Lauren Nutt Bello is CEO of Ready Set Rocket, a full-service digital marketing and creative agency based in NYC. Lauren joined the agency as its fourth team member in 2012—beginning as an account manager and growing to her current role as CEO in 2022.
Lauren has devoted much of her time to using her thought leadership platform as a way to enlighten others on the subjects of DEI, inclusivity, and women’s leadership. A strong advocate for social justice, Lauren has been featured in media outlets including Huffington Post, CBS News, Adweek, Ad Age, PopSugar, and more. She has helped Ready Set Rocket become the most diverse it's ever been with its first all-women-led executive team while implementing new policies, including a mandatory 8-week paid parental leave for all of the agency’s team members.
Q: As someone who moved up the ranks fairly quickly in your professional career—you made partner at 28— what are some of the mistakes you think you made as a first-time manager?
Early on, I made the mistake of expecting my teams to do what I would do. So many times I would assume someone knew what to do or would just “figure it out” because that’s what I had to do. Not only did that lead to issues with the work output—which I normally had to step in and fix—but it was also toxic.
From that experience, I learned that managing isn’t so much about how you do things as it is about assessing your teams’ skillset, understanding the gap between where they are and where they need and want to be, and identifying ways that you can support them in pursuing that growth. You’re in a leadership position for a reason, so assessing what it is about your capability that no one else can do and figuring out how you can inject that into your collaboration with direct reports allows you to scale yourself, and it frees them to work autonomously with sufficient support and exposure to you so they can get to the next level. Also, you have to let go of the mindset of “Well, I paid my dues and so should you.” Just because you worked crazy hours and skipped lunch, or barely slept doesn’t mean the next class of professionals coming after you should have to do the same. Think about what you would have changed about your job and managers earlier on in your career that would still have allowed you the opportunities to grow into where you are, but also the things that felt like arbitrary barriers imposed based on an outdated system. Instead, ask does this actually add value or increase productivity or performance.
Q: What are some of the biggest ways you think leadership has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Leading while working remotely means things have become way more active and purposeful. You’re not overhearing conversations in the office and reacting in real-time, or able to pull someone into something on the fly. Since the pandemic, you have to make sure no one is off working on their own lonely, isolated little island. You have to be very intentional about orchestrating opportunities for people to get additional exposure that would have organically happened in an office setting.
Q: You’ve been pretty outspoken about gender disparities in the workplace and have said that companies should consider mandating parental leave. Why is this so important?
While there have been so many strides as far as women advancing at work, the reality is that caregiving responsibilities by and large, still fall on the mom. When women return to work after having a baby, statistically the job to care for their families falls on them. Then you factor in the motherhood penalty, which sees working moms earning less upon their return to the office, while men often earn more and get promoted after having children, presumably because they have partners at home caring for their kids. So when companies say that only the woman should take off when couples have a baby—that creates an uneven playing field that has effects both at work and at home.
When it comes to advancing further in their careers, working mothers often are faced with having to prove their commitment and competency all over again. And that fear of being stifled in her career impacts a woman from the moment she finds out she’s pregnant. Women become terrified of asking for promotions or leave. The bottom line is that after men have babies, they make more money. After women have babies, they make less money. This needs to change.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you wish you knew before becoming CEO?
I took on the CEO role in 2020, so I had no idea how unprecedented the next few years would be. I’m a data person who accepts a trend and tries to make sense of it. But as I quickly learned, you can use all the data in the world to make smart decisions but sometimes you’ll have to rethink everything because the world can change so rapidly. Historical data is really only relevant when you’re building off the same momentum.
Q: As a mom of three, how do you juggle managing a family and running a business?
There’s really no secret sauce. It’s stressful and so easy to feel like you’re never doing enough on one side or the other. But what works for me is setting boundaries around my family time that I respect as finite. My time with my kids is the most important thing, and isn’t flexible – I block off my calendar for school drop-off and have a set time my team knows my day ends, and that I’ll be unavailable until my kids are in bed. My kids are my bullseye, so my job has to get done around them. It’s a constant prioritization exercise – I plan my time based on impact. What does success look like for the business, and what are the most impactful ways I can prioritize my time or to-do list around that? What needs to happen now and what can wait to get done after my kids are in bed? Becoming a parent actually made me better at my job in many ways because I’m so much smarter about how I use my time vs. the antiquated ideas like being first in, last out of the office, somehow signaling that you’re more committed. This is something managers and companies need to keep in mind as they head back into the office.
Q: What’s your biggest prediction for the next generation of women leaders?
For a long time, because there was always one, maybe two women in the leadership ranks, there’s been this attitude of, “I paid my dues and you have to, too…” But as women leaders become more visible and normalized, I think we’ll see a new set of rules that make sense for everyone vs. seeing women having to work within the parameters of what’s been set for the past several decades. We’ll see less of a pay-your-dues mentality and more consideration around how we can make sure the next generation doesn’t face the same barriers that we did.
Q: Finish this sentence: the future of leadership looks like:
Early on, when I pictured a leader or what I should emulate in terms of what a boss acts like, I pictured someone very aggro, older, and male by default. In the future, when we think of leadership or who might be great in a CEO role, instead of picturing an older man— I would love for us to see qualities. Leadership is a trait. What makes someone a good leader is ultimately about how well they elevate the people around them and create pathways that help others get to the next level.