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International Women's Day: Creative agency heads on how they inspire inclusion at work

International Women's Day: Creative agency heads on how they inspire inclusion at work

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International Women's Day (IWD) is finally here and this year, the campaign theme is 'inspire inclusion'. 

"When we inspire others to understand and value women's inclusion, we forge a better world," it said. "And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there's a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment."

In a 2023 report by US-based executive search and management consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, it showed that Singapore has one of the world’s highest numbers of female chief executive officers at 13%.

Additionally, the APAC region has the highest number of top-level management opportunities for women, the study said. 

Don't miss: International Women's Day: PR agency heads on how they inspire inclusion at work

In honor of IWD, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE decided to sit down with some of our female creative agency heads that head up the biggest creative agencies in Singapore to find out more about how they lead and how they inspire inclusion in their workplace.

Rowena Bhagchandani, CEO / co-founder at BLKJ Havas

1. What is your biggest insecurity about yourself in the industry? 

Am I doing enough? Am I doing enough as a boss, as an agency partner, as a mom, as a daughter, as a volunteer, as a professional, and as a mentor?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs with humble beginnings and learned very early on that anything is possible. It is with that attitude that I continue to do whatever it takes to make things happen. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a ‘roll up your sleeves, always willing to jump in to solve a problem, hands-on’ kind of person. However, I always have this nagging feeling that I should be doing more as a woman in the industry.

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader?

Everything is personal. Every relationship, every business, every brief, every win, every loss. It’s all personal. We give something of ourselves to every single thing we do. Why not give it our all? 

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

I’ve always believed that you need to lead by example. Every individual in the agency is important. I believe that we operate best when we can be honest and transparent with each other. This is reflected in our latest employee survey findings, where our highest scores are in the areas of "openness", "transparency", "proud to work at this agency", and “having a flat structure that promotes ownership and entrepreneurship in everyone”. 

Within BLKJ Havas, my partners and I are very intentional in protecting the environment we have created for our collective - an always-open forum to share how we can help everyone be their best selves. 

It's about giving every individual, regardless of discipline, age, background, a voice and power to shape the agency. From our office revamp to office policies and nursing rooms, down to the CSR initiatives we choose to take on – our people decide. 

50% of our leadership across disciplines are made up of women, including myself. Over 70% of the agency are women, and we have got talent from all over the world in the agency, Brazil, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and of course, Singapore.  

Rebecca Nadilo, managing director of Iris

1. What is your biggest insecurity about yourself in the industry? 

Balancing being a very hands-on, present mother to a 2.5-year-old whilst being in a demanding role where my team and clients need me – I often grapple with trying to be present for both. It’s natural to feel the judgement when I need to leave early or can’t join after-work things. I used to feel guilty for missing bedtime, or missing meetings because I was home doing bedtime – now I am less apologetic about it because I know my value isn’t judged by hours worked.

I also believe it’s up to people like me, in the privilege of this position, to change the culture so that women no longer fear getting pregnant, going on maternity leave or god forbid – being 35 and secretly wanting a baby but pretending they don’t because they don’t want to forgo a promotion (which is something I constantly hear!).

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader?

Young, female leaders are rare. Young, female, mothers who are agency leaders are even more rare. And it’s not because a lack of talent. I am in the best position to change the game for women and mothers today, and those to come, and challenge everything that has come before me that has made women drop out of the industry.

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

I believe inclusion comes from equity and belonging. You can hire the most diverse workforce, but if they’re not treated equally and fairly, or they don’t feel a sense of belonging for who they really are – then it’s useless.

So, at Iris, we try to create a culture where people feel psychologically safe and open to expressing themselves without fear of judgement, where our differences are understood and embraced (not just recognised or tolerated), and we aren’t judged by who we are but rather, what we contribute. It’s a meritocracy.

