Faaez Samadi
Mar 7, 2019

“Mischaracterised and undermined”: Women Leading Change winners on adland’s gender diversity efforts

Four winners of Campaign Asia-Pacific’s 2018 Women Leading Change Awards assess how the industry is faring on gender diversity ahead of International Women’s Day.

“Mischaracterised and undermined”: Women Leading Change winners on adland’s gender diversity efforts

Campaign Asia-Pacific's Women Leading Change Awards 2019 take place in Singapore on June 4. This International Women's Day, we asked four of last year's winners how they felt the gender diversity agenda had moved on. They are:

  • Christine Park, executive director & head of Edelman Digital Korea - Innovator of the Year 2018
  • May Seow, head of creative systems & SMB, Facebook Creative Shop APAC - Technology Chief & Innovator of the Year 2018
  • Maya Hari, VP & managing director APAC, Twitter - Business Leader 2018
  • Louise Bond, non-executive chairperson, PHD New Zealand - Women Leading Change of the Year 2018

1) What does this year's IWD campaign theme #BalanceForBetter mean to you?

Park: I think that #BalanceForBetter is meaningful for all women and men because it attempts to build a gender-balanced world where everyone can play a significant role. I also think that the concept of achieving ‘balance’ will drive positive change because it’s something we should strive for not only in terms of gender equality but also at the workplace and society as a whole.

Seow: I've always believed that gender balance is not only about advancing the rights of women, it is about creating vibrant communities and a humane society. Over the last few decades, we have seen that when women are educated and empowered to lead, they can bring enormous social and economic benefits to their families, companies, communities and even raise their country's GDP. But beyond the economic gains, I think the theme is meaningful because it is asking for balance and equality in the way that women are viewed—especially in industries primarily skewed more towards men. It reminds us that gender imbalance harms us all. 

Christine Park

Hari: While Asia has moved the needle on women’s empowerment and diversity over the years, there is always room for continued change and progression and we are certainly well on our way. We are at the exciting point where the conversation, while discussing Balance, is also about Belonging. Can we make our environments - a company, a meeting, a board, a networking event or even a public conversation on Twitter a place where people from all backgrounds feel like they truly belong and can have their voice heard? Ultimately, achieving truly inclusive environments is what #BalanceForBetter means to me.

Bond: There is a particular gender imbalance at senior management and board positions within our industry. Although gender equality is extremely important, diversity is much greater than gender. #BalanceForBetter can encompass gender as well as age, ability, ethnicity and skill. Increasing the diversity of our workforce enables agencies to evolve to reflect the changing world we live in.  

2) In what way can this theme be most effectively applied to the marketing/advertising/communications world?

Park: Despite how far we’ve come, outdated rules from patriarchal societies continue to dictate many practices in this field. Women continue to be mischaracterised, undermined and under-represented. To turn this around, I believe the most important step is to change our way of communication. We cannot ignore the power of digital. We must leverage this tool in campaigns that pursue the eradication of gender, racial, religious, ethnic, and age-related discrimination.

Seow: Step away from stereotypical or demeaning representations of women and find creative, surprising ways to bring brands to life by celebrating the very best of what balance could look like - from fathers who see equal potential in their daughters and sons to teachers who encourage girls to dream big to mentors, colleagues and people in power who are supportive of a woman's success. A great campaign does not need to glorify women but it needs to tell a real and compelling story about the diversity of women's goals, achievements and desires and address some of the deeply-entrenched gender inequalities we see in our region.

May Seow

Hari: While the industry is making great progress on advocating women’s empowerment, organisations should also walk the talk and apply #BalanceForBetter internally. Given the nature of these roles that presents unpredictable hours at times, businesses can advocate better balance by putting more focus on creative programmes such as gender-neutral parental leave, flexible working hours, work-from-home options and mentoring & fostering of women management.

Bond: Women are extremely underrepresented in senior leadership and creative positions in the advertising and communications industries. To improve this, we need to create environments that support young female leaders and creatives and allows them, and their careers, to thrive. Good mentoring and support for young female leaders and creatives is crucial in creating an open and inclusive environment.

3) How far has the marketing/advertising/communications world come since the last IWD? Do you believe progress has been made regarding gender diversity?

Park: We’re increasingly seeing women executives at major companies in this industry, which can be considered a concrete sign of progress, given Korea’s reputation for being conservative and male dominated. Still, we have a long way to go. Our goal at Edelman is to reach 50:50 gender parity at the most senior levels of the firm. I’m proud to say we’re nearly there at 47%, and I look forward to seeing us achieve the goal by the end of this year.

Seow: It may have taken the #MeToo movement to shake up the advertising industry across the region but the resulting awareness is here to stay and grow. I see a new level of sensitivity to the kind of challenges women professionals face and the space for them to voice their concerns and be taken seriously. This idea that women are no longer going to be silent about abuse or harassment is very powerful and is a form of progress.

Maya Hari

Hari: We have seen a rise in conversation trends on Twitter where brands are associating themselves more closely with gender diversity. On the flipside, women in Asia need to believe they deserve to have an equal seat at the table. Often times, this belief in itself is missing given how Asian society has raised girls all these years. Changing these deep-rooted societal norms will not happen overnight, but companies can play a larger role in shaping a more gender diversified community.

At Twitter, we have a group called Twitter Women that fosters professional development, skill-building, and networking among women, and an initiative called WELead that is a 6-month program focused on the skills female leaders need to have to make a bigger impact in their role.

Bond: From a New Zealand perspective, the Commercial Communications Council created a diversity council with a core focus on improving the diversity, in all areas, of the media and advertising industry. This has improved the broader industry’s awareness of, and discussion on, issues like gender diversity. Although, we still have big progress to make to plug the gap of women in senior leadership and board roles, we are moving in the right direction.

4) As a Women Leading Change winner, what does the award mean to you and how are you continuing to blaze a trail for all the aspiring leaders following you?

Park: I remember when I received the Women Leading Change award, someone told me that the award wasn’t just about being an inspiration for women in the industry – it also applies to men. We cannot single out anyone in this journey to empower ourselves. As a team leader, I aspire to create a healthy, welcoming space with zero tolerance for bias and prejudice.

I hope to always be part of this collective effort to create a more gender balanced world. Everyone – both male and female – should be able to envision their dreams coming to life, and I cannot imagine anything more rewarding than being able to help others reach their full potential in their professional careers.

Louise Bond

Seow: I'm beyond thrilled with this recognition. In my role at Facebook, I'm blessed to have the opportunity to work with inspiring women-led businesses of all sizes. My goal is to be the best possible ally to them and continue to build creative solutions that enable them to find and connect with their community, grow their businesses and realise their potential.

Hari: It is a privilege to be recognised as a Woman Leading Change, the award is a testament to my personal and business dedication to creating inclusive environments for women to thrive and succeed. I am in many ways no different than many other women, a professional, a wife, mother and a daughter, trying to balance all the roles I have as gracefully as I can while striving for as big an impact on the world as possible.

Bond: The Women Leading Change award helped me to acknowledge my own experience and contribution to PHD Group and the wider industry. I was able to take a step back and reflect on the last 20 years and realise that now, in my new role at PHD New Zealand, I have an opportunity, obligation and privilege to share my own knowledge and expertise with others – particularly women.


Campaign's Women Leading Change

We'll be discussing gender equality, unconscious bias 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.

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