"As a creative, I've never had a female to learn from or look up to as an example of what was possible for my career."
It's not uncommon to hear such stories from female leaders in the industry, even today. Though we are slowly getting there, we have a long way ahead before reaching true equality. But CCO of MRM US Melissa Ditson has found a way: if you're missing role models, make them up for yourself along the way.
This week we are Getting to Know an entrepreneurial leader who managed to find her balance in such an eventful year, even though recharging your batteries in COVID times is becoming more and more challenging by the day.
Tell us about your current role!
I am currently CCO for the US West at MRM. I am responsible for our creative product and leading our creative, user experience, and production teams in the West.
How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?
I am where I am because of hard work, endless energy, and lots of passion. As a creative, I never had a female to learn from or look up to as an example of what was possible for my career. I've had to make a lot of it up. And this has driven me to be the leader that I am today and make sure that the next generation of creative leaders looks very different.
What is your personal background, and what role did it play in your career?
Growing up in London exposed me to a lot of colourful experiences early on in life. That, coupled with creative parents, has definitely shaped me into the person that I am today. Experiencing different cultures, working in London and New York, and now Salt Lake City, which is where I'm currently based, is a great way to break out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to view the world from different perspectives.
If you weren't in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I went to art school. But I chose the commercial path because I quickly realised that to earn a living as an artist is rare. I love what I do and can't imagine doing anything else. However, I would love to write stories for children. I have an idea for a kid's book to inspire young people about all the creative things they can do when they grow up—more of a hobby than an alternate career. It's a dream that I hope to work on someday soon.
What's your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?
Sharing the work, talking about the work, and having a constant supply of opportunities to keep the team inspired and motivated. Creating the right culture is such an essential part of building successful creative teams. I believe it's critical to create a safe space for people to feel uninhibited and cultivate a culture of sharing creative ideas without fear of judgment.
How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?
The most important lesson I have learned as a leader this year is to be ready for change. And the importance of leading with empathy.
What is your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?
Work hard. Knock on doors. Ask for opportunities. Three things here, but all equally important.
How do you recharge away from the office?
That's a hard question to answer right now. The lines between home life and work are so blurred. I take mental breaks when I'm moving, and recently relocating to Utah, there is a lot of nature on my doorstep. I try to take breaks and get outside to keep me sane. Mental health is so important to keep a check on with my team and my own. Being out in nature makes everything feel as if it might just all be okay.
What's your one big dream for the future of the industry?
Equality. We're making progress, but we still have a long way to go. I am optimistic that for an industry that plays such an important role in shaping culture, we will continue to progress.