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#IWD2019 (II): Women in the industry share their views on rising above cynicism

Just last week, brands jumped into the International Women’s Day hype with a burst of campaigns, ads and social executions. Women everywhere were uplifted by brands. E! News transformed its logo into “SHE!” across broadcast, digital and social platforms for 24 hours, while Shopee partnered beauty brand L’Oréal to highlight the brand’s products for 24 hours.

While the excitement has died down over the past week, the importance of having women in leadership positions remains a crucial one especially in markets such as Singapore where only 30% of women hold senior management roles compared to ASEAN’s average of 39%. Similar to last week’s IWD special article, Marketing reached out to women in the industry about their views on women in leadership and the challenges they face.

(Read also#IWD2019: Challenges plaguing women in the industry that need addressing)

Yvonne Low, chief marketing officer, consumer financial services, OCBC Bank

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

There is really no clear distinction between challenges faced by women and men. In the course of my career, I have been fortunate to have worked in progressive companies that provided equal opportunities for both women and men. The challenges women in the marketing industry face are the same ones faced by everyone within the industry – the ever-changing digital and media landscapes driven by consumers’ evolving media consumption habits and their expectations of a seamless on-demand service experience via digital platforms. There is also a greater need to tailor relevant offerings and services to different customer segments using robust data analytics, integrated with better customer experience journeys, at multiple physical and virtual touch-points.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

We have already seen more women take on key strategic leadership roles within organisations across all industries. This is definitely a heartening sign that more opportunities are provided and more women are stepping up to take on the challenge. At OCBC Bank, I have also been given an equal opportunity to lead and drive change. I strongly believe this shift will continue and I encourage my female peers, who are given the opportunity, to be bravely take that step forward.

Manisha Seewal, group chief marketing officer, Carro 

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

One of the biggest challenges that I have observed is around articulation and marrying the marketing idea with solid business results.

Often, women are such great storytellers who relate well to customer insights and the human emotion that drives the marketing funnel from awareness to decision making and purchase.

However, we tend to shy away from asserting how this will drive the sales numbers. This tends to result in women not being taken seriously by senior management. It’s a pity, but this behaviour stems from deeper psychology, where women don’t want to over-commit and then disappoint.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

I hope more women in leadership look out for, support and encourage one another openly. It could be something as simple as just saying “that was a great presentation”, or “I can see how much effort your team has put into this. I really hope it materialises.” Encouragement from fellow senior women can go a long way in boosting morale. Lending voice in the board room can make a huge impact, especially within the same organisation. Women tend to be the minority amongst senior management. Hence, looking out for one another, giving constructive feedback, lending a helping hand when needed, or just sharing information, can move the needle. It’s a small step, but it starts with something we can control; our actions.

Rowena Bhagchadani, CEO and co-founder, BLKJ

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

Women are making and paving their own way more than ever. In fact, in a recent article by The Straits Times, Singapore placed 8th in a list of cities positioned as a desired hub for entrepreneurs to make their mark. As a fellow entrepreneur myself, I always believe in pushing and providing opportunities for all because talent IS talent. Having worked with clients and partners from all walks of life, this extends beyond the marketing industry. Attitude and aptitude is above all.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

In the past, the rigour and speed of the industry, and the challenge that to always stay on top would have meant a woman often has to choose a set path (family or career for example). One way or the other, a sacrifice made would have meant significant opportunity cost. But today, more than ever, we all strive to find that balance. Which is why most women practise work-life integration. That is just one example. My hope for women in leadership is that we continue to find new ways and methods to eke out that balance.

Chloe Neo, managing director, OMD Singapore

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

I feel the biggest challenge for working women in any industry is juggling with the multiple roles that we play and the expectations we have upon ourselves in balancing work-life integration as a work leader, team player, daughter, sister, mother, friend, household manager, event planner for family activities, and everything else. And possibly with the multiple assumed roles, the career mobility across various levels and female representation in executive leadership, be it in local or regional front is relatively challenged.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

Leadership is a journey: The best is yet to be. Reach for the sky and enjoy the roses along the way!

Karen Yew, head of brand and communications, Mediacorp

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

One of the challenges we face is being afraid to be different. Yet, we know from our own experience and the experience of others that going against the flow can sometimes yield the best solution.”

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

I’ve worked with many successful women leaders over the years. One thing they have in common – ability and confidence, matched by a sense of humour and the humility to learn while leading.

Sorcha John, managing director, iris Singapore

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

Understanding and valuing their super-powers:  I think that women have long undervalued their innate skillsets in building and growing relationships. The demands of our industry require highly tuned emotional skillsets to illicit curiosity and collaboration, the so-called soft skills that even through their naming convention feel inferior to the all-powerful ‘hard skills’.  These aren’t gendered skills perse, but women often over-index, so my advice would be to learn how you can further grow your emotional capability, learn the science and technique of building effective relationships and throw the terms hard/soft skills in the bin.

Rise above cynicism: With the present industry disruption (agencies and brands collapsing, consultancies and in-housing) there’s a nasty case of cynicism that seems to be catching like wildfire, and worse than that, it appears we view cynicism as an intellectually superior position. This is especially damaging for women in aspiring leadership position as it creates discouragement and ultimately depletes their efforts and ambition. If you are sensing this creep in to your organisation or team, rise above it and remember that the biggest breakthroughs have only ever been achieved through ambitious vision. The cynics have never built anything. Fact.

What are your hopes for women in leadership?

I was at SXSW last week and had the opportunity to hear from Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez on this exact topic and her (para-phrased) words were so powerful:

There are many subconscious historic cultural forces at play that try to make women in leadership impersonate the symbols of male leadership. But, if you’re doing an impression of power, it’s always going to feel inauthentic. The current image of successful leadership wasn’t built with women in mind. Stop trying to navigate outdated systems of power and build your own.

So ultimately my hopes would be that both women and men heed those words, and we start to see radically new styles of effective, charismatic leadership begin to emerge and have value.

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