Take bold action against the barriers that women face in advertising

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.

Jackie Hughes, Chief Strategy Officer, Impact BBDO

Do you think the industry has become more inclusive?

Since I first started out, women were certainly involved in the industry, but they were not equals. As time has marched on though, the stats speak for themselves: more women at management levels and more women in historically male-dominated fields within the industry than ever.

So, I hope that this is a sign of greater inclusivity. Much work is still to be done though, so we can’t be complacent.

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

The low was working in the androcentric 90s where, as a woman, I often felt objectified. I also, like so many women at the time, had to work doubly hard to succeed against the ‘old boys’ club’. The high is now –working as a Chief Strategy Officer across the region with a senior team where I am an equal partner and three of our key offices are managed by women.

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

Only be willing to work in an organisation with clear signs of a supportive culture where you feel like you can belong and grow in the long term. Never, never join a culture that you don’t feel comfortable in. To adapt Drucker’s famous statement: culture eats people and their passions for breakfast.

And when it comes to passions, these should include the integration of ideas and intelligence with data and digitisation – this is where the future lies.

“Only be willing to work in an organisation with clear signs of a supportive culture where you feel like you can belong and grow in the long term”

What message would you like to give men in advertising?

Whilst involving men is clearly vital, I don’t see this as just a ‘message to men’ thing. People in advertising are experts in changing culture and behaviour and, whatever gender you identify as, to all of you I throw out the challenge of coming together and collaborating to agree on a set of actions that will bring about greater gender equity across the industry.

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

Culture is the biggest blocker challenging the growth of women in our industry and this won’t change easily. It needs champions at senior levels who don’t just deliver speeches paying lip service to gender equity, but who take bold action against the barriers that women face, especially the ones that often go ignored.

Supporting women properly is not just a moral imperative, but it also makes business sense – it is a strategy to do better work and drive economic growth. And business leaders who understand this will succeed.

Compared to the global industry, how well represented are women in the regional industry?

Women’s participation in the workforce in the Middle East is one of the lowest in the world but our industry here bucks this trend.

If I look at our network, in particular, female representation is increasing across all levels and all skills, helped greatly by technology that is reshaping the industry and creating new exciting opportunities.

Are there any instances where your perspective as a woman has been reflected in your work?

Absolutely. Great communication comes from trying your best to understand the other with empathy. One of the pieces of strategy work that I am most proud of was the real beauty campaign for Dove.

As part of an all-female team who were fed up with the status quo, we decided that it was time to challenge it by tackling damaging female stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards.

Without a female perspective, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to do something so different. I like to think that, since then, we have moved on though – I hope that whatever gender you are, you can feel more comfortable with challenging the status quo.

At the end of the day, our industry is about future making.