Leaders

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Patola Figueroa on being a woman in the creative industry

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There are plenty of words we could write about Isobar Mexico VP, Patola Figueroa.

There is plenty of time we could spend trying to capture her essence, her strength, her attitude to leadership and all of her personal backstory. But in truth, there can be no better narrator to her story than herself.

Patola is a strong woman, and she knows it. A fair leader, a caring mother, a proud daughter, a fierce human being. And that is why, in the Getting to Know below, we decided to keep every single word of her lengthy interview.

Because Patola's story is the same as the one of many women out there, in the creative industry and beyond, dreaming to achieve their aspirations and every day trumped by a society, a system or a culture founded on gaslighting and sexual harassment.

If you have ten minutes to spare today, put them to good use and read Patola's story below. You will not regret it.

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Tell us about your current role!

I’m a creative Vice president for one of the most creative, multi-award winning agencies in Mexico; Isobar. I’m responsable for the well being of my creative department and the health of the brands we work with.

I am also responsable for bringing in new business. In this respect, we are a very successful team. Agencies that pitch against us always express respect because of our effectiveness.

On the matter of my team’s wellness and the ramifications of this new reality and working from home, I recognise that leadership implies finding the way to inspire our teams because it is not easy to work at a distance, to win accounts during a pandemic, to hire new talent and provide the team with peace during this time.

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

My work, my effectiveness, my presentation skills and wild spirit earned me this position. My clients have supported me throughout my career. I have always had the best team.

If you ask me about my biggest challenge, I would have to speak of how I was a young, crazy, advocate and practitioner of free of speech, liberal, wild, and strange, rude, an outsider, and middle class woman, in a chauvinist world, surrounded by hyenas who wanted to eat me alive because I was smart and insightful. I have felt suffocated and besieged, breathing insults, innuendo, sexual harassment, awkward sexual propositions in luxury hotels in exchange for a better position.

It’s getting the job done all while blocking the hands grabbing at my ass. It is the creation of a character that allowed me to survive in an industry were rape culture is still the norm, where gaslighting is still a thing, and the ever so prevalent slogan, “she is a woman”,  is used in every conversation in the Mexican advertising industry to undermine brilliance. It is always working for less money. It is always giving more; more ideas and more hours, because as a woman you need to stand out in any possible way. It’s tooth and nail.

My biggest challenge has been getting the job done all while blocking the hands grabbing at my ass.

I had to deal with CEOs who threw newspapers at my face while I was pregnant just because I quit my job and was nominated as the only on-site jury in Cannes for Mexico. The problem was that my quitting had resulted in the name of the agency disappearing.

I have been called a whore so many times, by women and men, just because of my liberal stance, all the while clients and bosses have applauded my work.

I have been denigrated and my work questioned because it was inconceivable that I could actually be a good writer. The consensus seemed to be that I had obviously fucked every creative director, every Vp and every client to become Vice-president, because a woman cannot be this good in our industry.

I have been asked to fuck off close to a hundred times, and received even more threats in these past 20 years of career building. I am still fighting.

It has not been easy, but even if this appears to be some sort of hell, in 20 years I have met and worked with a lot of good people, respectful clients who believe in my talent, and great bosses who have taught me to deal with these kinds of situations. A lot of therapy is also part of this equation, to be sure.

I have learned to let dedication and work speak for itself. They scream louder than conformity; good clients recognize and appreciate talent.

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What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I was born in Mexico City, which alongside my parents, made me. My parents are two amazing humans, who I recognize as the most noble, funny, and humble, of humans who have given more than they have gotten. I feel like they tipped the odds in my favor by giving the best they could, by teaching my sister and I the value of money and how crucial it is to be a good person. Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. My parents are the perfect combination in their own right.

My father is a life-long soccer player, successful and a strong man. His beautiful voice, mind for math, love of literature and sudoku, as well as always having the right answer, being great listener and the patience of a saint have been sagely conveyed to me. He takes care of my mom like nobody else.

My mother is an angel and a warrior. Her heartbreaking story has only elicited my respect. She was orphaned at 6 and could never study because she had to work as a maid at 8. She became a mother at 15, widow at 17, and lost a baby 2 days after he was born, my brother, Ulises. She was always alone, living on the street, but her heart has always been on fire, she is tough but sweet at the same time.

