20 years of progress – by UM’s Hanan Tabsh

UM’s managing director, Hanan Tabsh, looks back on her career and how women’s leadership roles have changed as the industry evolves

Hanan Tabsh UM managing director

2002 or 2022 differ by only one digit, but the difference is a journey of 20 years that simply feels like one day.

Women in the advertising and communications industry, how often have you tried to recall the first day you joined it? When I did, I realised the significant rise of women in leadership and I was thrilled to observe that progress.

‘Throughout the growth of the industry, female empowerment and gender equality have risen exponentially.”

Back in 2002, most advertising and communications agencies in the Middle East had male heroes behind their success – from Mark Read, to Tarek Miknas and Fadi Salemeh, to name a few. Adding to this, the fast dynamic of the industry itself was another barrier for low gender diversity, and men typically dominated. However, throughout the fast growth of the advertising industry, female empowerment and gender equality have risen exponentially with key personalities whose roles recently positioned them as gamechangers. People such as Eileen Kieman, global CEO at UM; Sahar Zoghbi, CEO at MCN Egypt; and Wendy Clark, global CEO at Dentsu.

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The big challenge is how a woman in a leadership position within a tough industry can trace her ambition to draw the full picture for a prosperous journey. I believe certainty and resilience should be the right mix. So, let’s embrace success stories and get inspired to pursue our goals and ambitions to keep the growth rolling.

How can women become leadership pioneers? By starting from our strong belief that we can imprint a solid mark on the businesses we operate within, as long as we are determined, goal achievers and persistent. 

Alongside the industry’s evolution, women’s strengths in terms of agility and multitasking enable us to adapt to various norms, changes and rapid market dynamics. As an expat in Qatar since 2002, I have been proud to witness the key market milestones and developments with all their opportunities and challenges – from the Asian games in 2006 and the FIFA World Cup announcement in 2010 to the current digital transformation and the infrastructure readiness for 2022. As business leaders we have aimed to mirror our operation to be experienced in sports marketing, covering key and major sports events to be ready to deliver a significant media role for one of the major global sports events in Qatar for 2022: the World Cup.

Considering that people are the major pillar of any business operation, a woman’s role is positioned as the pivot that enables teamwork and cross-functionality. Her emotional thinking is no longer perceived as a weakness in terms of decision-making, but helps her deep-dive into understanding her team better, allowing for better relationships with colleagues as well as clients and partners. It lets her deploy team capability effectively and accurately to create the best synergy.

Synergy is not only determined with gender diversity, but it also brings in talent from different cultures, different skills and various age groups, focusing on the youth who are the new catalyst of any business growth, regardless of their gender.

As an employee who started like any new industry joiner, I was always eager to learn. Being part of a small organisation didn’t limit my prospects. Instead, it was an advantage; team members can find themselves responsible for different scopes and roles, and it challenged me to be a curious learner by nature.

This experience proved how empowerment and motivation are two key essentials to build a productive and inspiring ecosystem. This was my flagship motto to embrace as a colleague, employee, leader and mother. With the right empowerment you can trigger the strength of each team member to bring diversity of thoughts and output, where every project will become unique and not a reflection of one leader’s approach.

Leading an operation is the art of enabling team capabilities and forging potential that women in advertising are mastering. This is reflected today in agencies across the big four networks. At UM we can clearly witness the rise of gender diversity and equality, as well as cultural diversity that enriches our business operations.

As a woman from this industry and from the Middle East, I would like to invite every woman and all youth who believe in their potential to claim their seats at the table and take the lead themselves. Don’t wait for others to pave the road for you. As Estée Lauder, a phenomenal businesswoman, once said, “I never dreamed of success; I worked for it.”