Minnie Wang
Mar 13, 2024

BBDO comms leaders on moving beyond DEI as a ‘corporate buzzword’

We wrap up our International Women’s Day 2024 coverage with insight from two China leaders at BBDO Asia who have plenty to share about defying gender-based stereotypes and misconceptions around female leadership.

Camilla Gleditsch and Nancy Shen
Camilla Gleditsch and Nancy Shen

As part of our International Women’s Day 2024 coverage, Campaign looks at the state of gender representation in Asia-Pacific alongside senior women leaders. To read the other interviews in this series, click on the links below: 

Growing up, Camilla Gleditsch was inspired by her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit which informed her eventual conceptualisation of an online lifestyle magazine titled ‘That’s It’ in 2014. Fast forward into her storied PR career, she has many things to be proud of including partnering with clothing brand RJ MTM and lecturing on media and communications topics. Presently, Gleditsch has been leading PR and corporate communications at BBDO Asia.

Meanwhile, Nancy Shen joined BBDO in 2013, starting as an executive assistant, and later being promoted to BBDO Asia’s award manager in 2022. Under her supervision, the network has many of its campaigns recognised by many award shows such as New York Festival, AME, Greater China Effie, APAC Effie, ROI, and CAMA.

In our interview to mark International Women's Day, Campaign spoke with Gleditsch and Shen about their personal and professional journeys, moving to China from Europe, and changing career paths.

Let's rewind to your early career days. Tell us about your backstory and what early factors influenced your current success?

Gleditsch: Looking back to where it all began, my career path took its first steps in the lively and cosy environment of my mother's shoe shop at age 15. In that small space, I was deeply inspired by my mother's drive, entrepreneurial spirit, strength, her natural ability to connect with and uplift people. It truly resonated with me and didn’t just shape me; it sparked a curiosity, leading me out of Norway to the vibrant cities of London, Paris, and finally, Shanghai.

Now, as the head of agency communications at BBDO Asia, I carry those early lessons with me. The resilience and ambition I observed in my mother have shaped my approach to push.

Shen: Unlike the majority of employees, I embarked on a career trajectory that diverged from my major in university. Following my graduation, I commenced my professional journey at a prestigious law firm where the demanding and meticulous environment allowed me to hone my professional development skills.

I made the decision to join BBDO as an executive assistant in 2013. I also established an award submission process and system for the agency which ultimately culminated in my promotion to BBDO Asia’s award manager in 2022.

Tell us about the challenges you’ve faced as a woman throughout your career, and how did you overcome them?

Gleditsch: I can’t say I have really faced any challenges as a woman in my career. But I remember watching this video from Netflix on why women are paid less, which I found really interesting.

It follows a young couple with the same education record and same experience, and then you watch what starts to happen as they hit their late 20s and early 30s, and childbearing years.

So at that time when they decide to have a child, somebody has to stay at home. He’s likely to get promoted. She, on the other hand, has had to turn down some of those assignments, and say no to some of that travel. Fast forward eight to ten years, he's likely made partner, enjoying a broad spectrum of career options, while she has not achieved the same level of advancement. As a result, she earns less, possibly working in a more flexible or part-time role, leading to a growing disparity in their earning potential.

Although I don’t have any children myself, I imagine this scenario reflects the reality for many women today and underscores the need for systemic changes to address career interruptions and ensure equitable progression and pay. We need to advocate for policies that support gender equality and inclusivity, recognising these are not just women's issues but societal ones that require collective action.

Shen: As women encounter distinctive challenges throughout their careers such as self-doubt, emotional barriers, and the status quo, it is imperative to uphold our confidence by entrusting our professional judgment and exhibiting courage when confronted with obstacles. Additionally, we must refrain from succumbing to discouragement caused by setbacks while maintaining a growth mindset through learning.

What needs to change in your market when it comes to female leadership and tackling inclusivity? Talk about specific points or examples.

Gleditsch: Reflecting on the scenario in the documentary about the young couple, I believe changes aimed at achieving equality need to begin earlier in people's lives to ensure it translates into equal opportunities later on. The Scandinavian model of near-equal parental leave illustrates the profound impact of early, systemic changes on gender equality. Such policies can lead to a more equitable sharing of career and family responsibilities, fostering a balanced progression in career growth opportunities later in life.

