ideas happen fast enough. But there are several skills that can help to change this dynamic. We often talk about business acumen, and it’s something that creatives have to learn when they enter a more corporate environment. But I’d like to talk about creative acumen. I think there’s a huge place for creative skills in bridging the gap in those environments. The language of creativity and strategic feedback is completely different. We need to learn to showcase our expertise in a way that influences departments, rather than persuades them. And not just influencing on a ‘brand’ level, but also in a way that aligns with business priorities and strategies. 

 

What global cultural changes are influencing the responsibilities of leaders and what are the risks of not listening out for these?

I’m surrounded by such diverse talent in my role – there’s diversity in age, in experience, gender, culture and even schools of thought. Visible diversity is one thing, but learning to make sure that you listen and value and integrate them all is one of the key aspects of being a leader; making sure that you shift internal cultures in order to elevate people. As creatives, we have a responsibility to give people who are not at the table, a seat at the table. Occasionally, I’ve found that some of the most valuable insights have come from conversations I’ve had in the hallway and not at the table. In that moment, I have an opportunity to make sure that the right creative voice is brought into the room. If we don’t make an effort to diversify the voices at the table, then the risk is that we have young, diverse, talented creatives entering a workplace where they feel like they have to ‘whitetrify’ their behaviour, in order to eventually earn that seat. We have to ask ourselves, are we expecting people to tone down their cultural script in order to join the conversation; are we asking women to behave like men? We need to be brave enough to invite a level of discussion about creativity that may be culturally uncomfortable but that will make the work brighter and better.

 

In the past, you’ve spoken about the need to ‘reframe’ stereotypical feminine qualities into valuable business qualities. Can you tell us more about this?

We’re seen as communicators. And we have to change the perception of this as being a negative thing. I’ve been told by well-indented leaders, male and female, in previous jobs that I’m too emotional – that I’m this crazy Latina, and I need to tone it down. And so, I pulled back and asked myself how I could be less emotional. But then I saw the breakthroughs I’d had with clients over the years and I realised how much of that had come down to emotion. This is what they had placed their trust in – they knew that I cared and that I would take the time to listen and ask the right questions. How this makes the client think and feel is important, but how it makes them act is crucial. Where we used to think of ‘emotionality’ as a way of making people feel better, we need to see its real value as a way to make people act differently – as a way to influence behaviour. From a creative perspective, and an idea perspective, this can be immeasurably powerful. As a leader who’s very conscious and sometimes driven by emotion, I used to think of ‘passion’ as being my superpower. But I’ve realised this isn’t the case. My power is the ability to drive a client or a colleague, through this emotional connection, towards an action.

What are some of the most important responsibilities you’ve learned coming into your own as a leader and an advocate for women in business?

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in recent years was attending the C3 Conference last year. It was life-changing. Being in a room with so many diverse women and men with a shared goal to drive change. I hosted a panel called ‘Representation Matters’ looking at the responsibility of leaders to drive the right kind of conversations. It’s something I’ve struggled with throughout my career. Making sure we’re building the right kind of conversations is more important than starting the conversations in the first place. When I look at the recent wave of movements around speaking up about inequality, particularly around the Time’s Up movement and the Wendy Clarke story, I applaud the starting of the conversation. It’s so important and brave. But then, how are we shaping those conversations? Are we, as leaders, creating a safe environment that welcomes speaking up? Are we putting our own fear of being offended ahead of our team’s freedom and ability to speak up? Leaders need to step up to the plate and do this every day at every moment.

Listen to the full interview with Evita Puente on ‘Meet the Experts’, the official podcast of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.


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