I ventured over to UVA’s undergraduate business school this week to hear Nina DiSesa speak, and since I don’t go to main grounds very often, you can bet it was for a good reason.
DiSesa is a ad industry badass. She was the first female chairman of the ad agency McCann Erickson New York and rose to that from the creative side, another unheard of accomplishment. And, oh yeah, that was after she brought $2.5 billion in billings in the door.
To top that off, she wrote the book Seducing the Boys Club about how to make it as a woman in a man’s industry.
With a title like that, you can imagine that some of the advice might be a little … controversial. DiSesa herself said that women should take what they like and throw out the rest.
But she did point out that many women, especially young women, get angry at the fact that they have to “manage” the men in their work life. Why should I have to change the way I behave? Why can’t they change?
But in reality, we all manage all of the relationships in our lives — men, women, coworkers, proteges, children, spouses, friends. DiSesa offers up one way to deal with one type of difficult relationship. Here were some of her tips:
You can start a successful career at 30.
“I started my career in an elevator,” DiSesa told us.
That elevator was the one in the New York City apartment building she and her actor husband lived in. One Saturday they got in on the sixth floor. By the time they reached the street, he’d told her that he’d never loved her, that he loved someone else and that they should get divorced.
“I cried for six months,” she said. And after she was done crying, she got a job as a copy writer at a tiny ad agency in Richmond. She was 30 years old.
DiSesa said that until that elevator ride, she had been biding her time and waiting to have children. That one moment changed the trajectory of her entire life. At age 30.
Try S&M at work.
That’s Seduction and Manipulation. DiSesa recommends that women use this tactic when dealing with troublesome men. And no, it’s not sexual.
To illustrate, she told us the story of a colleague who liked to tell dirty jokes to embarass her. They were peers and the distasteful teasing got so bad DiSesa didn’t want to leave her office.
One night, they were both working late and DiSesa walked into his office. She looked at the creative work displayed in his office and complimented one of his pitches. He got excited and walked her through it. She complimented another. He was even happier. This went on for awhile longer. Then the next day, he came to her office to show her something else. She praised that too.
None of it was any good, according to DiSesa. But she only complimented him when it was just the two of him, so no one else ever saw her praising so-so work. And the praise gave him a confidence boost he craved. The two became friends.
But didn’t it hurt her to praise inferior work? Didn’t it gall her that she had to do this?
Maybe at first, DiSesa said. “It’s like sex. It hurts the first time. And then the second time it’s a little better. And after awhile, you’re kind of enjoying controlling this man.”
Find something you like about him.
Men aren’t good at picking up subtle cues, except for one, DiSesa said. Men can always tell if you don’t like them. And if they know you don’t like them, they’ll never like you.
Her advice: Find at least one thing you like about an annoying or difficult person and focus on that when they are at their worst.
DiSesa faced this dilemma with a client who liked to scream and shout. Every time the man blew his top, she remembered the fact that he had taken in a sick, scraggly stray cat and cared for it like a child. It helped her like him despite his temper.
Make them need you.
This advice applies to men and women. If you’re the one the company can’t live without, the company will take care of you. It will have no choice.