Campaign Staff
Mar 8, 2024

APAC marcomms leaders share what International Women's Day means to them

IWD 2024: "Swimming against the tide of toxic masculinity and waving the equality flag takes guts and an attitude of just not giving a f&*k"—read intriguing perspectives from the region's advertising and marketing voices.

APAC marcomms leaders share what International Women's Day means to them

You'd be forgiven if International Women’s Day (IWD) has given you an ick. The avalanche of emails, the cutesy photos on your Instagram feeds, the discount codes peddling 'empowering' beauty products that ironically contribute nothing to women's causes, the sisterhood lunches and the cupcakes which make for good social posts, but the overall commercialism can end up diluting a meaningful day. 

Even if we seem a little adrift today, it's integral to remember that IWD was borne from flames of inequality in 1908, when 15,000 fierce women marched through New York City, demanding shorter work hours, fair pay, and voting rights. It was a day of advocacy, a battle cry for women’s rights, and a resounding message to the world: Women would no longer be silenced.

Fast-forward 116 years, the fervour of activism has dimmed, but the challenges and the bias against women, the gaping gender pay gap, the unequal distribution of work and the lack of inclusion at the workplace still exist. Therefore, it's important not to forget IWD’s radical roots—a stark contrast to the clichéd quotes on coffee mugs of today—and keep the conversation around it going. 

So, while we shine a light on the remarkable strides that female leaders in markets with thicker-than-usual glass ceilings are making and celebrate their triumphs, we're also voicing diverse opinions from the APAC marcomms industry on how the theme #InspireInclusion reverberates, the women who inspire them and why personal and professional embrace of the day is necessary.

Read the perspectives below.

Jessica Davey
Senior vice president and head of clients, APAC
MediaMonks

At its best, IWD is an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in solving critical issues affecting women worldwide: gender violence and harassment, wage gaps (especially for Black women and WOC), and the representation and inclusion of women in senior leadership.

At its worst, IWD can be performative. As I often say, “Ally is a noun, not a verb.” This shouldn’t be a time for people to post hashtags and selfies; it should be a time to commit to making systemic, tangible change. 

As for who inspires me in the marcomms industry, I will cheat a little and say my mother. She was a creative director in Australia in the 80s and 90s. I grew up in an ad agency and saw firsthand the importance of women’s voices in our industry. Not only did she create iconic campaigns and was one of the first female creatives to have her name on a national agency, but she was also a fierce advocate for female creativity and leadership, mentoring many women throughout her career.

My mother taught me just not to be bold and unapologetic in creating and owning my space; she always encouraged me to make opportunities for other women and to be fearless in pursuing what is right, not just what is easy.

 

Shufen Goh
Principal and co-founder
R3

IWD is a day to reflect on where we are in our struggle for equality and confront the reality that much more needs to be done. It's a day to celebrate and honour those who have paved the way and inspire the young to keep challenging and finding a better way. 

On this day, I became a mother to my firstborn daughter and experienced the power of a fearless mother's love. Many have inspired me in our industry, but if I must pick one, it'd be Cindy Gallup. She's bold, badass, and brilliant. Swimming against the tide of toxic masculinity and waving the equality flag takes guts and an attitude of "just not giving a f&*k."

Sean Donovan
President, TBWA Asia-Pacific 

The day is a lighthouse for me. It’s a reminder that those lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible women leaders in all facets of our lives are still in the minority. I understand the counter-narrative against it that every day should be IWD. Still, I agree with this sentiment, but it runs the risk of making us comfortable around an issue that we should be uncomfortable with.

To have a day that calls it out, that makes us think, talk, and hopefully act is essential I’m in a very privileged position of working every day with a team of excellent senior executives across the region who happen to be women: Portia Catuira in the Philippines, Hui Tsin Yee in Malaysia, Namrata Nandan in India, Joanne Lao in China, Mandy Wong in Singapore, Jan Lee in Hong Kong, Sue Lee in Korea, Sayaka Ohno in Japan, Phannika Vongsayan in Thailand, Renuka Marshall in Sri Lanka and Tessa Conrad to name but a few. 

