Insights in health & wellness branding


Cherchez Les Femmes

30 April 2019   |   Gretchen Kren

AT women are winning professional recognition awards in record numbers this year. In March and April alone, Lynnette Hunter was named to the MM&M Hall of Femme, Leah Shanholtz was designated a Woman to Watch by MM&M, and Jody Van Swearingen was named one of this year’s Notable Women Executives Over 50 by Crain’s Chicago Business. Congratulations to all three for the well-deserved honors.

To provide insight into experiences and perspectives that have helped shape their careers, the three women recently shared their thoughts on the evolving role of women in healthcare marketing. Here are some highlights.

During your career, what changes have you seen that improved professional opportunities for women?

Lynnette: Every year I’m inspired by more and more women in leadership and managerial roles. Because their views and opinions are valued in these senior level roles, I believe we are also seeing improved policies on things like maternity leave and flexible work schedules. Seeing more opportunities and more sensitivity to the need for work-life balance lets women know they can take on leadership responsibilities and have a personal life.

Jody: Early in my career, I worked for a company where one of the principals was a woman who was a wonderful guide and mentor. Then I came to AT under another great woman leader who taught me the ropes and supported me as I built up the art production department. And then Stephen Neale, also a great leader and mentor, paved the way for me to pursue my career in creative, back when nearly all creative directors were men. I was more fortunate than many other women in our industry because I had supportive role models showing me what I could achieve. Now I see more and more women in positions of power and influence – heading up agencies and departments, serving on the juries for award shows, and running their own companies. There has been significant progress, but it has been slow in coming

Leah: As UX has gone through rapid growth within marketing and advertising, I’ve seen more and more women represented in the field. UX is traditionally rooted in software technology, which is typically male-dominated. More women participating in UX helps to shift the broader perception of the role women play in leading STEM fields.

Do you believe that agencies with women in key leadership positions have a competitive edge over those that don’t?

Lynnette: Companies that provide different perspectives have an advantage over companies that are single-minded. And I think women often bring a different way of problem-solving to their work, which also provides an advantage.

Leah: I agree that it’s critical for agencies to have diversity in their leadership to spark creative solutions that reflect unique perspectives and values.

Do you believe there are gender-related traits or experiences that make women especially well-suited to healthcare marketing?

Jody: Women are often the primary targets in healthcare marketing, so, yes, there’s shared experience to draw from. But I think a more important reason women are well-suited to healthcare marketing is because we’re generally more comfortable dealing with emotion, which is a main driver of healthcare behavior. To succeed in our field, you have to understand what matters to others and empathize with them. Whether by nature or nurture, women are often good at that.

Do you think women have a responsibility to mentor other women in the workforce?

Leah: I don’t think women have a requirement to mentor other women, but I got where I am today in large part because of women and men who helped me grow in my career. I take opportunities to pass on what I’ve learned and help support the growth of others. I’ve also become aware of my role as a woman in leadership that colleagues may be observing and learning from.

Lynnette: Women who came before us worked to open up space for us to advance and we have the responsibility to make sure we’re helping others do the same, women and men alike.

Jody: Showing what’s possible, helping set goals, giving support and encouragement, keeping everything in perspective – we owe that to everyone.

What challenges do you and other women in healthcare marketing still face?

 Lynnette: Healthcare is historically male-driven at the top – among physicians, pharma companies, device companies, R&D, government agencies – which for a long time made it difficult for women to be accepted and viewed as peers. Today we are seeing that dynamic change significantly, but it can still pose challenges as women are constantly pushing the boundaries and pushing to level the field.

Jody: The struggle for work-life balance remains a big challenge. Advertising can be a brutal business, with lots of stress, late nights, travel and personal sacrifice. My family and friends are important to me and I often wish I could spend more meaningful time with them.

Leah: Even today, women are required to work harder to prove their credibility more than their male counterparts. I’ve often witnessed women receiving more questions and skepticism when providing direction.  And while more women hold leadership positions at work, the role they play at home as family manager hasn’t necessarily decreased. The expectation is that balancing home life and work life is difficult for women to manage, whereas that viewpoint may not be held for men.

What holds women back in healthcare marketing?

