Campaign Focus: Women in Advertising

While the industry has come a long way towards gender equality in the workplace, the highest echelons of management are still predominantly male. Speak to anyone with an interest in agency talent, though, and they will tell you that the brightest students and the most promising fresh grads are, by contrast, generally women. This means that somewhere along the way, women are losing heart and
dropping out.

As part of our ongoing commitment to champion gender diversity, Campaign reached out to a cross-section of women in the industry to ask them about their careers, their experiences and their advice.

Do you want to know where the future of technology in advertising is heading? Or how to incorporate AI into marketing? Do you want to network with industry professionals in the fields of technology and AI? Then join us for our Campaign Breakfast Briefing: Tech and AI 2022. Click here to learn more and register. 


Women in advertising is a showcase of a small number of inspirational women in the industry. They are in positions of leadership – whether through job title or personal or professional influence – and are leveraging their leadership to shape the industry and elevate the women within it.

‘‘inclusion is about ethnicity, skills, gender and race, and is critical.”

Tj Lightwala

TJ Lightwala
Managing director, marketing services and transformation – ME and growth markets, diversity, equity, inclusion – ME at Accenture Middle East 

I lead the growth markets practice for Accenture’s marketing services and transformation business. It is a great opportunity to be in a position to consult and support client businesses in meaningful ways and unlock new growth opportunities.

Prior to that, I was at WPP’s Mindshare and GroupM entities, leading their performance and programmatic portfolio regionally across MENA.

Earlier in my career, roles at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Dentsu Aegis and FedEx International provided the eclectic set of responsibilities that really shaped my corporate approach, but also, and most importantly, set me on a quest for empathetic leadership.

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

Why is being a woman so different in any case? I believe individuals should have equal opportunities at work. However, in the Middle East, in Dubai, I did find certain roles like sales, administration and corporate functions enabled more women, whereas commercial, product and business enabled more men. However, things are rapidly changing. 

Two of my professional high points have been the creation and launch of the first fully transparent model in programmatic and performance business in the region at GroupM, and  being appointed the region’s leader for inclusion and diversity (I&D). I&D is not an agenda, but an absolute business imperative. 

This section is incomplete without my personal high point, over the course of last year: specifically, realising that slowing down is beneficial and rewarding. Giving myself permission to let go of any judgement that comes with endless pursuits, and learning an important aspect, that we are perfectly imperfect treasures – and that is worth appreciating. 

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

Returning to Dubai in 2013 and discovering the advertising ecosystem in the region worked very differently. It was chaotic. There was a lack of structure, especially in the products and commercials, and I really thought I made the wrong choice. Yet, over time, new leadership and governance provided the opportunity to bring change, new ways of improving productisation and new ways of doing business. It provided a test bed for learning experiences and creating the right change in business.

Second, less of a low point but more of an observation: We are still largely male-dominated in the corporate ecosystem. The sooner we grow to appreciate that there is a need for movement and change, the more empathetic and respected we will become. I say with humility that inclusion is about ethnicity, skills, gender, race, and is critical within the cultural fabric. Our generation has a huge opportunity to make a difference for the next.

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

Be willing to roll up your sleeves and get into the deep end of client business and product details. Be ready to fail, for if you are not, you are not trying new areas of growth. To me, this is invaluable. Dream big. Set bold goals. When one is slightly scared of one’s goals, that is exactly the right place to be. It starts the engine of real creativity and new dimensions of acceleration. 

Choose two people in the organisation, your career counsellor and your learning coach, both sponsoring different areas for professional growth and development, respectively. Also, be curious and get involved in different projects and companywide initiatives. First, it helps you widen the aperture outside of the client or industry you are involved in; second, it clearly underpins the culture, purpose and values of the organisation. 

What warning would you give them?

Do not get too comfortable in what you are doing, even if the programme is delivering at expectation. The best way to garner support for the hard work is by communicating and celebrating the milestones and successes and making it known to your superiors, peers, counsellors and, yes, the organisation, through townhalls and other formats.

Do not be shy to raise your hand for projects outside your expertise and knowledge. Most times we do not ask because we are assuming the answer is not favourable.

Set your personal and professional boundaries, whether workload or timing. Be willing to prioritise what is the optimal solution for yourself first and, certainly, business next.

