The women of AKQA New York

By Patrick Burgoyne

Over 50 women across all departments of the agency took part in AKQA’s Rise Together project to mark International Women’s Day. Firstly, they were asked to explain their route to working at the agency. Many came via circuitous routes or after discovering a passion for what the agency does having first tried a different field.


For Associate UX Designer Mor Weziman I’ve always been interested in creating art and what influences the way people think and act. That influenced my choice to study photography and sociology at college. After working at a fashion magazine and a tech startup, I discovered that UX design was the intersection of both my interests. I went back to study UX at General Assembly and joined AKQA soon after.

Marisol Pelaex Senior Analyst I was actually referred to my current role by my first real boss. I moved to NYC with no job, just a summer internship that I hoped would become a full-time job. I developed a great relationship with my manager there, which eventually led to my joining AKQA. I’m a living, breathing testament to the power of networking.

Emma Greenwood Senior Strategist I was just out of school without any strategy experience and desperately looking for a strategy job, when an incredible woman took a chance on me and put me forward for the apprentice program. It’s been nearly four years and I still find new things to learn every day.

Olivia Gericke Associate Project Manager When I graduated from college my first full-time job was working at an architecture firm, but I realised I wanted to help create digital experiences. So I left my job, enrolled in an immersive tech boot camp and started learning about all aspects of web design, which helped me get my foot in the door at agencies.


The stories of the hurdles and challenges overcome by the women who work at the agency encapsulate many of the issues faced by women working in the creative industry, and in advertising in particular. In their own words, here are some of the major points raised

Resh Sidhu, Creative Director The toughest thing for me has been balancing my career with being a mum of two and finding time to fit it all in, it’s often the guilt you feel that weighs you down. I have also encountered some terrible managers in my time, who for some reason or another enjoyed making my life difficult. But I believe the hardest times and crappiest people really mold you into being resilient and fearless.

Melissa Zimyeski, Executive Director – Strategy + Analytics I had a hard time (and am still struggling with) finding balance – for my family, my work, and most importantly myself. It is hard to turn off – but I have learned to treat my off time as time exclusively for myself and my family to connect undistracted, to prioritise self-care, and to forget that I have 18,403 unread emails waiting for me when I return. It is not about returning to work rejuvenated; it’s about recognising that I as a person deserve to be taken care of and trying to find small and big moments to do that.

Ruth Baughan, UX Designer Imposter syndrome. I think we all feel it at some point and I’ve experienced my fair share. Looking back, I have a handful of awesome women who believed in me to thank for helping me overcome it.

Tierney Beck Senior, Project Manager At first it was intimidating to be the only female in a room/meeting full of males. But now I see it as an opportunity to challenge the status quo. I no longer hesitate to voice my opinions.

Tesja Bonnie Copywriter Prejudice. Becoming a copywriter as a non-native speaker without an advertising degree or any experience, was met with skepticism by many. Proving someone wrong isn’t impossible, it just takes a lot of hard work and persistence

Sarah Cunningham, Senior Account Director I used to think I didn’t deserve to be rewarded for my efforts and dedication to my career. I always felt like ‘Why me?’ I was just ‘Doing my job’, I think it’s partly to do with entering the industry right in the middle of a major recession. I was always given the impressive that ‘luck’ played a major role in securing my first hob and it was inappropriate to ask for anything beyond delivering your day to day role.

Sure, I’ve experienced male dominated management circumstance, lower salaries to my male counterparts and overall lack of female mentorship but I’ve never let that discourage me. If anything, it gives me more of a fighting spirit to change it! Those who are dedicated and willing to fight for change deserve a place at the ‘top table’ no matter their gender.

Kai Lawson, Senior Project Manager Representation has been a huge one for me. I recognise that while the brands I work on often target people that look like me, very few agencies actively have the people that look like me and who share my experiences working on those accounts, in any discipline. Recognising this disconnect has fuelled me to work harder to share my perspective and contribute insight to my teams, while also advocating for diversifying the industry. I feel strongly that you can’t tell anyone’s story better than they can for themselves.

Amanda McCarthy, Account Supervisor Initially I found the constant rotation of co-workers in this industry challenging and exhausting, especially when losing a strong female manager I connected with, or a co-worker turned close friend. But now I’m more flexible to work with different styles and to roll with the unpredictability of team structures and projects. I’ve also gained so many wonderful friendships.

Stacey McLean, Senior Account Director Early on in my career I was judged for the way I dressed. That turning up to work looking polished everyday implied I spent more time on myself than my work. I lost a lot of strong female leaders and coaches along the way. Their dedication and success in fostering happy, driven teams was not seen as important as big shiny work, and eventually they left for roles where they were valued for all their skills.

