International Women’s Day 2019 calls for “Balance for Better,” but is the situation for women in the advertising industry really improving? We talked with Digitas China MD Sharon Ho to discuss the gender equality issue in the industry in Asia.
Ho started her advertising career in Hong Kong in 1997. Over the past 20 years, values like “be open”, “be curious” and “be bold”, as well as a willingness to connect and communicate, have helped her make continuous progress.
What do you think of women’s representation and portrayal in advertising campaigns in China? Is there still room for improvement?
I particularly like the SK-II “Change Destiny” campaigns that have come out in recent years. The campaign really digs deep and listens to our young, female generation. The result is an insightful and touching interpretation of the struggles, emotions, and preferences of young women today. There is no judgement in the portrayal of these women, rather the campaign simply gives women a boost and the confidence to choose their own path. This echoes with my own belief that women should strive to be open, curious and bold.
Do you think there are enough women in core business and leadership roles in the industry? If not, what are some of the barriers that you think prevent women getting to these roles?
I can speak for Digitas and Publicis Groupe, where we have an impressive number of female leaders. But I do believe it is very important that we continue to nourish the next generation of female leaders. We must constantly remind young women of their potential and the power they hold within themselves.
What actions do you think female leaders can take in the workplace to improve the overall situation for women?
I think one of the most essential actions any leader can take is to be reachable. Regardless of how busy or tired I am, I stay close with my team via text messages or personal chats. I always want to be encouraging and lifting others up as a leader. In practical form this means listening to everyone on the team, celebrating their successes and helping them learn from failures. Particularly with the younger generation who are still navigating their career choices, I always try to reassure them to own their space, identity and style.
Looking back at your own career, do you see mentorship as important to enable women’s career progression?
Definitely. Mentorship is important for everyone. I have been very fortunate to work with a few renowned female leaders in the industry over my career who are not only exceptional bosses but have also become inspiring friends to me. These woman I remain connected with today, as I still continue to seek their opinion and learn from them.
As a leader at Digitas now, I particularly enjoy my coffee sessions with my junior staff. It’s so healing when I observe that our conversations ease their concerns or tensions, or simply make them feel they are not in this job alone. To truly thrive in this industry and era, we can see that growth is not limited to the dollar sign but it is also about building sustainable teams and working relationships.
For young women wanting to join the industry now, do you have any advice about where they might specialize, how they should think about the industry or how to manage their careers?
Have passion and have doubts. If you think you know everything you will become complacent and arrogant, and before you know it you’ve lost your sense of reality and your relevance in the job. So I would encourage all young people to not be afraid to question themselves or to have doubts. At the same time, keep your passion alive, as this is the driving force that fuels your curiosity and relentless, positive questioning.
Campaign's Women Leading Change
We'll be discussing gender equality and attitudes towards women in media and marketing at our annual Women Leading Change conference in Singapore on 4 June, 2019.
Register your interest and find out more about entering our Women Leading Change Awards (early bird entry deadline: 8 March; hard entry deadline: 8 April) at www.womenleadingchange.asia.