Olivia Parker
Mar 8, 2017

International Women's Day: 12 APAC chiefs on what they would change for women

CEOs and key players in the marketing and media world share their vision of a brighter future for women—and how to make it happen.

International Women's Day: 12 APAC chiefs on what they would change for women

We put the following question to nine industry leaders to mark International Women's Day 2017:

What one change would you personally like to see in your industry that will ensure a more positive future for women in generations to come?

Susana Tsui, APAC CEO, PHD

Being in the industry for over 20 years, I have seen the industry change and progress. We now see more women in senior positions across all disciplines locally and regionally who have risen to the top through their hard work and determination. Though there has been a change, the speed and magnitude of change are slow.

The most effective way to push forward with gender equality is to make it a collective responsibility throughout an organisation. We as an organisation need to be responsible and take accountability in bringing about a change. Gender stereotyping needs to be done away with and every organisation needs to create a workplace culture of equality.


Shelley Zalis, founder, The Girls Club

Gender equality is not a female issue, it's a social and economic issue. So we need to stop fixing the women and start creating a workplace culture of equality. Once we have equality in our DNA, we will close the wage gap, eliminate unconscious bias and attract and retain our best talent!

Kathryn Jacob, CEO, Pearl & Dean

The change that I would like to see is for every succession plan that exists within an organisation to have a 50:50 balance to ensure that women are given every parity in consideration for senior roles. Currently the desire to replicate existing structures and the background experience of the incumbents is creating a replication of behaviours and gender stereotypes.


Campaign Asia-Pacific celebrates International Women’s Day and the call to #BeBoldForChange. In an effort to ignite change and drive gender equality within the industry, on 22 March we are delighted to present Campaign360, an invitation-only, one-day event gathering key decision-makers of leading brands and agencies who believe in the importance of equal opportunity and women leadership.

Following the event programme, the Women Leading Change Awards will celebrate the contributions of female talent to the across the industry. Interested in joining? There are still a few VIP places available for senior brand marketers – apply here

Juliet Timms, CEO, Grace Blue

Our industry is losing female talent at a senior level. I would like to see all businesses setting positive targets for the number of women in leadership roles throughout the organisation. If you set a target for equality, like all business targets, it is something businesses can positively work towards.

Eileen Ooi, head of PHD Malaysia

[The change I would like to see is] the breaking down of mental barriers. What I mean is that over recent years we have seen, heard and witnessed successful women rising to take the helm at many corporations today. For women, my ask is to have the courage and conviction to believe that we women can really have it alla balance of successful family and career. The barrier is only our own ‘ceiling’ in our minds. For the men, my ask is to support your women, colleagues, your bosses, your juniors. Stand up for them when no one does, be by their side and celebrate their victories, don’t over-shadow them and most of all just be understanding because honestly women don’t need sympathies or shoulders to cry on, what we need are just allies.

Su-Mei Thompson, CEO, The Women’s Foundation

I think there is a lot the marketing, media and advertising industry can do to ensure a more positive future for women in generations to come. We know that the media plays a big part in creating and exacerbating gender stereotypes that are the root cause for the biases and discrimination that continue to hold women back.  

But if you consider the new wave of trail blazing socially aware campaigns like Ariel's ‘Dads #ShareTheLoad’ and SK-II’s ‘Marriage Market Takeover’ that are busting myths and stereotypes, we know media can also be a force for good in changing mindsets and societal and cultural norms. I hope we'll see more marketing, media and advertising rising to the challenge and portraying women in a more authentic, three dimensional and aspirational light. This is what is going to create societal systemic change!

Joanne Lao, CEO, TBWA\Greater China

Social and cultural pressures across China have a significant impact on the journey females take throughout their careers. To be able to remove such deep-rooted cultural notions such as the stigma associated with unmarried females as being 'leftover women' would be an incredible step forward.

Within the communications industry we're fortunate to attract forward thinking, visionary female leaders and I feel it's the agency's responsibility to provide an environment and the support needed to retain and develop such talent in the hope of alleviating such social pressures, so the choice between family and career does not need to be made.

