#IWD2019: Challenges plaguing women in the industry that need addressing

Over the years, The International Women's Day has rapidly gained prominence making it a special occasion for many global brands to show their love for female consumers and make a stand for gender equality.

Globally, according to Grant Thornton International’s Women in Business 2018 report, the percentage of businesses around the world with at least one woman in senior management has increased significantly. The number has risen from 66% in 2017 to 75% in 2018.

In Singapore however, while there have been a surge of female leaders across industry verticles, only 30% of women hold senior management roles compared to ASEAN's average of 39%. As such, on this International Women's Day, Marketing spoke to female leaders in the industry about their views on being a female boss and the challenges that come with it.

Karen Tan, deputy chief of government communications, MCI

What are some of the biggest challenges women in the marketing industry face?

Being able to speak in our own voice and push through ideas different from the normal is a challenge especially in a dynamic and competitive environment. Others may think you are bossy or uncollaborative especially if your working environment is one of  group consensus.  In marketing, sometimes the best idea may not be the most comfortable with all, and it is crucial to have tenacity and passion in whatever we do. As a woman leader, it is also important to be confident of our own abilities, celebrate successes and let the results speak for themselves. In all this, also show grace and help grow others.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

Women have a lot of potential and I hope they will be given more opportunities to assume leadership positions. This means building up your skill sets and be confident and bold, as you need to speak up for your successes as well. This is not about boastfulness but a sense of self-assuredness. My hope is more women to show this flair in their leadership and be nurturing and groom younger women to trust in themselves. There are no limits to what women can do as we are steadfast amidst  the  storms.

Ho Lee Yen, chief customer and marketing officer, AIA Singapore

What are some of the biggest challenges women in the marketing industry face?

Standing out in the boardroom remains one of the biggest challenges women in marketing face across many industries, especially male-dominated ones. While female marketers are making great strides in the workplace, the path to the C-Suite remains wrought with obstacles. One way to have your voice heard is to always make clear the importance of marketing in achieving business goals – show them how you can drive sales, get valuable insights, build the brand, and manage reputation. As marketers, we all have a role to play to ensure the value of marketing is rightfully represented at the board level.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?
I hope to see more women stepping up into leadership roles, and be the best versions of themselves they’ve always meant to be.

I also hope for women leaders to do more to push the culture of mentorship forward, so the new generation of aspiring leaders can enjoy equal access to the role of their dreams. In conversations with my peers, a common question many would ask themselves is: who am I to take on this role, what if I don’t have the right skillset and experience? As cliché as it may sound, no one can stop you if you truly set your mind to achieve your goals. At AIA Singapore, it is heartening that more than 60% of its senior leadership team are female, higher compared to Singapore’s 30% and ASEAN’s average of 39%. We’ve come a long way to build a gender inclusive environment that allows everyone to feel enabled and empowered, but there’s more to be done.

Diane Yap, head of marketing, AXA 

What are some of the biggest challenges women in the marketing industry face?

I think the challenges women face across different industries are rather similar. One of the biggest challenges is in managing the different roles both at work and at home. Especially in Asia - on top of the little ones at home, most women remains the more active caregiver to our elderly parents. As family sizes had shrank over the years coupled with aging population, there is greater reliance on the one or two children when it comes to looking after our elderly parents. And most times, it is not about the money but rather spending meaningful time with them. This is challenging especially in a society where we are all so busy! I believe this is one of the reasons why some women have this fear of taking up a bigger role.
Ambitions remain but held back by self-doubts - “Do I really have the time and energy to do this?”

In marketing where it is largely female-skewed and that many companies still classify the department as a support function, there may be challenges around stereotyping and perceptions. What’s made worse is that there is still a lack of C-suite female leaders in the core business driving seat. And so when most marketing teams are working towards playing a bigger part in driving profitability for the business, it is good opportunity for women marketers to showcase their abilities and progress alongside the company.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

Believe in yourself, take control, voice out and actively seek for the support or mentorship needed to pursue dreams and ambitions. Like the tagline we use in the brand campaign we launched recently – Know you can #RewriteTheRules.

Cheryl Lim, VP, head of branding and communications and sponsorship, Manulife

What are some of the biggest challenges women in the marketing industry face?