I may not believe in God, but I believe in life. How could I not?

Despite the fear she is fearce, knowing when to show claws, always helping people and animals alike.

She always gives to people in need. She believes in God with devotion, and she waits for a miracle every day. I may not believe in God, but I believe in life. How could I not?

We used to travel a lot, that's why I know every corner of the Mexican Republic and part of the United States; my father loves to drive. I remember being on a road trip to Disneyland, I was so tired and had stopped feeling my legs, but I was so happy. I was happy because my father was happy on the road. He was always driving, shirtless and topped off with a pair of Rayban shades, and a mustache, steering with one finger. My mother always travelled with a pillow, the promise of sleep never fulfilled as she was never failing co-pilot. I can hear her voice reminding him: drive slower Juan!

That was peace. That was balance.

I think our environment affects us for better and for worse. Knowing my parents' life, their pain, their stories, their debts, their lack of food, their lack of a home, made me promise that I would work my ass off to be able to provide my family a life they deserve.

I am a strong woman. I like to sing, travel, help people, and animals; I like to live. I have dreamed into life what is now my beautiful son, my partner, my counterpart, our home in the woods, and our 3 adopted dogs.

I know it is not enough, and this feeling of always wanting more both haunts and pleases me. I am capable of keeping quiet or still. I am motivated to the core to change reality, hopefully for the better, whether I like it or not. I know how extraordinary I am, I love myself because I love my heritage.

All these things have played a role in my career because I am not a quitter.

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If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

When I was seven, I was the main dancer of a regional dance group. I led 15 dancers, the best in Mexico city, and for 10 years we had shows in many important venues in the city. I was very good, I have a beautiful voice but I never took it seriously and I was a great actress, I think that is why I have always been so dramatic and expressive. I could have been a famous singer or a recognized dancer, that’s for sure. Now I only sing in the shower and I wouldn’t dance, not even at gun point.

What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, the hire already motivated people and inspire them." - Simon Sinek
 
The secret to having a great team lies in hiring well. When you always hire the right person, inspiration goes both ways. You need to hire passion, commitment, lofty dreams, the desire to be better, goodness, and respect. These values must be embraced by the people you invite to collaborate with you. A person who has all these characteristics plus a great talent guarantees success. This easily ensures 50% of what you need to be the best agency. One must never forget that people are expecting some things in return.

You have to be respectful to your team; each individual, no matter what they believe, their sexual orientation, identity, nationality, whatever difference you can think of. Leaders must be understanding and patient, with the upmost respect of their schedules and needs. Always lead by example.

How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

It is not easy to live, work, keep your parents and son safe during a pandemic. Suddenly we couldn’t leave our homes, see our friends and family, or go to the supermarket when you have a fight with your husband. Now we all work, eat, sleep, scream, cry, take a shit in the same space, every day!

You run the risk of drowning in meetings. There are new obstacles to showing your boss that you are the right person for the position, you have to show your team that you are strong, you have to show your clients they can trust you 24/7. You have no personal life, because if you lose your job it’s going to create a complication for EVERYONE in your family.

This is exhausting, I am exhausted.

I’m a person, I’m a mother, I’m a wife and a daughter. It may sound like an Alanis Morrissette song, but man, WE ARE EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW! I’m scared, I want to get out of here, but when I am out, I feel sick and I think I have COVID-19. I can’t sleep, I’m worried, and I live in front of my computer until 3 am every day because I have a lot of work, but I love to have a job! I thank the universe for this opportunity.

I don’t know if right now I’m a great leader, I’m doing my best, as we all are. We are winning pitches and we are hiring during these difficult times. We are doing our best as a team and my team knows that if they need something, they can trust me.

What is your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?

First, find out what success means to you, and then do what you love. Have the balls to quit shitty places, with shitty conditions and shitty bosses.

Be good with people.

Do yoga, travel alone and read a lot.

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How do you recharge away from the office?

There's a place in Oaxaca, Mexico that stole my heart: Mazunte. It is a beautiful beach. I just go there and breathe.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

I want to show all women in Mexico who have dreams in this industry that they can work in a space without danger.

I want to fight for the creatives that are mothers, so they can work from home 6 months instead of 3, and men too. We need to change this in our country.

I want to grow in my network, so my son can see that his mother has accomplished her dreams. I want to set that example.

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