Stereotypes, quotas and the need for awards celebrating women

Three judges for Campaign's Women Leading Change Awards dig into misunderstandings about women in leadership positions, the qualities that make great female leaders and more.

Stereotypes, quotas and the need for awards celebrating women

Anita Munro, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Maxus, Sarah Wood, CEO and co-founder of Unruly, and Wendy Hogan, marketing transformation and strategy director at Oracle, speak to Campaign Asia-Pacific about their experiences, how women can help other women and what they learned as part of the judging panel for Campaign’s inaugural Women Leading Change Awards.

L-R: Munro, Hogan, Wood 

What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about women in leadership? 

Munro: A lot of the feedback I’ve been getting (in discussions about equality) is that women just don’t want to take on the leadership roles. They somehow are seen to not have the same level of ambition or drive that men are perceived to have. I obviously don’t agree with that, fundamentally. I think women, just like men, have equal amounts of ambition but of course there are some women, just like men, who don’t want to take the leadership roles, it isn’t for everyone. 

Hogan: Women in leadership positions, especially here in Asia, are often misunderstood as being harsh, direct or bossy and sometimes even negative. A lot of ladies are often multitasking many different aspects of their lives and therefore tend to cut straight to the point in order to get through the day efficiently. Empathy is the single most undervalued trait—the soft skills that women show that are crucial to culture building and talent development, which in a constantly changing business environment, are exactly the kind of skills that can make a difference to employee retention and job satisfaction.

What are your thoughts on quotas for women in leadership?

Wood: We’re strong believers that the best teams are diverse teams—male and female, young and old, with a range of personal and professional backgrounds. At Unruly, 44 percent of our board is female and that’s not been achieved through enforcing quotas from above, it’s been achieved from the ground up, by building a company culture that recognises and rewards great work, wherever and whoever it comes from.

Hogan: I’m all for the idea of finding the best person for the job, as long as there is an open minded search and selection process. The trouble is unconscious bias and self-selection to who you already know/are comfortable working with—these traits tend to lead to disadvantaging women if they don’t have a broad network and haven’t been as forward in highlighting their suitability or availability for opportunities.

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

It is helpful to have an award celebrating solely women’s achievementsor would an award that judges men and women on equal terms be more of a step towards equality?

Munro:  Yes, for a couple of reasons. Realistically I don’t think women are always very good at talking about their sucessess. Often they just keep them to themselves or attribute them to others, so it’s important to turn that on its head. But secondly and more importantly, it’s about giving some more visibility to inspiring role models in the industry, for other women that are still on that career journey to look up to. 

Wood: Unfortunately we don’t live in a world where men and women are always recognised equally, and so awards like this are absolutely necessary. As an entrepreneur I understand the importance of celebrating success and highlighting great work, and as a mum of three amazing children I can see first-hand the significance of role models for the next generation of entrepreneurs and female business leaders. 

With so many businesses continuing to be dominated by male leadership, it’s really key that young women see a whole range of female leaders so they recognise the choices they can make and the paths they can take.

What makes a great female leader in the workplace? Do female leaders need to behave ‘like men’ to stay at the top?

Munro: I’ve seen both in my career, women who have changed their behaviour and women who have stayed really true to who they are and used that as a strength. Obviously I think that being true to who you are and having that integrity is one of the core components of being a good leader. To me, you shouldn’t try to emulate someone else’s approach. You have to think about what your strengths are and what you bring to the table. 

Wood: The same behaviours that make a great male leader (who we look forward to celebrating on International Men’s Day on the 19 November). Great leadership is about empathy, consistency and authenticity—and that can come from men or women who are young or old, scientists or artists...you see where I’m going with this! The most important thing for a leader is being able to come into work and be their best selves - not a male version of who they think they need to be in order to succeed. 

What things do women commonly do in the workplace that set them back, however unwittingly?

Munro: This is something that’s often spoken about: for a woman to feel comfortable putting herself forward for a promotion, she has to feel like she can do at least 90 percent of her job, whereas a man will often feel comfortable if he can do say 50 or 60 percent of the job and then he’ll just work out the rest. It’s the confidence and belief that you’re entitled to put yourself in a  certain position that we sometimes need to work to feel.

Hogan: Most common is not asking for what they want or believing that they deserve the recognition they are due. Also in some cases, depending on the cultural nuances here in the region, it can be common for some women to be less vocal in business situations, despite their ability and knowledge on given subjects. We all need to help these ladies have a voice and make sure they are heard and encouraged to provide input and guidance.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt on your path to leadership?

Wood: Find role models in the women around you, rather than celebrities. Women a few years, months—or weeks—ahead of you career-wise often have the most valuable advice, so learn and be inspired by them! Our returners from maternity leave have developed close bonds with each other, sharing lifehacks and top tips for how to juggle parenting and professional advancement—which is a powerful amplifier to the more formal parental coaching we offer.

Hogan: Empowerment comes from changing your mindset and knowing that you have a right to be seated at the table (sometimes at the head of the table), irrespective of your role or position.  In fact, you are not defined by your job title and despite the common notion of “everyone knows what I know”, you actually have a unique perspective and you should value that, because if you don’t, nobody else will.  Be bold and be the change you want to be.

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