They are all pioneers leading the way and act as role models for the subsequent generations of talent. We should never forget and appreciate the trailblazers who made it possible for others to follow the hard-fought path they walked. So, in that spirit, if I were to name one woman who inspires me, I’d return to the 1950’s and remember Shirley Polykoff. The name may not be familiar to some, but she was a true trailblazer in the industry at a time when the odds were stacked against her. And whilst the 1950s will seem a long time ago, it’s good to remember the saying that those of us who don’t learn from the past are at risk of repeating it70 years on, and we still need to call it out.

 

Uma Rudd Chia
Executive creative director and co-founder
Kvur

My co-founder and I have seen firsthand the power of women and supportive allies pushing for real change. Yet, we still face moments where we’re talked over or left out simply because we’re women. International Women’s Day reminds us that women don’t need empowerment; we’re already powerful. We need opportunities to show our strength, platforms to share our voices, and seats at every table where decisions are made. It’s a day to celebrate how far we’ve come and to remember the work still ahead.

Susan Wojcicki’s leadership at YouTube has always inspired me. She broke through in a world run mostly by men, turning YouTube into a place where everyone can share their stories. What I admire most is her ability to lead with courage and create a space that celebrates diversity and creativity. Her work shows that with the right vision, technology can bring us together in unique ways. Susan proves that women in leadership can drive incredible change.

Anny Havercroft
Head of global business marketing, South East Asia and global marketing solutions, APAC
TikTok

As a second-generation Asian immigrant to Australia, I find International Women's Day significant, mainly because of my mother's strong influence on my life. Growing up, my mother worked tirelessly to provide for our family and instilled in me the values of hard work, determination, and resilience. 

Despite facing numerous challenges juggling work and family life in a new country, she never wavered in her ambition for me to succeed in a new environment. I honour her daily by role-modelling her values of empathy and resilience for my young sons so they can grow into the future male allies we need in society, in the workplace and as partners.

From a professional perspective, I’m inspired by women like Cindy Gallop, a trailblazer in the marketing industry whom I was fortunate to meet and work with a few years ago. As a woman of colour in a male-dominated field, Gallop has achieved success and used her platform to advocate for diversity and inclusion.

Wendy Siew
Managing director, Japan
EssenceMediacom

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the progress madeparticularly in the last 50 yearson women’s access to opportunities. More importantly, it is an opportunity to remember that there is much more to be doneto make this world safer and provide equal rights for women everywhere.

I genuinely admire WPP Japan CEO Kyoko Matsushita, a woman in the marcomms industry. She is someone I am constantly in awe of. Her energy, positivity, and ability to get things moving are inspiring. Her success has come through hard work, brilliance, and authenticity. She is truly a role model for those who aspire to shine on a global stage.

Laura Quigley
Senior vice president, APAC
Integral Ad Science (IAS)

As a digital leader, I am responsible for raising awareness of digital inclusion, which could be a powerful catalyst for attracting more women into the labour force and closing the gender gap. 

The impact of digital technology on the world is so significant that it is now referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Research from Accenture suggests that doubling the pace at which women become fluent users of digital technologies could dramatically shorten the timeline to gender equality. 

This could also enable 97 million more women worldwide—77 million of whom live in lower-income countries—to secure paid work and reduce the gender pay gap by 21% worldwide. Accenture studies have shown that higher digital fluency increases gender equality, benefiting society and the economy.

Morgan Flatley, the global CMO of McDonald's, is truly inspirational to me. Her mindset, thinking approach, comfort with ambiguity and empathy are commendable. Her commitment to fostering an inclusive culture—has driven the success of the brands she has led and inspired many in the marketing and advertising fields to pursue excellence and innovation in their endeavours.

Sanny Manduapessy
Managing director, SEA
Ebiquity

Obama once said, “History shows that when women and girls have access to opportunity, societies are more just, economies are more likely to prosper, and governments are more likely to serve the needs of all their people.

I worked with Margie Reid over twenty years ago when we were both starting in the media industry; she was my agency contact at Carat. She inspires me and many women leaders, proving that you can create an inclusive, diverse culture within the workplace and the wider community, creating positive impacts in everyday journeys. Margie has been the CEO of Thinkerbell since 2017, an award-winning creative and full-service agency. 

