Women in advertising: Don’t underestimate what you can achieve

The advertising industry in this region has plenty to shout about when it comes to gender diversity. We recently interviewed a number of female executives for our annual Women in Advertising issue and there were lots of positive comments about the progress being made.

But no-one will deny there is a lot more work to do in leveling the playing field. We will be publishing these interviews online at Campaign Middle East and in our September issue.

Marize Sami, Deputy MD, Dentsu Creative MENA

Over a diverse career spanning more than 18 years in the fields of communications and advertising, Marize is a trusted client partner and dedicated leader who is responsible for driving innovation, creatively-led and integrated solutions for Dentsu Creative.

Prior to joining Dentsu, Marize worked for the likes of FP7, Leo Burnett and BBDO across client leadership and growth, with an impressive roster of clients in the banking and financial sectors and CPG categories.

Marize is involved in several efforts to drive positive change in the industry, working closely with local universities and training colleges to support talent in their journey towards a career in advertising. Her awards catalogue includes trophies from Cannes, Dubai Lynx and Effie MENA for numerous ATL and digital campaigns throughout her career.

Do you think the industry has become more inclusive?

Yes, incredibly so. The percentage of women holding leadership positions in advertising has significantly increased since I first started and we now have many prominent female figures at the helm of very successful agencies/networks regionally and globally.

We’ve seen countless studies showing how women leaders help to increase productivity, enhance collaboration, inspire dedication and create a stronger sense of inclusivity. But there’s still a long way to go before the industry can claim to be 100 per cent inclusive.

Steps are certainly being made as the positive impact diversity has on agency culture and the work they create is more recognised and appreciated.

What has been your high and low point as a woman in advertising?

My highest point was picking up a Lion for one of the campaigns I worked on with Unilever – achieving international recognition at Cannes, the highest accolade in our industry, which remains a highlight.

Another honourable mention was a campaign for UN Women calling on women who were experiencing domestic violence to speak up. The media immediately drew attention to the subject, the topic was all over talk shows organically and the call centre was flooded with calls from women seeking help.

This was when I felt that advertising can really change behaviours and can be truly effective.

Not only selling products and building connections with consumers but also shaping attitudes and promoting a better world. My lowest point was when I took maternity leave and felt pressured and unsupported by management at the time, who doubted my capability to return to work at full capability.

This is an experience I would not wish upon any woman and, as difficult as it was for me at the time, I am stronger for having went through it.

What advice would you give to women starting out in the industry?

Don’t underestimate what you can achieve, stay authentic, and own who you are. The value you bring will not always conform to the expectations of others, but that is what makes you unique.

“Advertising can really change behaviours and can be truly effective”

What message would you like to give men in advertising?

Women are not all the same and rather than basing the value women bring to a project or role on an assumed conception, embrace the differences in others – even the unexpected ones.

Promoting diversity leads to greater opportunities for underrepresented voices to be heard which then results in more authentic and representative work.

What more can be done to support the growth of women in the industry?

As a first step, agencies need to get better at creating internal support systems that offer stability, flexibility and a healthy work-life balance. The pandemic accelerated flexibility in timings and work location, but the lines between on and off work are more blurred than ever.

At Dentsu we have a gender-focused DEI council that listens to the needs of the female work force and activates initiatives based on these, as well as female acceleration programmes to help to readdress the gender balance in leadership.

We also need to move from the idea of mentorship to that of sponsorship, where sponsors are advocates for their sponsees and heavily invested in their career success.

As an industry, it is great to see more and more events focused on female empowerment, upskilling and a dedication to shared progress. However, I would like to see more males in the room at these events.

What excites you about the advertising industry currently?

Seeing and taking an active role in the massive changes happening within the creative space.Technology is leading the conversation, specifically AI, and it is reshaping the platforms we use.

It is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ with AI tools personalising user experiences and allowing us to draw meaningful patterns in data collected. It is very interesting to see how technology has impacted the way we communicate and how it influences consumer behaviour.

And of course, the opportunity for us to remove more menial and repetitive tasks to focus on creativity and making great work is a very exciting one.