'Find your voice, not just to speak but to be heard,' says M&C Saatchi's Lara Hussein

M&C Saatchi Malaysia's CEO Datin Sri Lara Hussein (pictured) is no stranger to the ad industry. Having launched the M&C Saatchi brand in Malaysia approximately 15 years ago, Lara has since brought on board clients such as Axiata Group, Celcom, CIMB and Malaysia Airlines.

Over the years as a leader, her vision has been to encourage, nurture and empower young talent in the agency to flourish as future leaders. The task-oriented agency CEO takes pride in making firm decisions and believes in being responsive and sensitive to employees' inputs and views.

As one of the renowned female leaders in Malaysia's ad industry, Lara shares her honest views with A+M on the toughest thing about being a female boss and how the agency protects employees against sexism and harassment.

(Read also: Meet the CEOs: M&C Saatchi Malaysia’s Lara Hussein)

A+M: What has been the toughest thing about being a female boss?

Lara: Women by nature tend to be gentler, more compassionate and more empathetic. We also like to be liked and feel appreciated. The hardest thing for me is to be tougher than tough on delinquent employees. Men generally act firmer, with less emotions. We can be firm too, but at the same time, it can become emotionally draining, especially when we need to deliver hard messages on employees, and they don’t want to hear them.

A+M: Staff members aren’t always the kindest to opinionated female leaders, how do you deal with this?

Lara: My management style has always been nurturing, to create a caring and kind workplace. I’m the “Good Mother” that my staff can always approach to discuss or express any issue. I always encourage healthy, strong mutual respect of each other.
I believe it is important to maintain emotional distance between your staff, I never get into situations when the distance becomes blurred or crossed.

Being the founder of M&C Saatchi in Malaysia, the staff knows that I am not transitional, and I am here to stay so the respect is there and relationship is strong and clear.

A+M: What are some of the biggest challenges women on top in the ad/marketing world face?

Lara: Being treated equally, being rewarded equally and earning respect from fellow partners and peers can and will continue to be an ongoing issue for women. We’re also limited by cultural sensitivities when it comes to one-on-one networking with fellow male peers or bosses.

A+M: A tip for ambitious women?

Lara: Know who you are and what you want to achieve. If reaching the top is your purpose, be relentless in your preparation and pursue it with gusto and passion.
Find your own voice, not just to speak up but to be heard.

A+M: Last year, the #MeToo movement took the world by storm. Do you think the #MeToo movement had an impact in the local adland?

Lara: #MeToo is a movement, a revolution that has only just begun. We don’t yet know how much it has disrupted the ad industry but it definitely has opened the door for women to come out onto social platforms and speak up. If you look at the 2018 Superbowl, 73% of the ads included women. I think that’s a good precursor of advertisers taking heed to become more inclusive and create more diversity in the creative work. While the true impact remains to be seen #MeToo has definitely given the ad industry a place to start.

A+M: Is sexism and harassment in the ad/marketing industry an issue in Malaysia?

Lara: Sexism and harassment happen everywhere, in every industry. It is an issue if companies choose to ignore or hide it. At M&C Saatchi, we don’t tolerate harassment of any form or degree. Our staff know they can come forward and speak up. And that I believe is what the government, with support from NGOs, need to do: create a safe working environment for women and make women more aware of their rights at the workplace. The onus is in the company though to ensure staff are protected and they have a voice.

A+M: Do you see tides changing locally since the emergence of the #MeToo movement?

Lara: Our voices may not be as loud as women in other parts of the world, but we’re certainly speaking up more. That’s most significant to see. Advocacy for women empowerment in terms of training has also increased, especially in women organisations like AWAM, Good Shepherd Sisters, Sisters in Islam, Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group and WAO, among others.

Recent harassment cases locally has brought fresh attention to the need for a sexual harassment act and created strong awareness that sexual harassment in any form should not be condoned. Let's hope that we can overcome our "cultural sensitivity" and say no to sexual harassment and hopefully, a greater representation of women in politics will see a sexual harassment act in place.

This is part of an International Women’s Day series by A+M, featuring female leaders in the industry and their views on being a female boss.

Read also:
Facebook’s Nicole Tan on mentoring women and creating opportunities around it
Ex-AirAsia marketer Kathleen Tan shares her personal challenges as a female boss
What M&C Saatchi’s Lara Hussein looks for when hiring a fresh graduate