Be brave in face of injustice, whether you or another woman is facing it. We need to raise our voices together and address issues women are facing in the workplace – collective rising.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

I see a lot of forums now have an I&D agenda; it’s in vogue, almost. That is great. I hope it does not go out of fashion. There is an important dynamic that multicultural advertising and marketing must adopt, being relevant to all audiences and even more to under-represented groups. I think women are, generally, more sensitive and empathetic about issues and feel that a system of bilateral coaching or sensitisation of issues that employees face at all levels should be an important element to consider in the new framework of leadership objectives.

‘‘I have never defined my achievements by my gender, and I guess i have my family to thank.”

Sally Makrem

Sally Makarem
Managing director – UAE and Qatar at DMS

I have been working with DMS for more than 11 years, and today I am the managing director of UAE and Qatar, looking after the sales operations of those two markets. Previously, I also worked in digital, having started my career at Yahoo! Maktoob.

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

I believe that the role I have today is the high point in my career so far. I wouldn’t frame it as my high point as a ‘woman’ in advertising, rather, a high point in my career journey. I have never really defined my capabilities or achievements by my gender, and I guess I have my family to thank for that. Being part of an all-girls family household meant that we never felt gender bias. In fact, I have always felt empowered. Currently, I lead a team of skilled and motivated salespeople, representing leading publishers in the region. My role is focused on enabling my team to deliver on growth for our partners by creating an environment where they can learn, achieve and grow.

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

At a certain point in my career, I decided that I wanted to establish a family, and the decision wasn’t a difficult one to make. I truly believe that being a working mother has been a great motivation for me and has made me who I am today. However, the biases I faced had at times created some self-doubt. For many, it was either a career or family due to the fast-paced nature of the industry. I am happy that I pursued both and I am proud of the women and mothers who are continuously paving the way and reaching top-level positions in this industry. There is still a long way to go, but more companies are looking to diversify their workforce. I know that
at DMS we are pushing to empower more women.

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

Never allow anyone to define your capabilities, and don’t settle for anything less than what you believe you deserve. Successful women, just like successful men, can have it all. Fortunately, there are great role models in our industry today to inspire future generations.

What warning would you give them?

I don’t really have a warning; things might get difficult and you might feel trapped. Don’t settle and know when to make a positive change in your professional life that can develop your career further.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Inclusivity and diversity are very important to drive growth and positive change in the industry. It’s not gender, age or race that one should consider; the focus should be on the merit that the individual will bring or add to the role and the company, which is what we have been focusing on at DMS.

‘‘A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”

Nisrine Ghazal
Chief growth and strategy officer at SMC

I’m the current chief growth and strategy officer at Saudi Media Company, and I’m responsible for setting strategies, assessing risks and looking for growth opportunities for SMC. I held various senior roles, previously on the publisher side, client side, agency side and now partner.

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

I’d rather say what was a high point for me as a professional. I do know that there are variances between the genders, but the gap is ever-diminishing, and I’ve stood very true to my values and what I believe in. As a result, I’ve been respected and treated for what I’m capable of rather than for my gender. It does help that I work with leaders who champion women in executive roles. The highest point for me in my career was restructuring and repositioning a company, to oversee its revenue grow by more than 300 per cent in my first year there, followed by a steady compound average growth rate of 30 per cent year-over-year for four years, and winning awards for the work the team delivered.

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

Everything in media is a cycle of ups and downs, so for the latter I would rather see them as challenges rather than negative episodes to dwell on. A low point would probably be if gender bias is used against me and, in turn, I use it as an excuse and let that dictate my situation without doing anything about it to change my circumstances. That would be a low point, but, gladly, I don’t make excuses.

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

In his book, The Trial, Franz Kafka wrote of a protagonist who’s on trial for a crime he knows nothing of; the jury has no clue of what he’s committed, and to top it off neither does the judge.

Being a woman is not a scarlet letter we wear, but a badge of honour standing on the shoulders of others before us, and we all continue to build on that. It’s not a felony to be female.

Come on in, the door is open. If you go into a profession and use your gender to get away with things, don’t complain if it’s used against you. It’s you who will dictate how you are treated. Work with integrity and passion to succeed, and, again, not as a woman but as a dedicated, worthy professional who knows her worth and her contribution to the industry, and who is independent if anyone around her praises her or belittles her due to gender bias.

What warning would you give them?

Are there gender inequalities? Of course, but it’s all a glass ceiling. Then again, here’s something that Coco Chanel once said that may enlighten you: “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.” Anything else is inconsequential. Embody resilience, perseverance, confidence, courage, and a healthy stubborn attitude to what you do and what you stand for.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

I have no message. Just look across to the right and you will see me standing there, not behind you, but beside you. And, in time you may see me – or another woman – way ahead in the distance.

