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International Women's Day: Media agency heads on how they inspire inclusion at work

International Women's Day: Media agency heads on how they inspire inclusion at work

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International Women's Day (IWD) is around the corner on 8 March and this year, the campaign theme is 'inspire inclusion'. 

"When we inspire others to understand and value women's inclusion, we forge a better world," it said. "And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there's a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment."

In McKinsey's 2023 'Women in the Workplace' report, it found that since 2015, the number of women in the C-suite has increased from 17 to 28 per cent, and the representation of women at the vice president and senior vice president levels has also improved significantly.

It also found that women are becoming more ambitious with nine in ten women under the age of 30 want to be promoted to the next level, and three in four aspiring to become senior leaders.

Don't miss: How women can get ahead in an AI-driven workplace

In honor of IWD, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE decided to sit down with some of our female CEOs that head up the biggest media agencies in Singapore to find out more about how they lead and how they inspire inclusion in their workplace.

Jacqui Lim, CEO Havas Media Network Singapore and chief growth officer, SEA & North Asia

1. What is your biggest insecurity in the industry? 

Believe it or not, it’s public speaking. While my current role requires me to give presentations, speeches, keynotes and town halls (and I have done this for years), it isn’t truly second nature to me. It isn’t in my blood to be the first person in the room to put my hand up and step forward to address a large group.

Since I was young, I’ve always managed to muster the courage to participate in talent shows and oratorical contests in school, but I always had the nagging feeling of self-doubt before every performance. I will wonder if I’ve done enough preparation or if my performance or content was solid enough to create a meaningful impact, provide new insights and provoke conversations. Hence, I will describe myself as a trained presenter, who is always looking to learn from other female leaders rather than already being 'up there’.

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader?

Doing things right is as important as doing the right things.

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace? 

Inclusivity needs to be at the heart of all company policies, processes and practices to impact employee experience.

The leadership team needs to be the biggest advocate to champion inclusivity and fair representation in any setting while also ensuring that this is embraced by staff on a day-to-day basis.

Special efforts must be made to integrate staff from diverse backgrounds and differing abilities to help them assimilate well into the organisation rather than expecting it to just happen organically. This commitment spans from thoughtful hiring policies and comprehensive onboarding programs to sensitivity training, awareness initiatives, and ongoing education. At Havas, we take pride in embedding inclusivity in every aspect of our organisational culture.

While there’s still a lot of work and education to be done in this area, no one can truly say that they have attained perfection. Significant strides can be made if we make it a point to build an empathetic workplace environment that allows every unique individual to shine and thrive.

Chloe Neo, CEO, Omnicom Media Group Singapore

1. What is your biggest insecurity in the industry?

My most profound insecurity revolves around asserting my voice; the struggle to balance respect with self-assuredness is a thin line to walk. I grew up in my late grandmother’s household where there was clear family hierarchy.

Being the youngest female, I was expected to speak only when spoken to. Despite this insecurity, I remind myself that respect manifests in diverse ways – through empathy, inclusion, and attentiveness. Breaking free from the shackles of self-constraint, I embrace my voice, knowing that I deserve to resonate alongside the more expressive voices, regardless of dominance, seniority or hierarchy.

2. In one sentence, describe your one guiding principle as a female leader.

 Be true and kind to yourself so you can grow, and as you grow, grow others.

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

At Omnicom Media Group (OMG), inclusion is intentional and action oriented. We inspire and cultivate inclusion at OMG with a clear vision as our collective North Star, and foster togetherness through shared values.

We respect that everyone brings their unique perspectives and experiences to our culture, and also recognise that each talent has its own beliefs and unconscious bias. As such, we celebrate the diverse talent community we have through the OMG Thrive programme, which anchors on enabling each talent to be their personal best through their overall development across professional growth, physical and mental well-being, and community involvement.

Through the OMG Thrive journey, they gain greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of their role and are more involved in fostering an inclusive and collective community at OMG.

Audrey Kuah, APAC co-CEO, VML

1. What if your biggest insecurity about in the industry? 

My biggest insecurity is how I can stay ahead of client and market demands. No matter your gender, striving to improve your knowledge and skills is always a great approach, particularly in this extremely competitive and fast-moving industry which requires practitioners to be agile and adapt in line with the market and client demand.

This approach has seen me continuing to educate myself on a broad range of topics from data and cloud technology, to cutting edge commerce, customer and brand experience, AI and more, while retaining core craft skills in strategy, creativity, and client partnership. The truth is, it’s never ending, so, continuing to learn, share your knowledge and encouraging those around to do the same, really is the one thing that will set you apart professionally, whilst allowing you to remain top of your game.

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader 

My leadership philosophy is centred on creating a culture that enables each person to bring their A+ game to work, for our clients, the company, and themselves. This is built on a practice of continuous development, which is especially crucial in this industry – where practitioners must wear multiple hats and adapt to evolving technologies such as AI to cater to client needs.

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

I find it incredibly important not to lose sight of the social and cultural barriers that could be holding women back in the industry. This makes it increasingly important to be proactive in creating equal opportunities and a culture for more women to break the glass ceiling of society, culture, family. That means supporting their life choices, and providing opportunities for women to be heard and seen and get recognition for the great work that they do.

Our longstanding programme, the Helen Lansdowne Resor (HLR) Scholarship, which aims to amplify historically marginalised voices in the creative industry, is one example of this. It’s through initiatives such as this that female and non-binary college students are given the opportunity and support they need to successfully join the advertising industry’s creative ranks.

Leading by example is also crucial, and I am pleased to say that with female CEOs leading the charge across our offices in India, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, there’s no shortage of inspirational female role models and mentors to inspire and encourage the next generation of female professionals.

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

Related articles:  
How the ad industry can nurture more women in leadership 
A majority of Asian women feel unrepresented in ads, how can adland lend its support? 
#ExplainIt: Malaysian agency leaders on the changes they want in motion this IWD 

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