‘Don’t ever douse your own fire to make others happy,’ says Ogilvy’s Nizwani Shahar

Current managing partner for Ogilvy and JWT Malaysia, Nizwani Shahar (pictured), joined the agency in 2011 before being promoted to the role of managing partner in 2015. Since then, she has been working closely with the creative and planning teams to deliver work for clients. In 2018, Nizwani also became the managing partner of JWT Malaysia when both Ogilvy and JWT decided to combine resources under a single leadership team while having separate P&Ls.

She speaks to A+M on the “biggest responsibilities” women on top in the ad/marketing world have and how she remains fearless as a young leader.

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

Nizwani: For me it’s been a double whammy my entire career: a female leader and a young leader. I’ve risen up the ranks in this industry relatively fast due to my smarts, creativity and strategic thinking yet, there would be the odd one or two persons who would take a look at me and think “Well, how can she be cut out for this role?”

Thankfully, this attitude doesn’t come from Ogilvy. Here, we celebrate diversity and there is an equal amount of women in leadership roles as men.

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

Nizwani: I’ve learned that I cannot make everyone happy and it is not my responsibility to please everyone.

The decisions that I make as a leader are ones that I can be most accountable and responsible for.

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

Nizwani: I’d rather change the narrative from “biggest challenges” to “biggest responsibilities” that we women on top in the ad/marketing world-face. It is our duty to lead by example and set the path for young women who are finding their way in this complex, creative industry. Now that we’ve got a seat in the C-Suite, we need to influence policies and regulations, encourage equality and diversity not just in gender but a diversity mindset.

We need to shake up the unconscious bias that exists in the way we operationalise our work spaces.

A+M: A tip for ambitious women?

Nizwani: Don’t ever douse your own fire to make others around you happy. What you need to appreciate is that those around you need to lean in and step up just as you do.

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?

Nizwani: #MeToo is a culmination of a movement that has taken off in various fashions and forms globally. While it did give us a platform to speak about safety and equality in the workplace, I am glad that at Ogilvy, we celebrate diversity and have policies in place to ensure our staff feel safe and celebrated all at the same time.

A+M: Is sexism and harassment in the ad/marketing industry an issue in markets such as Malaysia?

Nizwani: This was prevalent in most industries in most markets. Sexism and advertising in Malaysia is no different. What is important now more than ever is to make sure all employees feel safe in the workplace and appreciated for the value that they bring to work.

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

Nizwani: Social sentiments and headlines have called out various steps that show tides have changed locally. At Ogilvy, our staff is our duty of care and we are very clear about ensuring both men and women feel safe at the workplace.

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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