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Women of Tomorrow Awards: Interview with Emily Samways

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In the run up to the Women of Tomorrow awards DNA are catching up with previous winners to find out why this is such an important award to enter, why it's relevant now more than ever and how winning has changed their careers for the better.

I sat down with Emily Samways, Managing Partner at OgilvyOne to see what winning the award has meant to her...

How did you first get into advertising as an industry and why?

I always loved watching TV ads, I think fondly of the classics from my childhood. At university, I studied Applied Psychology and in my final year I focused on economic and consumer psychology. I found the combination of science, emerging technology and creativity hugely exciting. I spent my holidays gaining experience in London ad agencies, and applied to the agencies whose work and agency culture I liked. I was rewarded with a place on the Ogilvy graduate program, which I was hugely excited about.


What made you apply for Women of Tomorrow?

It was partly driven out of behaving like the role model I’d always wanted to see. In a way, I wanted to prove to myself and others that there are many paths to success, and the way to unlock your potential is to be true to yourself, your values and what excites your mind.

I had taken an unconventional path, across direct, digital, brand consultancy and advertising, following my interest rather than trying to climb the ladder in one discipline.

When applying, I had worked with and launched some amazing brands, written and taught courses for the IDM, been vice president of women’s network Bloom, and was engaged in the diversity debate. My passion for approaching things in a purposeful, value driven way was supported by Nicola Mendelsohn, who sponsored my application - and she was hugely supportive of female talent.

Do you think diversity is still an issue in the advertising industry?

Undoubtedly. It’s not just our industry though. I was reading HBR over Christmas and was (not unexpectedly) horrified by the list of the top 100 CEOs and the lack of diversity within them. The diversity issue is so much wider than gender. We’ve addressed this many times in Bloom’s panel discussions and debates. We have to keep talking about it and continue to address it.

What do you think agencies can do to help retain and promote female talent?

Diverse role models are really important; a recent HBR study showed that women don’t tend to see themselves as the future CEOs despite having all the attributes to successfully lead - so promoting a more diverse talent pool will go some way to demonstrating what is possible and encourage others. Sponsors and mentors are also key to guide, support and give the hard-to-hear feedback that enables future leaders to see a path to the top. The biggest thing is a cultural shift away from doing things the way they’ve always been done in the past!

What do you think the most pressing issues women face in their careers and how can we all help with these?

We need to create the environment that enables women, and everyone, to achieve their potential.

We can’t practically apply ‘double-blind’ in the day to day workplace but an awareness of unconscious bias helps. Language is loaded with simple descriptors or asks to ‘take care’ or ‘take charge’ having connotations way beyond the words. Men and women are guilty of continuing the cycle much of the time, oblivious to the underlying effect.

In the centenary year of the suffragettes, I’d love to see a shift that liberates potential in all our talent!  

How do you think government organisations can help in the challenges companies face when women take time out for maternity leave?

Of course, improved maternity/paternity, flexible working for both men and women and school holiday time helps. Let’s remove the ‘motherhood penalty’ where opportunities, pay and promotion are compromised with the choice to have a family to be their main career.

We must make it easier and culturally acceptable for men to take time out too, although shared paternity leave is a brilliant development, it’s a big cultural shift for organisations (and men) to make and one where we need to see social-norming with many more male role models.

How has your career developed and changed for the better by being a ‘woman of tomorrow’?


I count myself among one of many women who aren’t natural self-promoters, so the Women of Tomorrow award was fabulous recognition that I was doing well in the path I was following. This built my confidence further, helping me stay true to myself and my desire to both explore what interested me and do so with a sense of purpose.

Key to my values is a desire to have a positive impact on others, to help them feel confident and achieve their potential. Being a Women of Tomorrow has certainly provided a bit of a spotlight to allow me to do this, which I am very thankful for.

If you know anyone that you think would be suitable for this award, please suggest that they put themselves forward as soon as possible - the entry deadline for this is the 18th January. To learn more about the Women of Tomorrow Awards, visit the website and for all things DNA visit our insights page.