More women joining ad industry


PETALING JAYA: Once regarded as a “reluctant” industry to begin a career with, the ad and media industry has since evolved dramatically and is attracting talents.

More women are joining this industry and helm various leadership roles as their male counterparts.

Apart from the challenges, many commentators in the ad circle agree that the industry is performance driven and rewards deservingly.

In conjunction with the recent International Woman’s Day, several female leaders shared their working experience, aspirations and career development with StarBiz.

Magna Malaysia chief investment officer Audrey Chong said rather than weighing on specific industries to carve a career, what is more important is the interest and skillset one has.

“Women are known to gravitate towards communications-based spaces, which then makes the ad industry a natural career choice for women who have an interest to pursue a career in this line.

“Historically, we used to see more women in the ad industry, especially within roles like planning and buying in media agencies.

“I am happy to note that we now see a lot more balance in terms of gender, with more males moving into this line, and that diversity in talent is healthy for the industry,” she added.

Magna Malaysia is the centralised IPG Mediabrands resource for intelligence, investment and innovation strategies.

Gan: We appreciate fresh perspectives - which is why at Dentsu Aegis, we value diversity and inclusiveness.
Gan: We appreciate fresh perspectives - which is why at Dentsu Aegis, we value diversity and inclusiveness.

Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) Malaysia group talent management director Gan Mei Lian said the ad industry is indeed one of the most interesting industries for anyone to start their career.

The industry, she said is so fluid and less hierarchical, which meant one have greater opportunities to develop interpersonal and professional skills such as agility, project management, critical and creative thinking.

Lemonade managing director Ruhana DaSilva strongly feels women can add great value to all aspects of the business and challenge the status quo. However, she said what truly matters is fostering a collaborative environment whereby diversity is appreciated.

Lemonade is DAN Malaysia digital and social media marketing agency. Ruhana is one of DAN’s youngest talent to lead an agency business whereas Gan has over 20 years of experience in the industry.

M&C Saatchi Malaysia managing director and CEO Datin Sharifah Menyalara said with digital marketing playing a big role, the industry is evolving and becoming more dynamic.

“If you want a challenging and stimulating career that is also agile and flexible, then it’s a great place to start. It also gives you a great foundation and helps you build confidence, mental stamina, patience and creativity,” she noted.

Sharifah expects the ad space will become more interesting with the integration of data, artificial intelligence and tech into the mix.

She added that creativity would always be the core but the complimentaries would make the industry attractive to the ambitious talent.

Entropia principal Samantha Tay agrees that the ad business is a good place for woman to start a career.

“It is very performance driven and your hard work is equally rewarding. Today, career advancement is open equally to everyone as long as you can prove your capability.

Chong: It helps to inspire more young women to join the industry and work towards rising to the very top.

“It is a fun industry. We are exposed to a broad level of understanding across trends, technology, consumer behaviours and a variety of other areas,” Tay said.

Publicis Groupe Malaysia chief talent officer Maureen Gomez is all out for women when coming to recruitment.

The agency, which is part of French ad giant Publicis Groupe, has always embraced the notion of inclusion when it comes to its commitment to diversity, as it is at the core of the Groupe’s priorities.

“Having this notion embedded from day one has allowed us to create an empowered environment within the group. We are constantly working towards creating a workplace where every employee feels fully inspired and valued.”

Gan said that in Aegis Malaysia, there is an almost equal gender split - about 55% female and 45% male - and is based on merit hiring.

She has a high respect for the industry due to its openness in embracing diversity in one form or another, be it gender, race, sexual orientation or education.

“We appreciate fresh perspectives - which is why at Dentsu Aegis, we value diversity and inclusiveness,” Gan said.

Ruhana feels the primary target of audience in the industry is women. More often than not, women are the primary purchasers and influencers in the mass retail segments, she explained.

She said it made it even more significant for this industry to further emphasise the vision of equality in company culture and decision-making processes.

“We need to welcome gender diversity and equality, among others, to correctly reflect the consumers we are tasked to market to and communicate with,” Ruhana added.

Magna’s Chong said there have always been more males dominating senior management roles in the ad industry. But of late there have been more senior roles in Malaysia entrusted to women who are highly capable.

Chong added: “It’s encouraging to see these women taking up senior positions as it helps to inspire more young women to join the industry and work towards rising to the very top, without the fear of a glass ceiling to hold them back.”

Sharifah described the industry as one of the most open industries. There is a fair representation of women, at about 70%, in M&C Saatchi.

She said it’s just that women tended to drop off when they started having family or some of them would switch to marketing roles. “There are fewer women at the top globally but I think this is representative of most industries where the majority of leaders are men,” she noted.

At Publicis Groupe Malaysia itself, Gomez said 55.3% of the Groupe’s full time employees and 64% of new employees across all levels are women. “We believe that a diverse team makes good business sense that will not only lead to a positive work environment, but also allows us to develop solutions based on collective insights, wisdom and creativities.”

With the long and unpredictable working hours in the industry, what should be done to attract women talents?

Chong said one of the main things agencies needed to look at in a serious way is to adopt flexible working arrangements for women.

Ruhana: If and when you fail, you must believe that it’s a stepping stone for you to elevate to the next level.

In this day and age, she said working nine to five in any industry is a rarity, and organisations that uphold traditional hours would prove less attractive to women, especially mothers with young children or those with older parents to look after.

“Research has shown that flexi-hour arrangements enable greater productivity on the work front, so we need to push for it for those who need to be at home at times,” Chong explained.

Gomez opines that organisations needed to commit to resources and actions that progressively drove positive outcomes related to diversity and inclusion.

At Publicis Groupe, for instance, she said the agency is driving a series of initiatives internally. “One of them is VivaWomen! It is a programme that centres around mentoring, professional development, leadership and work or life integration to empower women to achieve their potential at Publicis Groupe,” she added.

Hence, Gomez said organisations would need to provide an environment that is supportive of commitments beyond work and actually welcomed progressive attitudes to balancing family life and work life.

Gomez noted there is a need for industry leaders to play a critical role in nurturing young talents at higher educational institutions and exposing them to female role models.

Tay said it boiled down to passion. “If you are not looking for a nine to five job, and want a job that is fun and creative, ad industry could be for you.

“Not trying to paint a rosy picture, our industry is highly stressful. But with the reward that you get, you can afford a nice spa and some nice retail therapy,” she quipped.

Sharifah feels there is a need to make the industry attractive and exciting. She said Malaysia is losing good talent to management consultancies and banks as the industry is not seen as exciting and lucrative.

“We need to position the industry as a dynamic creative platform for young people to learn and excel. The industry also needs to make the entry package compelling and set a career path that is appealing and competitive,” Sharifah said.

For women to further thrive in the industry, Gan said they should be true to their selves. “When you are yourself, you will be able to connect better with people and build goodwill. This applies to everyone, regardless of gender,” she said.

Ruhana agrees. “Stay true to your values. If and when you fail, you must believe that it’s a stepping stone for you to elevate to the next level,” she added.

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