Power Women: Mary Beth Weil of BARKER On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readJun 12, 2022


Support: no successful woman is an island. Whether at home, at work, or both, we can’t go at it alone. Admitting when you need help to someone you trust is key. When I needed to prioritize some challenges being faced by my college-age son, my leadership team ensured all the work wheels stayed on the bus. Getting that space to ensure balance fuels work/life harmony.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mary Beth Weil.

A graduate of the College of Communications at Boston University, Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program, and Montclair State University’s MBA program, Mary Beth (MB) Weil is an accomplished media and marketing executive who has spearheaded iconic campaigns over the course of her career including for ABC, CBS, and Showtime. Now EVP, Managing Director at BARKER, an independent creative advertising agency, Weil oversees the company’s efforts including launching purposeful campaigns for Lumify, which offered a fresh take on inclusive beauty, and Maxi Cosi, a baby-product company that embraces what real parenting looks like. Since taking the helm in 2020, Mary Beth has been a catalyst for BARKER’s growth despite the pandemic, with responsibility for new business, full P&L management, and operational oversight of the NYC-based agency. Weil, along with her leadership team, is committed to the people of BARKER and proved this in December 2021 by providing a “year-forward” bonus of 4.3% of employees’ compensation to match rising inflation. Being in tune with talent and managing proactively instead of reactively is imperative to Weil, who approved another payout in May due to the inflation rate continuing to climb. She also just signed BARKER on as a BLAC Internship sponsor to join the mission to bring more diverse talent into advertising.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I grew up in Goldens Bridge, NY, a little over an hour north of New York City. I’m the middle child, situated between two brothers. I had a pretty typical suburban life made up of academics, work, sports, and family. I made lifelong friends in my hometown, including my husband who I met in high school. I’m still very close with my girlfriends from elementary school and junior high — we have a book club that connects us as we’re now spread across the country. I’m very loyal! Sure we read the books… but it’s really more about maintaining our bonds.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

I was literally that kid who didn’t get into a single college I applied to and didn’t have any safeties. But thanks to some scrambling, I wound up in a school, though it wasn’t the right one for me. Eventually, I found the right program — the College of Communications at Boston University — and worked my ass off to get in. I transferred there my junior year to study communications and joined Ad Lab, founded by Walter Lubars and Bob Montgomery of advertising fame. In Ad Lab I finally found purpose. I had watched a decent amount of TV growing up, absorbing tons of ads in the late 70s and early 80s and was obsessed with magazines like Seventeen. While studying ads and how they came to be, something just clicked. That year, I won an Ad Lab award for “Best Billboard” and then that billboard won “Best of Show.” It was just so thrilling to me and I felt so validated. That led to an internship in the media department at Grey in NYC before my senior year, and after I graduated, Grey Entertainment offered me a job. It’s thanks to connections made at that first job that I find myself here at BARKER. I met our founder, John Barker there. Again, bonds and loyalty!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I don’t know if one story comes to mind as much as a recurring theme throughout my life which is that failure is all a matter of perception. That first job at Grey was a real boot camp in advertising, like graduate school for a really amazing group of us at the time. We were given a lot of responsibility very early on at Grey, and we all made mistakes but we also figured out how to fix them. When it came to my career, I knew in college that I wanted to have my own agency and in my late 20s, I seized the chance. We didn’t hesitate when things seemed like they were falling apart and chose to put it all back together our way. I launched MK Advertising with my colleague Karin and we grew it from 5 to 25 people. Turns out our team was predominantly women, juggling work along with motherhood. Learning how to run a successful business while providing our employees with work/life balance involved a lot of trial and error and even when we failed, I learned. That experience allowed me to become the leader I am today at BARKER.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Persistence: not overthinking the failure and just getting back up again and going for it. As an account person early in my career, I remember staring at the phone with dread about the calls I had to make. But at some point, I realized you have to not overthink and just do. I picked up the phone and made those calls.

Self-belief: a prerequisite to persistence. If not me then who? Especially when there was literally no one else to take the late night package to FedEx. Seriously, though, I have always believed that with common sense and trust in yourself it’s possible to figure out just about anything.

Resilience: when as part of your persistence and self-belief you encounter failure and make mistakes, you have to just roll with the punches and not let any of them take you down for long. At MK we’d say not to let the lows get too, too low. And, likewise, not to let the highs get way too high.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

I just don’t think our society is built to accept them. Gender bias is so deep and pervasive that even “well-meaning” men who are fathers and brothers and husbands of women don’t realize when they default to stereotypes. I say well-meaning men but gender bias is so deeply rooted in our society that even women will sometimes perpetuate it. I remember reading about a study among children where when given a book with a protagonist that wasn’t clearly identified as a boy or a girl, readers — regardless of gender — would refer to the character using male pronouns. They just assumed that if not otherwise indicated, the main character would be a boy.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

At one of the companies at which I worked I had two male bosses who were just amazing. They mentored and advocated for me and really put me on a track to grow as a leader. Eventually, for different reasons, they left the company and I had a new male boss who just absolutely had it out for me from the beginning. Whereas I had respect and confidence from my previous bosses that made me feel valued, this new person saw me as inferior, and expected me to take on that role willingly. That leadership track I was on evaporated. All the progress I had made over the course of years was erased. He couldn’t wait to tell me that my position had been eliminated — by him. I remember thinking how frustrating it was that my career growth wasn’t tied to my talent or my value to the company but my willingness, or rather my unwillingness, to be submissive. Nevertheless, I persisted. I went on to get my MBA and worked tirelessly to mindfully value my talents and abilities and do the same for all the fierce women and allies I would eventually meet on my way to, as well as here at BARKER.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

