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Vida Cornelious Navigates Cutthroat Waters of Advertising

The sixth season of TV cult favorite Mad Men premiered this week on AMC and we got a little taste of what to expect from main character Don Draper and the mad world of advertising. Of course, Draper —the founding partner at advertising firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — is white and male in an industry dominated by white men.

But what is it like to be a woman and a minority in the advertising business?

Vida Cornelious, chief creative officer at GlobalHue advertising agency, gives some perspective on what it’s truly like to work in the cutthroat advertising industry alongside the real Don Drapers of the world.

Q: What’s it like being an African-American woman in such a cutthroat industry?

Cornelious: You have to view yourself as, I like to use a quote by Eldridge Cleaver: ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ So I think you have to determine that you want to be a part of the solution and one way to do that is being on top of your game and knowing your industry and being confident in what you do. Since it’s a male-dominated field, you’re always going to have some level of people being distrustful of your judgment because you’re a woman and a minority. That makes it challenging. I think one thing we hear more about recently is this notion of Lean In (the title of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book) and it’s true, as women you need to lean in. Sometimes you have to not be afraid to wear pants and wear them well. I’m also a big proponent for reaching back and pulling other young ladies up and forward and trying to offer them as much guidance as I can along the way.

Q: Do you have to have a little Don Draper in you?

A: I think we all have a little Don Draper in us in a world of mad men. We are all selling in one way, shape or form. I think the one thing that is valuable to anyone, in any industry, is to make sure that you have passion because nothing makes an idea more relevant and dynamic than people who believe in it. Believing starts with you…

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