‘‘Invest time and energy in your personal development, and prioritise your health.”

Dana Sarkis
General manager at Hearts & Science

I started my career in Omnicom Media Group 15 years ago. I have been curious enough to have experienced different verticals and specialisms within the group, from strategic planning and buying to marketing science and business intelligence, as well as research and analytics. Today, I lead Hearts and Science, where I identify opportunities across different areas of the business and help my team to fulfil their passions and deliver great work.

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

2017 was one of the most challenging and transformational years in my career, as it was the year we set up Hearts & Science in MENA. I remember receiving a call from our head of HR informing me that I had been nominated to represent Omnicom Media Group at a conference organised by the American University of Beirut and the Stanford Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering. It was a significant and highly motivational moment because it aimed to empower and enable future generations of females in the field. At this time, this niche category of data science had only recently been identified as a critical pillar in advertising. It was a truly extraordinary experience to be given the opportunity to inspire students and business partners from across the MENA region through discussions around applied mathematics and data science in advertising. I hold this memory close to my heart because it reflected my vision of how media and advertising should be backed by meaningful data. 

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

It’s difficult to answer this particular question as I have always managed to regard times of adversity as key inflection points, necessary to propel me in new directions, which have been pivotal in shaping the person I am today. When I first joined Omnicom Media Group it wasn’t easy for me to transition from engineering school directly into the media world, which back in 2007 lacked many of the science- and data-driven approaches we have today. This made it difficult to adapt and fit in. I am grateful for the challenges I faced and what I now consider the low point in my career because it got me to where I am today. If I had to start again I wouldn’t choose it any other way.

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

Make it a point to try new things and learn every day. Allow yourself to try and experiment, and know that it’s OK to fail – but it’s not OK to not pick yourself up and try again or try something entirely different. Challenge the status quo if your heart is not in it; get out of your comfort zone and be around people who know more than you do. Invest time and energy in your personal development, and always prioritise your mental and physical health, as it dramatically affects your work health and career development.

What warning would you give them?

This industry is one of the fastest-moving industries, and the pace at which information and technology evolve is exponential. While it is hard to keep up, ensure your learning curve is accelerated so that you are agile enough to unlearn what was viable yesterday and that may no longer stand today. Continuously evolve your skillsets and knowledge to keep up with the unimagined realities of tomorrow.

What message would you like to give to men
in advertising? 

I would like to thank the men in the industry today, for a changed mindset and mentality. Due to acceptance, empowerment and less pronounced biases, we now work stronger as diversified teams in leadership, executive councils and decision-making forums. The only way from here is up, and I can only see more magic to come for this dynamic industry.

‘‘I’m glad I held on. It has been a rewarding journey.”

Houda Tohme
CEO at Havas Media Middle East 

I started out at Havas, back in 2006, as media manager. I now serve as the CEO of Havas Media Middle East, proudly leading a team of talented media specialists while overseeing the operations and development of our product across the region. As a member of the management team, I reinforce the agency’s mission to unite people and brands through meaningful connections on a daily basis.

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

The pitches we won, the recognition my team received, the growth we achieved and all the successful moments throughout are what I consider high points in my career. Was there a specific high point for me as a ‘woman’ in advertising? Not yet. I think that will happen when we are not referred to as ‘women in advertising’ any more.

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

The guilt I felt when I left my children every morning to go to work when they were very young was overwhelming. Those moments made me feel like quitting the workforce, but today
I’m glad I held on. It has been a rewarding journey.

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

If you’re looking to get into the advertising industry, you might be thinking it’s all fun and games. While it is true that advertising can be a fun, creative industry, it’s also very demanding and stressful. If you’re not willing to give it your passion and commitment, don’t venture in at all.

What warning would you give them?

If you’re going to leave the workforce, make sure it is not for temporary reasons.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Stay humble. Allowing ego or machismo to get in the way of your work style limits the benefits of open communication and feedback.

‘‘My best creative ideas came with motherhood.’’

Marie Claire Maalouf
Executive creative director at Impact BBDO

After my studies, I did a couple of freelance jobs that included experiential designs with my brother’s architecture company, drawing shooting boards with production houses,
and various 2D and 3D animations for different projects.