She has significantly contributed to the broader community by actively providing equal opportunities, creating employment for the marginalised, empowering girls and women of disadvantage, and many other "For Good" initiatives. She is bringing heart and soul back to the industry.

 

Jasmine Huang
Head of content production and managing director of Prodigious, China
Publicis Groupe

Women have come a long way to achieve their life aspirations. At Publicis Groupe China, we give our women colleagues half a day off to thank them for their contributions. It is also a day of reflection on my journey as a female leader, which is only made possible by the company’s commitment to fostering a diversity, equality, and inclusion culture.

Jane Lin-Baden, our APAC CEO at Publicis Groupe, is my source of inspiration. Her dedication and passion and devotion to growing the business while grooming our next generation of women leaders is remakrable. She is strategic and always provides the proper guidance. She encourages us to embrace challenges and dare to be different.  

Philip Chau
Ex-vice president, head of group marketing
Regal Hotel Group

For me, IWD reminds me of the importance of equality and inclusion of all genders and groups. Every individual is uniquely talented and should be allowed to grow and shine. It is a kind reminder to appreciate and celebrate the incredible women who often juggle multiple roles at work and home and do it impressively—not just on International Women’s Day but every day of the year.

Among the many industry women I admire, Savoy Lin, group director of marketing communications at the Regal Hotel group, comes to mind. Not only is she a great leader with a successful career, but she is also a wonderful mother of two beautiful children. As if that is not a complete enough schedule, she can also find time to enjoy her passion for dancing and baking. Truly impressive and inspiring.

Hanks Lee
Director, brand marketing and corporate communications, Hong Kong
Watsons 

International Women's Day holds a profound significance personally for me. It goes beyond just celebrating the remarkable contributions of women in the PR and marketing industry. It serves as a symbol of progress, reflecting the positive changes in our global community. It's about recognising the transformative shift from an unfair environment for women to a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

I'm inspired by the UN Women's #HeforShe movement, emphasising the importance of men's involvement in women's empowerment. It highlights that gender equality is not just a women's issue but a shared responsibility. This movement creates a united force; both men and women unite to champion gender equality towards a more balanced world. At Watsons, where over 80% of our members and marketing team are women, we recognise the importance of championing gender equality. That's why we've become a signatory of the UN Women's Women Empowerment Principles, promoting authentic and multidimensional portrayals of women and men. This resonates so well with Watson that we want to break societal gender stereotypes. The New Beautiful movement reminds women to live the best version of their lives, take on challenges and be whatever they like.

I find immense meaning in the fact that IWD is about women's empowerment and the more comprehensive benefits that a more equal world brings to all of us. It reminds us that when we break down barriers and provide equal opportunities, we create a society where everyone can thrive and contribute their unique talents and perspectives. I've had excellent female partners at work, and every day, I learn from their sensitivity to details and outstanding interpersonal skills to deal with complexity.

To all the women I’m still working with or with whom I had the privilege of marching together for an equal world, I want to thank you for your inspiration. Your dedication, creativity, and passion have significantly impacted our industry, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from you. Together, we can continue challenging stereotypes, empowering women, and creating a more inclusive world.

Many women come to my mind regarding inspiring figures in the ad/marcomms industry. Still, it's not a tough choice—CEO of AS Watson (Asia & Europe) Malina is at the top of my list. Her journey from a corporate communications professional to CEO is a testament to resilience and empathy, which are vital in today's customer-centric landscape.

Malina's leadership embodies the brand's values, emphasising love and kindness. In a world where customers are increasingly focused on sustainability and brand values, discussing love and compassion in a company is unique. I always remember the encouragement to remind myself about my strengths and to stay positive for challenges. As a female leader, Malina sets a great example by being kind and loving to her people before advocating for others as a brand.

Jocelyn Tse
Chief strategy officer, China
UM

Of course, IWD is a vital date to remind everyone to keep pushing the agendas around gender parity and celebrating women’s achievements. However, I also have a growing discomfort with the “D.” Though some corporations have stretched this to a week or even a month, I feel a timeframe should not cap this. This issue deserves equal attention and should be discussed throughout the year.

