Nadine Karp McHugh

President of SeeHer on Taking Your Seat at the Head of the Table

Nadine Karp McHugh has always had a finesse with growing brands. But when she was able to focus on projects on that empowered women to live their best lives like Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, that’s when she truly soared. Now, as President of SeeHer, an organization on a mission to drive the accurate portrayal of women and girls in marketing, advertising, media and entertainment, Nadine gets to combine her passion for gender equality with her skills in creativity and brand-building to build a better runway for girls and women everywhere.

How did you get to where you are today?

I’ve always been involved in mentoring young women. As you progress in your career, you realize that gender biased is real and needs to be solved for. One of my long-term goals was to pay it forward based on all of my lessons to the corner office (one of them anyway). As such, I have always been involved in formal and informal mentoring programs. I was on the executive board of She Runs It and actively involved with other groups like TFQ and ANA’s SeeHer. A year ago, I was sitting on the ANA Board and Bob Liodice approached me to ask if I would come over and run SeeHer. He recognized my passion for driving accurate portrayals of women and girls as I was heavily involved with SEEHER also at the board level. I was honored. I am passionate about gender equality and wanted to play a bigger part in helping to take SeeHer to the next level.

How do you keep a pulse on progress for the lofty mission of driving accurate portrayals of women and girls in marketing, advertising and beyond?

We leverage our Gender Equality Measure (GEM) to track and measure the progress of ads and content to understand that gender-biased exists in media and to help our members and the industry to move forward with better representation of all women, across all intersectionality points. Women influence 85% of all purchases so it is crucial to get this right for businesses. Attribution modeling with our partner IRI has validated the correlation of positive GEM scores and incremental sales lift. We also created #SeeHer Forward Marketing Essentials Tool Kit: an organizing framework to empower SeeHer member companies to embed gender equality into their everyday marketing and media processes.

What’s one pivotal moment that has helped to shape your career journey?

I definitely came from humble beginnings. My dad was a blue-collar worker and my mom was a homemaker. Not that we wanted for anything but there was no extra money for things like going out to eat and vacations. My dad did give me one of the greatest gifts, though. At an early age he ingrained in me that I could be anything I wanted to be as long as I worked hard and that I should pick something that made me happy. This gift which I didn’t realize the magnitude of drove many of my professional decisions, including this latest one. Not until I rose through the ranks, did I realize how ingrained gender bias is. Many times, I was the only woman in the room for senior meetings across many clients. I have experienced mansplaining and I have been supported by some wonderful men and women. Each contrasting experience fueled my desired to be treated equally, to be respected and recognized for all contributions, not just for myself but for all members of my team, equally.

"Not until I rose through the ranks, did I realize how ingrained gender bias is."

What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?

While there is more awareness around gender bias, women need to take this time and ensure that they are seen and heard. They also need to lift each other up. A pattern I have seen is that women will often need to feel 150% qualified for a position before going for it and many have a hard time asking for what they want.

What tips can you share?

Don’t give away your power. Never unwrap food in a meeting. Don’t be afraid to take the head of the table if you are the leader. Try seeing a situation from all sides, it helps you to understand where to go next and how to engage everyone to come along for the adventure.

"Don’t be afraid to take the head of the table if you are the leader."

Who has helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your thinking or career?

 Marie Gulin Merle, Karen Fondu, Carol Hamilton, Jack Haber, Dominic Procter, Marc Pritchard, Wenda Harris Millard, Dyllan McGee, Shelley Zalis, Jacki Kelly, Kim Kelleher—so many women and men that walked alongside me, were my bosses or came before me.

Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?

To have more confidence in my abilities and not be afraid to go for the dream jobs. I might have been a strong creative or Brand Manager–now I get to use these skills and others in my new role but it was a journey!

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?

I would leverage my MS in creativity and change leadership to help people realize their full potential by coaching and training on creative thinking skills so they could leverage tools to come up with unique ownable solutions to drive personal and professional success. I would also write books—which if we are dreaming, I’m going big to say they would be bestsellers!