Jody: Maybe we don’t always have confidence that we’ve earned a place at the table. I came of age when “feminism” was a positive, egalitarian concept and now some women act like it’s a dirty word. The road to gender parity is a long, hard journey. You have to believe in your soul that it’s your right to pursue a career of your choosing, that you’re equipped to do it well, and that you’re entitled to the same opportunities and rewards as your male peers.

Leah: I’ve seen some extremely bright and capable women lack confidence and hold themselves back because they thought they weren’t ready to step outside their comfort zone. While it may feel scary or uncomfortable, it’s important to take risks. No matter what happens, the result will be an experience you will learn and grow from.

What advice would you give women just starting a career in healthcare marketing?

 Lynnette: Always fight for balance in your professional life and your personal life. Focusing on professional success alone won’t serve you well. You need personal satisfaction to experience professional satisfaction.

Leah: Take control of your own career path. If you’re interested in pursuing something, take the initiative to map out a plan to achieve your goal rather than waiting for someone else to do it for you. If you’re not sure where to start, conduct some research and try to connect with others in the industry.

Jody: Stop, take a breath, and stay open. Never think you have all the answers. Always know you can find something new and learn from others.

What can agencies do to improve women’s professional opportunities and job satisfaction?

 Jody: Promote women into roles of real power, welcome them at whatever step of their careers they’re in, and give them more flexibility. A lot of women want to do good work and advance their careers and help grow their companies. But they also want to be able to pick up their child from school without feeling like they’re letting down their team. Things like remote commuting, job-sharing and flexible schedules help make it possible to be successful and happy in both arenas.

Leah: Agencies can make a point to encourage diversity in their leadership teams to ensure women’s perspectives are included. Agencies can also be mindful of systems they have in place that could have a gender bias.

Lynnette: Recognition is important. It makes you feel validated for your achievements and sends the message that you’re valued and respected. One of the reasons I’m happy being named to the Hall of Femme is because my agency put me forward for the honor. I should say, though, that while I understand the need for singling out the achievements of women and working to ensure women have the opportunities to build the careers they want, I look forward to the time when we can stop focusing on gender. By the time my daughters enter the workforce, I wish everyone could just be considered for their human merits. Wouldn’t that be great?


About the Honorees:

Lynnette Hunter, SVP, Account Director, joined AbelsonTaylor more than 16 years ago as a traffic coordinator. Over the years, she built a deep understanding of agency processes and the unique challenges that surround healthcare marketing and advertising – and helped make some of the most challenging initiatives a reality. That includes assuming leadership roles in digital marketing and consumer engagement. When not at work on her brands, you’ll find her on the golf course, the water, the slopes, or on-the-go with her family. Read her MM&M Hall of Femme profile here And look for more from Lynnette in the June and August issues of MM&M.

Jody Van Swearingen is SVP, Group Creative Director at AbelsonTaylor. A true Chicagoan who hails from the Northside and went to UIC. She’s been making ads for over 30 years at various agencies. So, name a medical condition, and chances are Jody knows all about it. Name a medium, and trust Jody to know the best way to use it. Name an award, and odds are Jody has won it. Bring up architecture, theater, design, art, Doctor Who, Haruki Murakami, or Rick & Morty, and she can chat about them all. Enthusiastically and thoughtfully. See her Notable Women Executives profile here And watch this space for more news about Jody soon (hint: It’s another award).

Leah Shanholtz is Director of User Experience Design. Since joining AbelsonTaylor in 2013, she has transformed the role of user experience, helping to strengthen the agency’s reputation as a major force in digital design. She expanded UX service offerings to meet the needs of the agency’s broad base of healthcare clients. She also spearheaded the addition of usability testing, an essential tool for validating and reinforcing AbelsonTaylor’s creative and strategy recommendations, which has become a competitive differentiator for the agency. Here’s why MM&M named Leah a Woman to Watch: You’ll see her again in the June and August issues of MM&M.

Share this article:

Head shot of post author Gretchen Kren

About the Author

Gretchen Kren is the Senior Communications specialist at AbelsonTaylor. A 15 year vet in pharmaceutical advertising, with over 10 years experience Coordinating internal and external marketing and communication initiatives. Additionally, she is responsible for all of the agency’s award submissions. Gretchen lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her husband and three children.