I personally am lucky to have faced few gender-related challenges in my marketing career. The key focus would be what we bring to the table and contribute, regardless of gender. It's important to be open and broad-minded enough to recognise someone's potential based on merit, instead of their gender.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

To continue seeing women making impactful contributions to the bottom lines of businesses - and not just be seen as being as 'cost centres' where they only spend money. Also, continuing to see women grooming and nuturing the next generation of leaders so that they can do bigger and better work!

Priya Alexander, managing director, PHD Singapore

What are some of the challenges women in adland face?

I’d love for there to be more questioning of the gendered language that we use to communicate with one another, our clients and our consumers. Acknowledging that stereotypes exist is not enough, we need to work at dismantling pre-existing mindsets and treat gender as irrelevant, because most of the time, it is.

From a consumer perspective, having worked across multiple brands that target mothers and being a mother myself, I cannot tell you how many times I have cringed at the one-dimensional depictions of moms that appear in communications. It feels strange that in a digital age, where messaging is meant to be more authentic and in touch with global sentiment, that this remains such a stumbling block.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

It feels like there has been a lot of progress in this area over the past few years. There are more networking opportunities for women, more platforms for women to speak (and be heard), and definitely more recognition – all of which are amazing. But I am still waiting for a reality where women leaders are the norm rather than an exception. To realise this, every leader (regardless of their gender) needs to consciously make decisions to provide equal access to growth opportunities for their best talents. At PHD, our 2019 International Women’s Day rallying call is “Finding a Better Balance”, reminding us that there is still plenty more work to be done, but we’re always forging on.

Evonne Chung, managing director, Landor Singapore

What are the biggest challenges women in adland face?

The industry is full of passionate and incredibly talented people, and as one might expect, folks with a point of view and a willingness to take a stand. I have sometimes heard that women struggle to get a word in and I had once been asked, “How do you make yourself heard?” If you’ve got a point to make, you make it. If you have a perspective and it’s one you care to defend, share it. We all have a responsibility to listen and to speak up.
Unconscious bias is also something we need to constantly check ourselves on, and this bias goes beyond gender.

The tangible, we can spot and correct. It’s unconscious bias that can go unseen and lead one to ‘yay or nay’ something, or someone, before giving considered thought. What may have fuelled this are the overt or subliminal cues around us. Communications have the power to shape perception. We have to be mindful of how we portray people and culture, and not default to negative stereotypes, whether this stereotype is around gender, age or background. At Landor, we absolutely focus on our people’s talent and person, rather than make assumptions based on gender. I’m proud to say we have healthy representation across all levels, and certainly in the boardroom.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

Women in leadership have got to where they are because they’ve earned it. I’d hate for anyone to say, “How lucky. She’s female and she got there.” Our talent, hard work and leadership empathy have to be front and centre. Ideally, women have also progressed due to support and mentorship from other leaders. When you scale up, it should be your moral obligation to pay it forward, especially for our younger team members.

Men seem to be good at accruing ‘career sponsors’ and building mentor relationships, and studies show this is one of the reasons more of them continue to leadership roles. As women, it’s our responsibility to make the extra effort to encourage mid-level and junior colleagues to forge these relationships early on. Women leaders are often blessed with a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy - the most successful leaders use this to their advantage by making time to listen and act accordingly. I sincerely hope every woman in a leadership role remembers who helped them on their journey and extends a hand to the next generation of trailblazers.

Annette Male, chief executive officer, Wunderman Thompson Asia Pacific

What are the biggest challenges women in adland face?

From the recent pay-gap report in the UK, one of the biggest challenges faced by women in adland seems to be getting paid fairly for the roles they do. Not only is it disappointing, it’s fundamentally wrong that there should be such disparity of income, especially between people in comparable roles. And it’s incumbent on all of us to address the issue, and to work together to redress this imbalance.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

That in the near future we will no longer be talking about women in leadership, but just talking about leadership, with women fairly represented in the mix. Women leaders are still asked about the significance of them being appointed into senior leadership roles, a question rarely addressed to men. So my hope is that very soon we will no longer be discussing gender equality and, instead, we will just be getting on with being great leaders and running successful businesses.