My first formal job was with the company that I’m still part of, Impact BDDO, where I started as an art director in 2006. Within the agency I had the opportunity to develop myself in different roles, going from associate creative director, followed by creative director, to my most recent one as an executive creative director.

During my career, I have had the privilege of being invited as a speaker and a judge for different conferences around the globe. But one of my career highlights was being voted the ‘Next Creative Leader’ by the 3 Per Cent Conference in 2019, a movement encouraging women to lean into leadership roles, by The One Club for Creativity in Chicago. Women’s empowerment is a cause close to my heart, and it was an honour to be recognised for it.

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

The highest point in my career has been intertwined with the highest point in my personal life, which is motherhood. My best creative ideas came with motherhood. The challenge of being a working mother pushed me to redesign my life and the way I work. We are naturally resourceful and creative beings, and there are literally no limits to what we can achieve.

I keep getting surprised by the inner resilience and adaptability that we as humans are capable of. In my personal journey as a Lebanese woman, I had to endure war in Lebanon, which taught me a lot of survival skills, as well as adding resourcefulness to my character.

This resourcefulness has been tested once more with motherhood, a stage in my life when I have been pushed to become sharper, faster, more focused, more effective, better at management and, overall, just wired differently. It really brought out the best in me. 

Additionally, my creativity has blossomed as I’m now learning from my child how to unlearn what I know and look at the world through the eyes of a five-year-old.

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

I am blessed to be part of an organisation that implements equal treatment, so I have always felt valued, regardless of my gender. Even my promotions have come through the management, and they have always encouraged me to keep growing.

However, outside advertising I have experienced a draining attitude from a segment of society that has prejudices about my role as a working woman. There are expectations of a working mother and what she should be doing. For instance, I have heard comments about what I should do in my life, and about how “work will never stop but your clock is ticking; think of baby number two”. I’ve also heard condescending comments like, “You look so dedicated at work; it doesn’t look like you have a family.”

These judgmental attitudes add unnecessary pressure on women and create dissonance in their lives. There are limiting beliefs about how a woman must behave in her roles as a professional, a mother and a wife. Fighting these stereotypes is still one of the most difficult aspects of being a woman in any industry.

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

I would advise any woman to set powerful goals for herself. Even if they seem scary at first, just power through. Each of us deals with our own limitations and saboteurs. Whether dealing with impostor syndrome, motherhood pressures, self-sabotaging thoughts or any other challenges, I would encourage women to activate their naturally built-in creative problem-solving skills that they use for projects and clients, and apply them to life. Redesign something that works for you.

What warning would you give them?

You are your own limitation. If you say it can’t be done, it cannot be done. Watch your inner language and listen to the words you use with yourself. Are they life-enhancing, or a repetition of what a patriarchal society and old systems have planted in you?

Whatever your internal and external dialogue is, it will translate into the experience you create for yourself. Your words shape your world and create your identity.

For work, it is important that you see yourself as a professional individual and take yourself seriously by valuing yourself and your professional goals, regardless of the labels created by society.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Are you from the clan of ‘women don’t’ and this is ‘boys’ stuff’, or are you a fully bloomed individual who is limitless and sets their own standards, benchmarks, and targets?

I’ve heard people in the industry say, “You’re a woman, you won’t understand cars, so better not to have you on this account.”

I’ve seen male copywriters write brochures on breastfeeding, and I respect that. It’s amazing to be able to have a fresh perspective. It’s all about choices and interests; there’s nothing wrong and nothing right.

My message, to both men and women, is to welcome diversity and focus on the best people so that you can get the best work done. The best work comes with different points of view and open collaboration.


‘‘Don’t think of yourself as a woman vs. a man. You are an advertising professional.”

Reham Mufleh
General manager at Horizon FCB Dubai

I have chosen a career in creativity, and I am lucky today to be heading Horizon FCB Dubai, an agency and a brand that belongs to one of the most iconic global creative networks in the world. My job is to lead an agency and its people, to create creative work that can drive the economic multiplier of our clients. While I set the agency’s vision, I am also making sure that my team has all it takes and what they need to be as creative and relevant as we aim for.

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

My first high point was my appointment, a few years back, as the first Arab female to head a multinational advertising agency in Dubai. The other high point, regardless of gender, was to bring the first Cannes Lions to Horizon FCB this summer for the ‘Breakchains with Blockchains’ campaign. The campaign was to support women in Egypt, Al Gharemat, and free them from prison, where they have been sent due to their debt. We came back with three Silver Lions and five shortlists, which placed us in the top three most awarded agencies in the region. I’m proud to have achieved this during my time, but I’m most proud of our amazing team, who did all the heavy lifting in bringing this campaign to life.

