This blog post was created in collaboration with VMLY&R, and contains paid promotion.
Iva Welker is Managing Director at the Czech branch of the global brand and customer experience agency VMLY&R. As an advertising professional with more than 20 years of experience, and on top of that a successful woman in leadership, she has much to share to inspire others in their careers. We talked to Iva about her career milestones, challenges, work-life balance, and much more!
You have more than 20 years of work experience behind you. What would you say were the most important milestones which paved your path from junior to Managing Director?
The first milestone was the discovery of the advertising world. I was still studying at the Prague University of Economics and Business with a major in Macroeconomics, and at one school occasion, I met Terry Martin (at that time managing director of the ad agency Bates) who offered me an internship within the agency account team. It was an amazing experience. After my graduation I became a full-time account executive and started my path in this fantastic industry.
Advertising is zesty, vigorous, and it combines creativity with science. Every day, every task can be different and there is always something new to learn. And that fits greatly with what I love, which is eagerness to learn, always finding ways to improve, or making it simpler. Discovering this about myself moved me forward on my way and brought me new opportunities and advancement. My moves up were always by doing the best work I could and saying “yes” to a great variety of tasks on top of my day-to-day activities. The more I did, the more I was noticed. But it could be tricky. Good work is often rewarded with more work. So you must be aware and ready for that, you must want that. And I still do, even after 22 years. I have learnt that all my extra efforts have always brought benefits. Not always right away, but eventually in situations I did not expect.
On my path, I have been lucky to have good mentors and sponsors on my way. It allowed me to broaden my perspective and show me that there are other points of view, other opinions, and of course, it enriched me with valuable feedback. I have become braver in taking risks and stepping out of my comfort zone.
Motherhood was another big milestone. Being a mother helped me to be more patient, learn to properly set priorities and make compromises, be flexible and not be afraid to adapt.
And finally I must mention, saying out loud what I want and need. I did ask several times in my career for a promotion, but always with a plan and a proposal how to approach that and why.
What were the biggest challenges in your career path? Would you do anything differently if you could go back?
It has always been “work-life” balance. Any client servicing industry can go on 24/7, and new ideas come not only within the working hours. It is a challenge to find a healthy balance. And when my daughters were born, this became even more of a challenge. It did take me some time to reorganize priorities.
From a business perspective, the biggest challenge was to build a 30-person team across 12 countries for one of our international clients. From scratch and in a very short time. Within just a couple of months we built a fully functional team, organized the roles within the team, designed a system for the way of working and processes. And did a lot to make everyone motivated and happy.
When I look back, of course, there were mistakes, I often tried and failed. But from this perspective, I would not change anything. These mistakes made me smarter and more resilient. However, there is one thing I would do differently. I would ask for help more often, either at work or at home. It is actually limiting to think that I have to do it all myself. I learnt that it is not a good strategy at all.
Part of success is being able to learn from your mistakes. What are the most important things you have learned through missteps?
Everyone makes mistakes. It helps us grow. What I have discovered myself is that I can only learn from mistakes after I admit I have made them. And that I must be courageous about making mistakes. “Healthy” risk taking is what pushes us forward to succeed. Don’t give up, take away learnings, and look forward. New mistakes will come anyway.
During the course of your career path, you also spent some time on maternity leave. How would you say motherhood has affected your career? And how do you manage to maintain work-life balance?
I worked till the day before my first daughter was born. It was my plan. Then I stopped to concentrate on the baby. Soon after my second girl was born, and the challenge doubled. I have always been active, and my passion is to create new projects, so I founded a project that blended kids and the business world. I started the first maternity center in our town, together with a group of moms with small kids.
Due to changes in my personal life, I stayed by myself with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. And I returned to work soon after. It was in 2010. My boss and my clients respected my need for flexible hours, which was a very open-minded approach at that time. Thanks to that I was able to spend valuable time with my small daughters and work as well. I admit I did not make any time for myself, and as I reflect today, that was a mistake. I should have asked for more help.
I often say my “A” team” is at home. It is important for me to have my home environment in harmony and balance. My daughters are 14 and 16 now, and the “teamwork” is at a different level again. I have a similar approach to my team in the office. It is a never-ending process evolving in time. I believe it is about mindset, mutual respect, communication, prioritization, and cooperation.
Advertising is a lifestyle and I love what I do. I admit I don’t like the “work-life balance” label. For me, a much better expression is “life balance”. Work is part of our life, and we have one life. Our life should be in balance, but it looks differently for everyone. At the end of each day, it should give me positive energy and a good feeling.
You have many years of experience managing mid- and large- scale teams. How do you deal with managing a diverse environment? And how do you get a diverse set of teammates to successfully collaborate?
Respect, open and transparent communication, and trust. These are key factors to work in a diverse environment. After all, we all have the same goal in our team: to be successful, grow our own and our clients’ business. In an advertising agency, we get an extra bonus added to this - we have fun.
The best results we achieve are through teamwork. Since the world is diverse, diversity in workspace is essential and amazing. It drives different perspectives, brings colorful insights to solutions. When we open up to diversity, we create work which is unique, effective, and can make a difference.
As someone who’s risen through the ranks, what is the best approach to succeeding in a male-dominated environment without sacrificing your authentic self?
Authenticity and being yourself is, in my opinion, the best approach in any situation. But the most fundamental value of a woman working in any career is self-belief. If you don’t believe in yourself, then how can you expect others to do the same? Comparing yourself with others or over-thinking on comments you might have heard is not the right way and it blocks your self-esteem.
In a male dominated environment, it is important to make sure your voice is heard and with confidence. Recognize the value of your opinion and believe that what you want to share is worth listening to.
I have never been in a situation in my career when I would feel disrespect, mistreatment, or lack of support because I am a woman. My advice to someone who is or will be in such a situation is not to be stopped by it. Make sure you learn from it and voice your discomfort.
From your experience, what advice would you give for building self-confidence and internal resilience?
Be proud of what you have accomplished. Often women do not see that, it is not in our nature to be vocal about that. Start within a smaller circle, eventually, you will find out that people are interested in your story, and that can move you to the next level.
If you have ambitions, you must “fight” your internal barriers and very often step out of your comfort zone. Nobody is perfect, it is OK to take it step-by-step. But don’t give up, excuse your mistakes. Imperfection is ok. Ask for feedback and have a mentor on the way. You will discover new possibilities and the effects soon after.
Sometimes, the thing holding us back the most is our own mindset. From your viewpoint, what are some of the biggest obstacles in people’s (and particularly women’s) minds which limit their ambition and keep them from succeeding?
I think it is self-confidence or rather low self-belief. We doubt ourselves, wondering if we are good enough, and too often we’re doubting if we are doing what we do the right way. Knowing your worth is the most empowering value a woman can take ownership of. Women should have no need to prove anything to anyone, but instead to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Use your women's powers, find your courage and shine. The quote I love is from Walt Disney and it says it all: “All your dreams come true if you have the courage to pursue them”.