Randi Zuckerberg has always inspired me. Not only is it typically hard to break out of the shadow of a celebrity sibling, but she is also a great mother and compassionate person. She has independently carved out a colourful life, pursuing many different passions with an underlying social cause supporting women, children, tech, and artists. 

Matt Tindale
Head of enterprise, Asia Pacific, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions
LinkedIn

On a personal meaning for me as I strive to contribute to a society that my daughter, Millie, will grow up in—one that supports and acknowledges the contribution of women in all aspects of life and where we reach parity for women in both pay and seniority. I start IWD every year by taking my daughter Millie out for breakfast. We discuss her dreams and goals and ensure gender biases do not cloud them.  

There is still much work to be done, as LinkedIn’s research shows a persistent challenge of the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Across Asia Pacific, progress on this has been slow—in Singapore, the figures are 35% in 2020 and 38% in 2024. 

Globally, the transition from a robust to weak labour market also correlates with a 2% decline in women’s representation in leadership roles - equivalent to reversing three years of progress for women. Companies can provide better internal mobility and flexible work policies and adopt skills-based hiring, increasing gender diversity by 10% in Singapore.

I am grateful for the many talented and inspiring women I work alongside, including Pooja K Dhanothia. She is the co-lead of our Women@ERG (Employee Resource Group) at LinkedIn, which helps empower women to advance their careers and achieve their full potential. True allyship is about forming connections and advocating for women and fellow men. We all have a part to play in each other’s successes. 

Adam Payne
Country manager, Australia and New Zealand
Taboola

International Women's Day recognises and honours women's contributions to society and raises awareness about gender equality and women's rights issues that persist worldwide. It's also a day to celebrate the women in my life, including my mother, sisters, friends, and colleagues, and to show appreciation for their achievements, resilience, and strength.

Aki Matsukawa
Associate creative director/copywriter, Japan
VML & Ogilvy

The day serves as a mirror—a moment to scrutinise my own biases, whether overt or concealed. I contemplate whether I’ve given up interests and choices due to societal expectations and the invisible walls and boxes that confine women.

Recently, while browsing a men’s fashion store, I stumbled upon the perfect bag. Hesitation crept in, but I reminded myself that my choices align with my essence, not society’s rigid norms.

I would like to emphasize the premise that there are many other people but let me name two remarkable women inspire me. First, Tajima Naoko, a visionary film director at Wonderworld, is reshaping creativity globally with her open-mindedness and unwavering execution. And second, Kyoko Matsushita, the steadfast CEO of WPP Japan, who has championed our professional journey. 

Eunice Wong
Chief brand consultant, China
Wowwowtank 

We do not celebrate IWD in Hong Kong because when respect for women is a common practice, and women’s status/ opportunities are no worse than men’s, there is no point in magnifying the topic for discussion. So, my ultimate wish is that we will no longer need IWD.  Before that, the meaning of IWD was a reminder to women, like a tattoo on the arm, of our values and rights, despite some unfair conditions that come along with gender. Leveraging and embracing unfairness can turn weakness into a favourable strength.

Ivy Wong, CEO of VS Media, was my client, agency, and business partner for two decades and is now a supportive and inspiring friend.  She believes everyone can be an essential influencer to others through good presentations of their passion, creativity, and knowledge.  Her motto of “VS” is equal to ME VS ME (so VSME is her company’s NASDAQ code) to be a better me, which I believe should be the motto of every woman. She is always brave and dedicated to embracing changes to break through herself.  Her agility with business transformation and people management is also admirable, which requires an open-minded approach, good listening, and a generous heart.

April Chow
Senior research director, APAC
Human8

For me, the day means giving ourselves a pat on the back and telling ourselves, well done! Celebrating our achievements and progress is essential, whether big or small. On International Women’s Day, the UN highlights the need to invest in women to build inclusive societies to shape a better future for all. We believe one of the more critical dimensions of this call to action is shifting to a green economy and care society. The existing economic system and climate crisis amplify inequality, disproportionately impacting women and marginalised communities.

