Grey Group Malaysia's Irene Wong: 'For me, taking charge feels natural'

CEO Irene Wong (pictured) has spent the past 15 years with the agency growing and grooming it. She joined the agency in 2004 as group account director, overseeing the Maybank business and quickly expanded her portfolio to manage clients including Resorts World Genting, KidZania, Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park and Pelaburan Hartanah.

Wong was promoted to her current role in 2013 and has 25 years of experience in the communications industry, having worked on both local and multinational brands  including P&G, Perodua, Panasonic, Energizer, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson.

While some people shy away from taking charge, Wong thrives in leadership roles and jumps right into them. In this latest International Women’s Day series, she explains to A+M why she is a fearless female leader and how she engages staff members who do not take kindly to opinionated female bosses.

(Read also: Meet the CEOs: Grey Group Malaysia’s Irene Wong)

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

Wong: I’ve been a female "boss" from day one as far as my career is concerned. What’s a boss? Someone who leads. For me, taking charge feels natural. That’s how it’s been all my life, working my way up. So l would say it’s not been tough for me because l don’t have that chip on my shoulder at all. I deal with the ups and downs as l make decisions that some people might not agree with.
I am not afraid of being seen as 'trying to exert my power' as a boss, certainly not because l am female.

I believe if you are confident in what you do, what people think will slowly change to just judging you as a leader, regardless of sex or gender.

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

Wong: Leaders set the tone of any workplace. I encourage my team members to be opinionated, outspoken and honest. Once it becomes part of the culture, it becomes valued as something positive.

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

Wong: It’s cliché but it is true - finding balance between work, home and me time. But I think my male colleagues face the same challenges as well. I don’t think this is a challenge exclusive to women only.

A+M: A tip for ambitious women?

Wong: Be fearless. Take risks.

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?

Wong: Every major agency in the West has had a court case on sexual harassment. People in senior positions were being called out. We’ve not had a case in Malaysia. Are we so naïve to believe that Malaysia is so perfect that it doesn’t happen here? At the moment, we may talk about it, but that’s all it is – talk.

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

Wong: No change. Case in point - when the current government announced no toll charges for everyone who uses the road from 11pm to 5am, a remark was made that only LGBT folks, ghosts and drunks will benefit from it. Though there was an apology, this shows the emblematic lack of understanding that is the status quo here.

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.

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