Ruth Stubbs, global president, iProspect

We are increasingly seeing women from emerging markets thriving as business owners. Wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are disrupting the digital economy and setting themselves up to be pivotal players in socio-economic development moving forward.

I would like to see our industry commit to support and further develop gateways through infrastructure and access, focused on amplifying the voice of female entrepreneurs in the context of innovation, technology deployment and disruption.  

The World Economic Forum suggests that closing the gender gap could generate a 30 percent increase in the per capita income of an average Asian economy – our actions have the ability to profoundly influence the economic and social circumstances for many.

Kristie Lu Stout, Anchor/Correspondent at CNN International

Yes, women may be excelling in media but our industry needs to acknowledge that a significant barrier still exists.

Women are underrepresented in leadership and key strategy-making positions. Women, on average, continue to be paid less than men. Women are often shut out of panel discussions (leading to the continued existence of the all-male panel).

The glass ceiling is real, and it limits society from embracing its best and brightest. Only once we acknowledge this truth can there be meaningful change for professional women in generations to come.

Winky Moon, account director of technology, Racepoint Global

Embracing equality and gender diversity is the essential ingredient to success. Development, education and awareness is key to ensure our legacy has a profound impact for future generations of women. At Racepoint Global I work with some of the world’s leading technology brands. Passionate about pioneering change, women in our industry are tirelessly fighting to ensure fellow females are embracing technology as a chosen career path.

It goes back to basics and it’s imperative that we educate females from an early age. We should be out there, teaching young girls to learn the fundamentals of computer coding. It’s extremely important for an individual’s logical and critical thinking. At Racepoint Global we developed a program called CodeTalk, whereby we go out and speak to brands and let them know why they should be coding.  We teach fellow marketers the fundamentals of the web, its rich history, and why it is important in today’s fast-paced and digital business environment. Imparting this knowledge early on will hopefully see less women turn their backs on our industry and more women see technology in a whole new light.

Sarah Wood, co-founder and CEO, Unruly

We need to close the #confidencegap and the pay gap. 

Women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements (Source: Lean In). It’s for that reason that Unruly always encourages talented women to seek promotion. At the same time, we place a lot of importance on training and education to give all Unrulies the skills and confidence needed to progress. In my experience, women often have all the requisite skills, they just don’t know it! 

Unfortunately, while there might be no ability gap, there’s definitely a pay gap. PwC suggested in their latest report that it could take until 2041 to close the gap in the UK, and in late 2016 it was suggested that slow growth in pay after maternity leave results in a gap of 33 percent (source: Institute of Fiscal Studies). This is crazy!

Leigh Terry, CEO, IPG Mediabrands, APAC

There is a well-established link between a diverse gender-balanced workforce and better business performance. However gender bias in recruitment and promotion is still recognised as one of the most common barriers to achieving equal representation of women in senior leadership.

Consciously or subconsciously, there is often a tendency to recruit people who fit the stereotype of ‘what came before’, and women are somehow perceived to be a more ‘risky’ appointment to senior leadership roles for not mirroring the norm.

A recently published study by Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women (CEW) in Australia showed that the feedback that women and men receive in the lead-up to possible promotion is markedly different, and that this plays a large part in subsequent career advancement. Most notably women are twice as likely to be told that they need to display ‘more confidence’, or require ‘more experience’, but are significantly less likely than men to receive any clear and actionable feedback on what they need to do to be ready for promotion.

I’d like to see our industry take accountability for any existing biases in the way that senior leadership talent is developed and recruited for, and challenge other industries to do the same. There are some basic steps that organisations can take to help achieve meritocracy in appointment and promotion decisions and drive better business outcomes:

  • Train all employees, even the most senior company leaders on giving clear actionable feedback that is measurable and targeted at enhancing career development.

  • Develop an effective sponsorship process whereby women and men have equal access to a senior leader who will act as an advocate for them and ensure that they are considered for relevant roles and opportunities.

  • Ensure that both women and men have access to development opportunities and roles in which they can gain the specific skills and experiences that they need to demonstrate, in order to be considered for senior promotion. Identify the top talent pools in your organisation that feed these positions, and be deliberate about rotating both women and men through these key roles.

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