Our society is inclined to focus on maintaining the state of the environment and our communities. However, fundamentally changing how we do things will bring us one step closer to safeguarding the well-being of present and future generations. 

While many Asians are conscious of the need for a better world, they often feel powerless to decide what to do or where to start. The same research tells us that 80% of Asians believe making the world better isn’t something they can do alone. It requires people, organisations, and brands with a clear vision to take the lead and drive change.

As more brands realise their critical role in supporting people to reach their full potential as an inclusive and egalitarian society, we can collectively foster a more harmonious relationship between commerce and caring for our people and planet. A healthy environment and social equity are interconnected components of a sustainable and regenerative future. Contributing to positive change lies in aligning your efforts with your brand’s vision, goals and legacy. Only then can we begin our journey to regenerative sustainability and, in the process, enable more individuals, including women, to flourish.

I am inspired by Dr. Lena Chan of Singapore's National Parks Board. For decades, she has been a critical figure in biodiversity conservation and research and has worked tirelessly to move Singapore from a garden city to a city in a garden.

 

Thimah Hameed
Head of social media communications, APAC
Amazon

It is a call to action for everyone to recognise and appreciate women's contributions to their immediate circles and society. It is also a reminder that the world has a long way yet to go in achieving equity for women in various capacities, including social, political, and economic equity.

Most importantly, IWD provides a sense of agency for women and allies alike, breaking down barriers and advocating for equal opportunities for women. I could name you many! I’ve met outstanding interns, juniors, peers and industry vets.

They all come with a unique skill set, a different approach to their work ethic and distinctive character traits – all of which have inspired me in various ways. Everyone has a different story, but the components are the same: challenges, failures, and successes. And I am proud to work at Amazon, which recognises failures often form robust pathways to success! A woman is more than her title.

We needn't reserve admiration only for those who've made it big or have achieved other conventional definitions of success. A woman’s accomplishments go far beyond the industry or job she represents. A working mother (single or married) juggling her many different responsibilities; a working daughter who is the primary breadwinner for her aged parents; a working woman who represents many of us, who wants to do good work and hopes that she makes things a little better for the people around her, and, for future generations to come.

Life can be more challenging for women. But women are hardy. Frankly, all of us are inspirational in our ways!

CY Chen
Operation director
TBWA\China 

For me, IWD is a big celebration of the women worldwide who made every milestone in history till the day. It encourages people worldwide to fight for more equity & diversity beyond gender equity. Also, it’s a stage of showing big love to make the world better and more beautiful.

Papi Jiang is a well-known Chinese actress and short video creator who has exerted significant influence on contemporary women in several ways:

Content Creation and Women’s Issues:
Through original short formats, Papi Jiang uses her distinctive humorous style and sharp social insight to address a myriad of topics closely related to modern women, such as workplace pressures, marriage concepts, and maternal challenges. Her videos resonate powerfully with viewers, especially young women, provoking both empathy and reflection.

Breaking Conventions and Advocating Free Expression:
On social media, Papi Jiang fearlessly presents her authentic self, for instance, by sharing makeup-free photos to promote natural beauty and inner confidence, encouraging women to break free from societal beauty standards.

What she did reminds me that the advertising industry we are working on also owns the power and social responsibility to make great values and lead changes/progress to the public. She inspires me to keep moving and doing the brave thing. And starting from the influence of people around, every little step will contribute a big impact.

 
Britney Pai
Chief growth officer, China
Dentsu Creative

On such a special day, I would like to express my gratitude to my mentor, Ms Jean Lin. With vision and insight, she can always capture the most valuable information in the changing business world across trends in the industry to make visionary global strategic planning. Lin’s wisdom and experience led her to be the first Chinese female global leader in the advertising industry. Moreover,  I admire that even in such a high position, she is still the same person, humble to people around her, treating them all equally. She has always been the best listener and mentor to me and other younger career women for family and parenting issues. 

Perhaps the essence of International Women’s Day lies in inspiring women to embrace self-awareness, voice their thoughts, and respect and appreciate others. It serves as a reminder that by optimising women’s unique qualities and persistently striving for growth, the strength of empowered women will become the greatest catalyst for social progress.

 
Source:
Campaign Asia

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