Juliana Mattar, founder and CEO, Motion for Impact

1. What is your biggest insecurity about yourself in the industry? 

I am me, I am a woman, and I don't have any insecurities about being one in the industry. I embrace and enjoy being female in all the roles I play in every moment of my day: a business leader, a people leader, a mentor, a consultant, a friend, a supporter, a mother, a daughter, a sister and much more.

By embracing our femininity, we, as women, get to live, experience and enjoy the many different facets of ourselves. The more I understand who I am, the more I can walk the personal and professional path crafted for me.

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader?

I am a leader who is female, so I direct my day, decisions and people with this guiding principle: I trust my truths and my gut and can only do so if I know who I truly am. 

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

We love celebrating the human spirit, which means we appreciate one another across festivals, anniversaries, birthdays, and professional and life milestones.

Inclusion comes naturally at Motion because we always want to be inspired by a person's individuality and gifts that they bring to this world.

To path the business and our people for success, we must understand why we are here and find reason in our presence and purpose; the fire that fuels us. Once this foundational understanding is anchored in each of us, the growing rhythm and rigor of a team inevitably leads to our collective energy growing exponentially.

Shufen Goh, Principal and Co-founder of R3

1. What is your biggest insecurity about yourself in the industry? 

At C-suite level meetings, and in boards I’m a member of, I’m often a minority or even the lone female. I find myself being a lot more conscious about dialing down my feelings and projecting a more rational front, as I fear being dismissed or stereotyped as emotional or “soft”.

So, I’ve learnt to be more diplomatic without losing my conviction, but it’s not second nature, since I’m a very straight shooter who is an activist at my core.

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader?

Years ago, a client who became one of my closest friends told me that empathy is my superpower, I believe that superpower is now more relevant than ever.

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

When you join R3, you’re joining a family.

As a parent (leader), you want to be fair to all your children, regardless of their race, gender, beliefs and sexuality. They should all feel the same love, safety and support every day.  

We don’t just celebrate women in March and LGBTQIA in June, we live it every day by making it a safe place for everyone to bring their true and best self to work.

Audrey Kuah, APAC co-CEO, VML

1. What is your biggest insecurity about in the industry? 

My biggest insecurity is how I can stay ahead of client and market demands. No matter your gender, striving to improve your knowledge and skills is always a great approach, particularly in this extremely competitive and fast-moving industry which requires practitioners to be agile and adapt in line with the market and client demand.

This approach has seen me continuing to educate myself on a broad range of topics from data and cloud technology, to cutting edge commerce, customer and brand experience, AI and more, while retaining core craft skills in strategy, creativity, and client partnership. The truth is, it’s never ending, so, continuing to learn, share your knowledge and encouraging those around to do the same, really is the one thing that will set you apart professionally, whilst allowing you to remain top of your game.

2. What is your one guiding principle as a female leader 

My leadership philosophy is centred on creating a culture that enables each person to bring their A+ game to work, for our clients, the company, and themselves. This is built on a practice of continuous development, which is especially crucial in this industry – where practitioners must wear multiple hats and adapt to evolving technologies such as AI to cater to client needs.

3. How do you inspire inclusion in your workplace?

I find it incredibly important not to lose sight of the social and cultural barriers that could be holding women back in the industry. This makes it increasingly important to be proactive in creating equal opportunities and a culture for more women to break the glass ceiling of society, culture, family. That means supporting their life choices, and providing opportunities for women to be heard and seen and get recognition for the great work that they do.

Our longstanding programme, the Helen Lansdowne Resor (HLR) Scholarship, which aims to amplify historically marginalised voices in the creative industry, is one example of this. It’s through initiatives such as this that female and non-binary college students are given the opportunity and support they need to successfully join the advertising industry’s creative ranks.

Leading by example is also crucial, and I am pleased to say that with female CEOs leading the charge across our offices in India, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, there’s no shortage of inspirational female role models and mentors to inspire and encourage the next generation of female professionals.

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

Related articles:
Häagen-Dazs rolls out women empowerment celebrations across Asia
Study: 12% of APAC CEO appointments are women
International Women's Day: Media agency heads on how they inspire inclusion at work

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