Lifting Everyone As We Rise: GS&P's Managing Partner, Leslie Barrett

At GS&P we have four wildly different women partners who range in perspectives and personalities and this serves us.



Tell us about who you are and what your job title is? 

I am Leslie Barrett, mother of two wonderful daughters, Ella and Lucy, lover of nature, maker of things and managing partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?

I put myself through college waiting tables at Pasta Jay’s in Boulder, Colorado. It was the busiest restaurant in town at the time, and people happily agreed to a two-hour wait. It was nuts.

We all knew we were lucky to have a job there. Not just because we made a ridiculous amount of money but because Jay was obsessed with what we now call the “customer experience” and taught us that it’s all in the details. Everything mattered. Everything we did or didn’t do made a difference and made the place better or worse. We learned that no job was too small and that we had tremendous impact on our environment, our output, our customers’ experiences, and ultimately our own success. It was at once exhausting and empowering. 

Later I’d meet two more like him at GS&P: our founders, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein.

What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling.”

The culture of advertising feels more balanced with broader perspectives at the table. At GS&P having an equal number of men and women in our partner group fosters greater debate because we naturally bring our differing points of view to the conversation. It makes for a wider range of more interesting ideas and better business decisions. Most important, it allows for different types of personalities to shine across the organization. Not everyone is a type-A extrovert.

From Like A Girl to Fearless Girl, a raft of advertising campaigns have set out to empower women. How do you feel about these campaigns? Can they change attitudes within the industry?

These campaigns are powerful, and not just because they are about women. They champion anyone who feels underrepresented, misrepresented or on the outside. They are an important reminder that everyone belongs and that, ultimately, we all belong to each other. 

We are privileged because we have access to tremendous media power through our work for our clients, and together we can apply it in ways that make the world a better place. We just have to continue to look for relevant opportunities for our clients to do well by doing good. 

How have the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements played out in the advertising sector? Are they making a significant impact?

In some ways it’s still too early to say. We’re only a year into something that has never happened before. 

So far, these movements have given a voice to those who previously didn’t have one or who felt that calling out issues didn’t outweigh the potential downside. 

The real issue isn’t about gender; it’s about unchecked power. 

It’s our job as leaders to make sure that the unacceptable is no longer possible.

In the past women have had to deny the more vulnerable aspects of our personalities for the sake of acceptance and self-preservation. Yet when you think about creativity, it requires deep vulnerability, so not suppressing ourselves is important. Otherwise, we risk losing our best ideas.

Initiatives such as Free The Bid are trying to create more opportunities for women in advertising. But what could be done at a more grass roots level to attract women in the first place?

At GS&P we talk a lot about “lifting everyone as we rise.” This is particularly true when it comes to women. Women must support other women. 

Women also need to see that there’s room for more than one woman—or even one type of woman—at the top. At GS&P we have four wildly different women partners who range in perspectives and personalities and this serves us.

Ultimately, it makes business sense to build agencies that reflect the world we want to live in, places where everyone knows that they will be recognized and celebrated for their unique talents and achievements. It’s vital to build environments of open communication and radical acceptance—our differences are our competitive advantage, after all.

Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?

My first true mentor was my grandfather. He was a Swiss surgeon. I only saw him briefly twice a year, but every time we said goodbye, he would take my small hands in his and look me in the eyes and say, “Kind, ich habe Gottes Vertrauen in dich. Du hast Kraft,” which means “Child, I have God’s faith in you. You have strength.” Consistently hearing this message from him gave me inner confidence and I knew that regardless of my young age or the challenge, I would find my way. 

Reflecting something positive you see in someone that they might not yet feel in themselves can have a profoundly big impact on them. 

I’ve also been fortunate to have great mentors in the industry who have simultaneously held extremely high standards and demonstrated a deep sense of sponsorship. I’ve taken these practices forward in how I invest in others’ success. 

How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women? 

I would like to help this next generation of women understand that they have enormous opportunity to create positive change and that no matter how small the shift, their contributions are vital. 

It’s important to inspire everyone, not just women. We all have a real opportunity to leave the industry a better place than we found it, both through the work and how we mentor the next generation. 

In a few words, what advice do you have for women entering the advertising industry?

Be authentic and show up to work as yourself. Ask for what you need to support your whole self, not just your business self. And pass it on. It’s important to be generous. Give away your ideas, time and support. Help the people around you, and they will help you. 

What you’ll find is that your ideas will be better and your results stronger, and you’ll have more fun.