Robert Sawatzky
Apr 21, 2019

In search of a women’s leadership programme that moves the dial

There’s a lot riding on 'Femmes Forward' for Havas.

Femmes Forward APAC participants in Singapore
Femmes Forward APAC participants in Singapore

Like many other agencies, Havas doesn’t have a problem hiring enough women. Its workforce is skewed 60% female. Women in the agency’s entry and manager levels, meanwhile, have been earning promotions at a healthy rate.  But then….

“We saw something going on at the senior manager/director level,” Havas global talent officer Patti Clarke told Campaign Asia-Pacific, affecting women right around the world who seemed to have about eight years’ experience in the business. “At that level something started to happen. The women weren’t getting promoted as fast as the men into the roles leading to the executive level.”

While this sounds like a familiar story to many, Clarke and her team nonetheless spent considerable time trying to understand what was going on. They found it was the cumulation of many factors and could not pin it down to one single reason.

Some women didn’t feel ready, held back by a confidence gap. For others, there was an ambition gap. In other instances there were cases of outright bias towards promoting male colleagues instead.

None of these reasons are new to the industry and to counter them, many companies had already set up programmes to try to build confidence in women through skills development, or else support through mentorship programmes, and lately have been introducing unconscious bias training for men. 

The Havas talent team however, felt that none of these on their own seemed to move the needle much. “They’re all good but to get at the problem you have to work across all of them,” Clarke said.  And so they did.

Femmes Forward

The ensuing Femmes Forward programme, which brought Clarke and her team to Singapore last month, is now a comprehensive programme that mixes skills-based training, leadership assessments, group coaching, networking and thought leadership.  

Initially launched in London in January 2018, followed by New York and Paris that same year, the programme was brought to APAC this March. It will extend to other cities across Europe and the US in 2019, in what is now a sizable multi-year commitment supported by Havas CEO Yannick Bolloré and CFO Francois Laroze.

The programme selects abut 20 to 25 women from a range of disciplines who are performing strongly in management roles and are poised to advance. Here in APAC, this has meant bringing together 24 women from 12 different countries for a week of workshops and training modules in Singapore, followed by four months of testing, learning and group coaching remotely with the same certified facilitators leading the workshops.

Femmes Forward programme in Singapore

Some of the tools, techniques and skills introduced include leadership assessment, negotiation skills, conflict management, team empowerment, pitch polishing, leading with conviction and creating a plan to advance a vision. 

"It’s a lot to take in,” notes Clarke, in Singapore for the programme. “We’re worried about the exhaustion factor.” 

To break up the intensity, the programme includes periodic interviews with inspiring career stories from agency leaders. These sessions end up being incredibly important for lending big picture perspective and removing psychological barriers.

Taking the garbage out

One consistent peculiarity worldwide, Clarke says, is that there are always participants who bring in with them preconceived notions about what their career paths should be and what their limitations are. Many, for instance, expect that to be successful they need to put in more time working their way up a corporate ladder in a systematic way.

“It’s a bit like taking out the garbage. We clear that out and start with a fresh palette,” Clarke said.

Instead, women at Havas share their journeys of how they got to where they are now. Some have left their professions to try something new. Some failed in new ventures and had to regroup. Others found inspiration in passions outside of work that helped motivate them professionally. 

Day 5 of Femmes Forward in Singapore

“They’re fascinated by the fact that many people have done a lot of different things in their careers to get where they are,” Clarke said. “They realise that there’s not this straight path.” 

In sharing a-ha moments, these women end up forming a community, shoring up support for their future careers at the agency.

But does it work?

As gratifying as it is to see women forming a stronger network in Havas, the programme was designed to solve a problem.

“It’s wonderful to deliver innovative training but if it doesn’t deliver the outcome we intended then it's just a great experience that doesn’t shift that problem we’re trying to solve,” Clarke said.

More gratifying for her team are the early results they’re seeing. Since the first Femmes Forward programme in London from January to July 2018, more than half (57%) of those participants have been promoted. The New York programme that followed a month later has seen a 36% promotion rate. Paris just wrapped up its programme a couple of months ago but already they’ve seen promotions too.

These female participants, remember, are among the best and brightest in the agency, so it may not be too surprising to see them moving ahead. Yet Clarke insists it reflects the programme's success.  Perhaps some women might have been selected for promotion anyway, Clarke conceded, but now they’re actually happening in a timely fashion. Those promotions are being accelerated.

“For us this is the biggest validation,” Clarke said.

Patti Clarke, global talent officer, Havas

Putting women in the industry under the spotlight — Campaign's Women Leading Change event


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 at


Related Articles

Just Published

15 hours ago

Tech Bites: Week of October 3, 2022

News from Maxis, Twilio, Dentsu and more.

16 hours ago

Coca-Cola sponsors COP27: Buying its way into ESG ...

SOUNDING BOARD: By cashing in on Coca-Cola's cheque, is COP27 inviting conversation and giving an opportunity for reflection or is the climate change summit becoming a part of the greenwashing problem?

16 hours ago

Women to Watch 2022: Haylie Craig, Colenso BBDO

As a seasoned creative, Craig is a fierce advocate for bold, inclusive work for the betterment of others—particularly those in the queer community.

21 hours ago

Cadbury Celebrations illuminates a hawker's Diwali

Watch the film conceptualised by Ogilvy here.