There’s also a concern among employers about hiring women in their 30s due to the fear they may soon turn pregnant and so take maternity leave. This concern perpetuates bias and hinders the creation of an inclusive workplace environment. Addressing and overcoming this apprehension is crucial for eliminating discrimination and enhancing inclusivity.

Shen: The issue of female leadership and inclusion has garnered significant attention within industry awards. For example, many of our female leaders are recognised in Women to Watch APAC and Women to Watch Greater China awards. We also launched our ‘BBDO Shero’ programme to highlight exceptional female talent within our agency—it was a personal honour for me to be among those selected in 2023.


DEI has become a hot corporate buzzword but doesn’t always translate into progress. Reflecting on the theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’, what's one thing that companies do not get right about DEI? 

Gleditsch: I think one common mistake companies make regarding DEI is treating it as a checkbox exercise rather than a fundamental shift in organisational culture. True inclusion requires more than just implementing policies or hiring a diverse workforce; it necessitates fostering an environment where all employees feel valued, heard, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.

Shen: Companies need to go beyond the surface level of compliance and take a comprehensive approach to DEI, fostering an inclusive environment. This requires ongoing training and education, providing resources and support to foster a sense of belonging, and creating a culture of collaboration and open communication. Only then can companies truly inspire inclusion and create a workplace that is equitable and welcoming for everyone.

What is the best professional wisdom anyone has ever given you that you want to pass on to someone starting their career?

Gleditsch: One of the best pieces of advise I've received is to always be open to learning and seeking feedback. No matter how experienced or knowledgeable you become in your field, there is always room for growth and improvement. Actively seek out opportunities to expand your skills, knowledge, and perspectives, and don't be afraid to ask for feedback from colleagues, mentors, and supervisors. Embracing a growth mindset and being receptive to feedback can help you continuously evolve and excel in your career.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about women in senior leadership roles?

Gleditsch: Probably the biggest myth flying around is that women at the top aren't as up to the task as their male counterparts. This outdated idea likely sprouts from old-school stereotypes and biases that paint women as less bold, confident, or fit for leadership positions. But, the reality is quite different. Numerous studies have shown that women in leadership bring a unique set of perspectives, skills, and qualities that are incredibly beneficial. It's crucial to move past these stereotypes and fully recognise the invaluable contributions of women in leadership.

Shen: One of the biggest misconceptions people have about women in senior leadership roles is that their success is primarily due to tokenism or diversity quotas rather than their qualifications, skills, and hard work. This misconception undermines the achievements of women leaders and perpetuates the stereotype that women are less competent than men in leadership positions.

Additionally, there is often a belief that women in leadership must adopt a specific leadership style, being either too soft and emotional or too aggressive, which overly simplifies and stereotypes the complexity of leadership skills and styles. Effective leadership comes in many forms, and women, like men, can adapt their leadership style to what is most effective for their organisation's culture and goals.

In what ways do you believe the traditional narratives around female leadership in your industry need to be dismantled, and how are you actively challenging these stereotypes?

Gleditsch: To dismantle traditional narratives, it’s critical to spotlight the diversity and success of women leaders within our industry, celebrating their significant achievements and contributions. By elevating these role models, we directly challenge and debunk outdated stereotypes, thereby fostering a more inclusive and equitable industry landscape.

Shen: We should also challenge ourselves to identify and address unconscious bias and promote greater diversity in our hiring, promotion, and decision-making processes. In terms of specific actions, we can start by including more women in leadership development programmes and mentoring schemes. We can also create opportunities for women to share their experiences and perspectives, such as through regular networking events or mentoring circles. Finally, we can promote greater transparency and accountability around hiring, promotion, and decision-making processes.

If you had a professional superpower to spark a movement that would be for the greater good for the inclusion of women, what would that be?

Gleditsch: My desired superpower would be to infuse every woman with unwavering confidence, enabling them to navigate professional landscapes without doubt or fear. This confidence would embolden women to embrace leadership roles, assert their value, and pursue their ambitions relentlessly. 

Source:
Campaign Asia

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