Success in any creative industry requires diversity of thought

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.

Natalie Cooke, Group Managing Director, M&C Saatchi UAE

A senior agency professional with over 18 years of client-side and integrated agency experience spanning major network agencies both in Europe and across APAC.

Passionate about growing business and building solid client relationships. A strong believer in diversity of thought to drive creative ideas. Natalie is an experienced MD yet a business strategist by heart-focused on creating the conditions for great creative work.

She has almost two decades of industry experience across both the UK and Asia Pacific, leading account teams and working on high-profile integrated clients from MasterCard, Starbucks, Abbott HealthCare, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Aldar Properties, Neom and Emirates.

Do you think the industry has become more inclusive?

Since the pandemic, there has been a marked shift in the number of companies truly putting DE&I at the heart of their agenda. At M&C Saatchi, for instance, I am proud that we have a number of these initiatives in place.

Because ultimately, policies that support women support everyone. It’s great to see that we have moved towards gender-neutral paid parental leave, and now companies, including our group, are embracing ways to support women at every stage of their careers.

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

I’ve had far more highs than lows. It was only as I progressed to a senior leadership role that I began reflecting on my gender’s impact. Until the point of family planning, my gender didn’t seem to affect my career growth.

However, having worked in various continents and with many cultures, I did encounter a few instances of gender bias comments. For instance, during a meeting in the Far East, I was told that being emotional was linked to me being a woman, which I took as, and still consider, a compliment.

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

Embracing your confidence and abilities is vital to breaking the glass ceiling and promoting more women in senior leadership roles. There is a significant confidence gap between men and women in the workplace, and leadership teams should actively encourage women to assert themselves and speak up.

For women, building confidence should start before entering the advertising world. Engaging in open dialogues with prospective employers and understanding an agency’s culture, diversity and HR policies are essential during the interview process and preemployment research.

What message would you like to give men in advertising?

The debate of men vs. women in leadership is one-dimensional and can be frustrating. Success in any creative industry requires diversity of thought which is one of our guiding philosophies at M&C Saatchi.

Similar people think similar thoughts and therefore it requires both genders on leadership teams. There’s no movement against masculinity; nor any staunch feminist agenda. It’s about embracing different styles and qualities that make us all valuable in our industry.

Open discussions are vital for driving change through policies and compassionate conversations that show emotional investment in employees. To create a supportive environment, it’s essential to understand how females and males feel within the organisation through surveys or conversations.

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

Many women may have taken career breaks or lack confidence in returning to work. I would like us to build more regional support and training programmes for these talented individuals.

Additionally, providing platforms for women to connect and share experiences, especially at leadership levels, is crucial.

Promoting active allyship and zero tolerance for prejudice is vital, and it would be beneficial for the industry to commit to a governing body to address these issues seriously.

What excites you about the advertising industry currently?

It is the work that continues to excite me daily. Not only are we starting to see the creative output from the Middle East region smashing bars when it comes to recognition and awards, but more importantly, the briefs and the opportunities that come to us are allowing us to truly create meaningful change through our work.