'It’s my vision and impact that matters more than my gender', says Lion & Lion MD

Managing director Cheska Teresa (pictured) was given the reins of Lion & Lion in Malaysia last February, six months after helming the role of client director. Teresa first joined the agency in 2016 as client services director, where she worked with clients including L'Oreal, Dairy Farm Retail Group, IKEA, AXA, Genting and Great Eastern Life. She has also worked at Mindshare and Movent.

Despite being a young leader in the agency world, Teresa remains undaunted and believes that her vision and impact matters more than her gender. She tells A+M about the challenges she faces as a leader and how she encourages her team members to have healthy discussions.

A+M: What has been the toughest thing about being a female boss?
Teresa: I’m fortunate that diversity and doing the right thing are valued at Lion & Lion. As a leader at Lion & Lion, it’s my vision and impact that matters more than my gender, and the main goal is ensuring that we build the right team with similar values.

That being said, sometimes women have a tendency to rationalise actions due to certain expectations about how we should be. Women can’t be “too nice” for fear of not being taken seriously or “too aggressive” for fear of reinforcing the bossy female stereotype. Women also tend to put undue pressure on ourselves and spend energy counteracting the biases rather than focusing on the results we need to deliver.

A+M: Staff members aren’t always the kindest to opinionated female leaders. How do you deal with this?
Teresa: I’m a firm believer in role-modelling the behaviour I want my team to have. I encourage everyone to have healthy discussions, treat each other with respect and focus on the core issue rather than personalities. Additionally, empathy is key - we need to try to understand why a team member is behaving in a certain way to coach them to develop more constructive behaviours.

A+M: What are some of the biggest challenges women on top in the ad/marketing world face?
Teresa: In certain cases, the definition and the qualities associated with leaders are still very masculine, and it reinforces problematic stereotypes when women adopt these “masculine” qualities. Sometimes, a man would be perceived as assertive, whereas a woman would be perceived as aggressive. “Feminine” attributes such as empathy and resilience are often regarded as afterthoughts when we think of effective leaders, even if it’s critical to have those leadership traits.

Unfortunately, women are sometimes judged on criteria that do not apply to men. As an example, a study by Catalyst shows that almost 40% of those surveyed expect women to have more experience and "tick all the boxes" before being in leadership positions.

Throughout my career, I have observed that in some situations, female leaders are expected to perform and behave differently and also get rewarded differently from male leaders, even for the same accomplishments. Likewise, I have experienced how some women will downplay their accomplishments for fear of being regarded as conceited. I believe it is important to acknowledge that these situations still occur and we shouldn’t shy away from difficult conversations around it. We need to bring the focus to talent and results, not gender.

A+M: A tip for ambitious women?
Teresa: Don’t change who you are to fit into a “man’s world” - be self-aware, build on your strengths, and ensure people support your vision.
It’s not enough to work towards what you want, you have to speak up and ask for it.

Finally, surround yourself with the right people who push you beyond what you’re capable of. Once you reach your goal, remember to help and support other women with their ambitions too.

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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