Genesis Mendoza, Senior HR Generalist not speaking up. In my personal life, I’m quite vocal but when it comes to work sometimes I shy away because I have been afraid of failing. Over the past year, I’ve learned some of the greatest projects have come to fruition when I spoke up and took it head on.

Mor Weziman, Associate UX Designer The decision to go back to school for UX design was a big one for me. I was worried I would invest everything in this new path and ultimately not feel a connection with it. It ended up being a leap of faith, but it was the best decision I’ve made for my career so far and I’m so glad I took a chance.

Hera Young, Art Director Being in a position of power and influence when surrounded by male counterparts, it has been difficult to have my voice be heard and respected. This I feel is due in part to the presupposed idea that strong females are aggressive, unreasonable or difficult (aka Be-atches). I have come to a point in my life and career where I’m comfortable and confident in what I have to say and don’t concern myself with how anyone else thinks it should be said.


And finally, what would these women hope to see change in the future? From the need for role models, to better to support to, just, earning equal pay for equal work, here are just a few of the responses

Elisa Tang UX Designer So many things. For starters, more women, including women of colour, in leadership positions. Having the ability to be assertive without being labeled angry or emotional. The dismantling of the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ and most importantly, having more men take a stand against sexism and gender inequality and for all of us to recognise gender biases, even in ourselves.

Lisa Pickett Account Director I hope to see more women in positions of power to help ensure that this wave of positive momentum continues and is impactful. Also to encourage and inspire the next generation of female talent to continue redefining the face of this industry. I was extremely lucky when I started out to work amazing senior female talent, who encouraged me to speak up and push to be considered for any opportunity I felt I was appropriate for or would benefit from.

I’d also love to see a more equal spread of women across all disciplines as having a female perspective across all fields is invaluable if we are to create relevant and meaningful work that appeals to real people vs. boardroom execs.

Marisol Pelaex Senior Analyst I’d like to see women become confident in their work decisions. Confident in addressing the wage gap and requesting more money, in asking for time off for vacation or maternity leave, in speaking their mind in meetings and asserting their leadership over projects. It’s not only a shift that must take place with the employer, but with the women themselves. We need to get comfortable in our own skin.

Stacey McLean Senior Account Director A perception shift. Women shouldn’t have to act like men to get ahead. You hear of female leaders who could ‘take on any man’ or are ‘decisive and stoic like a man’. What?! To this point, we need to reset the stigma around strong women being a ‘bitch’, or aggressive. When they are just being ‘ballsy’ (if they were a guy).

Better child care. That shit’s expensive. Some families can’t afford childcare, or it becomes a trade in for lifestyle. Especially in large cities. So until more men start being stay at home parents, forget all that ‘Lean In’ business, if you can’t afford child care, there is no leaning in.

Sarah Keator Project Manager I’d love to see more women in leadership roles. I’m still at a stage where I’m developing my voice and it would be encouraging in my field to see more female role models that exude confidence and determination in the workplace. I’d also love to see more women in tech and STEM-based positions. I look back on my education and wince when I realize that I was really curious and fascinated by physics and algebra and that I was too insecure to pursue it. Why did I think I couldn’t be an astronaut or engineer?

Robyn Bynoe Office Coordinator It would be lovely if people were impressed rather than intimidated and offended by powerful, intelligent women.

Angel Zhang Account Director: I’d like to see a broader view when we talk about women’s success in the workforce. We focus on women in tech or the corporate sector, but too often this is skewed by a prioritization of corporate jobs over other sectors. I work[ed?] in the social sector and I’m surrounded by female peers who have long leaned in, excelled in their careers and are literally changing the world. Creating a future we actually want to live in requires leveraging the strengths and perspectives of a diversity of people – across genders and industries.

Mor Weziman Associate UX Designer A workplace where there’s not an implicit advantage that comes with being male.

Hiye Shin UX Designer Equal pay for equal work.

51 women responded to a questionnaire sent to all of AKQA New York’s female employees. “This is an important day for our team, it is an honour to work alongside such a diverse and talented group of female leaders, entrepreneurs and creatives at AKQA NYC,” says Giles McCormack, International Managing Director of AKQA. “I am particularly excited today as we celebrate our team by telling their stories through an exhibition of photography and personal storytelling. I hope the stories from our team will help other women to overcome challenges that they may be facing today or inspire them to reach their goals”

Read all the Rise Together responses here at The Dots

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