It’s not cool that women have to placate others who deride or are threatened by their success, but progress is a marathon, not a sprint. And women are intuitive and pick up signals. My advice is to read the room, understand who your allies are, and work toward achieving specific milestones in the short term while constantly keeping your long-term goals in sight. It’s about picking and choosing your battles, and strategically winning them for collective gains.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

The way I got my break in the industry was through connections I made with other people. I really believe building and strengthening connections between people who’ve “made it” and especially young women who are rising stars is key to changing societal narratives. If more women are in positions of authority, powerful women won’t be novel, they’ll just be the standard. Putting together internship programs and networking opportunities to get more women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, voice and positions in the industry is essential to changing the status quo.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

Endless use of language that’s demeaning, belittling, and sexualized. During my tenure I’ve seen some classic awfulness. A colleague being asked to lead a meeting while seated on the boss’s’ lap? Check.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Assumptions. The judgment women face and the need to constantly show proof of performance is exhausting. It creates distractions and perpetuates the unfair system of men being evaluated based on their potential for future success and women needing to validate their competence countless times a day. Unfortunately, it’s a proven unconscious bias.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

I learned the hard way to be present where I am and not stretch myself too thin. If you’re trying to be two places at once, you’re super challenged to contribute meaningfully in either place. It’s nearly impossible; I’ve always felt if my homefront isn’t covered I’m useless at work. I’m a mother of three and I’ve always worked. There have always been two teams who rely on me and I’ve always been devoted to each of them. Having support lined up in both realms is essential. I felt such kinship with our caregivers along the way. I couldn’t have done it without them truly being a part of our family. I am still in touch with them to this day even though my youngest is graduating from high school this month!

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

I got shingles after my baby when I was trying to juggle the duties of being a mom to an infant while overseeing an agency and co-chairing an industry luncheon. My body literally retaliated against the stress I put it under. I wish it hadn’t taken an autoimmune response to make me realize I had to take better care of myself, but I’m lucky that it happened early in my career. It brought me directly to the realization that if things on the home front aren’t secure, then concentrating at work is an impossibility. And, vice versa. And if I’m neglecting my own self-care, I’m not going to be able to function as a mom or a leader. You have to look after yourself and put your oxygen mask on first. For me, that takes the form of meditating on my commute, connecting with girlfriends, and exercising. I especially love my yoga, my sleep, and long bike rides with my husband.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

Women are trained by society to be hyper-aware of how they present themselves to others. Confidence is a currency that comes with age and wisdom. But the doubt steeped into appearance from growing up bombarded with biased gender messages is always simmering. I think appearance is a double-edged sword. It’s imperative to present as you want to be seen, whatever that looks like. I spent so much time running to and from the office, shoots and client meetings via planes, trains, and automobiles trying to ensure I looked the way I felt work culture dictated. It was exhausting. I think beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder. I’m grateful for the wisdom and freedom that comes with age — and hopeful conversations around real beauty continue to eradicate tired tropes and focus more on mental health and overall wellness. Taking pride in your physical and mental health and gaining the confidence to authentically present yourself is the Holy Grail.

How is this similar or different for men?

Men often get away with just being. They’re not as groomed to be hyper aware of their figures or facial expressions or how their wardrobe reflects the latest trends. They typically don’t have to self edit and adjust to perceived and real biases. They are more free to just be, and that is a luxury! I’m not giving up my lipstick, though, and I am grateful for how it can change my whole look from sleepy to snazzy!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Support: no successful woman is an island. Whether at home, at work, or both, we can’t go at it alone. Admitting when you need help to someone you trust is key. When I needed to prioritize some challenges being faced by my college-age son, my leadership team ensured all the work wheels stayed on the bus. Getting that space to ensure balance fuels work/life harmony.

Network: it might be trite, but it’s true. You have to network, network, network. In your college classes, first jobs, even on your commutes. You never know what opportunities someone you cultivate a relationship with could provide to you down the road, and vice versa. Clients are coming to BARKER from connections I made in my 20s. You never know.

Grit: being a woman in the business means winning the war, but maybe not every battle along the way. You have to keep chipping away at your long-term goals. It’s important to me to help build a people-centric company where ideas across demos are welcome and appreciated. With grit, we’ve built that at BARKER. And, thankfully, clients looking to show all of their true colors are coming.

Teflon: whatever you need to do outside of work to make your surface slippery, do it. People aren’t always going to treat you with respect and may sometimes be downright hostile. But how they treat you says everything about them, not about you. Build a self-care practice at home and remind yourself of your worth so that you have a shield against external detractors. When coated with Teflon, it’s easier to understand snarky comments made by clients or coworkers who are trying to protect their worlds. Teflon leads to resilience.

Fearlessness: it doesn’t mean that you are without fear. If that were true, none of us would have it. It’s human to be fearful. But fearlessness is rooted in acknowledging those fears, healthfully addressing them, and then marching forth anyway. Fear can be a huge motivator, yet also cause paralysis, and that isn’t good for anyone. Being mindful of what you would do if you weren’t afraid is key. At BARKER, we just entered into a rigorous DEI internship program that has us addressing our implicit biases. It’s uncomfortable and imperative. We’re being cognizant of our fears while working fearlessly to break down barriers and foster inclusion.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Harry Styles. No joke — I respect the hell out of him. I believe so much in the power of music. He’s a global sensation with the attention of massive audiences of young women around the world and he’s using it to model how to be an ally while redefining masculinity, sexuality, and how to show women the respect we deserve. His message is kindness, self respect, and inclusion. He understands how to be relatable and incredibly inspiring at the same time. He knows he has a platform and he’s using it to be a good person. He finds inspiration from Shania Twain to Lizzo to Stevie Nicks. I’d like to thank him for that representation and let him know we need more leaders like him, spreading joy.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.



Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.