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

I genuinely don’t believe that I’ve had a low point in my career, at least at the times when it mattered. Maybe I was lucky to have had supportive leadership, thanks to our CEO Mazen Jawad, who always pushed me to my fullest potential, supported me, guided me and, most importantly, believed in me. We’re also a part of a global network that embraces inclusion and empowers women. I’m grateful that, as a woman, I was always supported, recognised and celebrated.

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

You are a woman and that’s your superpower. Use it.

What warning would you give them?

Don’t think of yourself as a woman vs. a man. You are an advertising professional. Period. 

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Thank you for being great partners to work with and great competition to beat.

‘‘When all else fails, show up in high heels. Confidence saves the day.’’

Frances Valerie Bonifacio
Head of strategy at Serviceplan Group Middle East

I’ve definitely seen both ends of the spectrum, having started out as a wily automotive marketer with brands such as Honda, Ford and BMW on the client side, before moving into the strategy arm of the Serviceplan Group on the agency side. Today, I continue to deceive myself into believing that I can be the greatest brand whisperer I set myself out to be.

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

Let’s just say that, among House of Communications globally, Serviceplan Middle East is the only office with a sleek, even split of two women and two men sitting on the management board. Yes, I started with two women, not the other way around, because I am weary – and wary – of what everyone expects me to say, around the likes of, “Yeah, breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, and levelling out the elusive diversity card within the management ranks of advertising agencies has so far been the defining highlight of my career.” My high point really is that I am where I am now because I allowed myself to grow with and learn from the greatest minds in the industry, men and women alike.

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

Does writing that piece on women empowerment in advertising for Campaign Middle East, back in February 2018, count? When I wrote about how the industry should learn to look beyond Mad Men charms to start recognising high-heeled substance. Back then, I obviously had an axe to grind. Do I now regret having written that piece? No, not at all. If anything, that was my impetus to prove myself wrong. Boy, am I glad I wrote that one, because five years on, the melodies are far sweeter – danceable, even. 

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

When all else fails, show up in high heels. Confidence saves the day.

What warning would you give them?

Have reverence for your craft but come with a teachable heart and an open mind, to have iron sharpened by iron.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Sorry, you can’t show up in stilettos.

‘‘Advertising is a boy’s club but don’t let that deter you.’’

Tamara Habib
Chief operating officer, Netizency

I am the chief operating officer at Netizency, a digital marketing agency with offices in Dubai, Doha and Beirut. I’ve been at Netizency for six years now. Before that, I worked at Leo Burnett Dubai for 11 years. I started my career, more than 20 years ago, in Montréal with stints at Cossette, Canada’s largest agency at the time, and Rogers Publishing.

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

I’ve recently taken the time to reflect on my career so far, and I can’t help but take pride in where we’re at with Netizency right now. When I joined the team six years ago, there were 15 employees, one major local client, and a few smaller projects. Fast-forward six years, and we’re a team of 40 in three offices, with an impressive client roster, and most importantly, a team culture that rivals some of the best companies out there. It’s an amazing feeling to have been, and still be, a part of that.

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

I’m a perfectionist at heart, and when things don’t go the way I’d planned, it tends to rattle my confidence. I’ll point the finger at myself, wondering what went wrong, what I could have done differently, and I’ve had many sleepless nights because of that. But I’ve learned, with a lot of coaching and support from amazing people within my professional and personal circle, that things can and will go wrong. And the way to bounce back is to reflect, learn, adjust and move on, and get eight hours of sleep.

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

Remember to advertise the most important client of all: yourself. This was a lesson I learned the hard way, and being an introvert did not help. No one’s going to take the time to keep track of your wins and successes, so you need to document them and publicise them– with your team, your peers, top management, the industry and the world. That’s how you’ll get noticed and promoted. It’s not all it takes to be successful, of course, but in this day and age of social media, it’s important to share your work with people. It will also help you expand your network and create meaningful connections. Campaign magazine might even notice you and feature you in the next MENA Power List.

What warning would you give them?

Advertising is still very much a boy’s club in this part of the world. But don’t let that deter you or make you think that you don’t, or can’t, fit in. It may require you to step out of your comfort zone once in a while, you might have to bring your own seat to the table, and you might need to speak just a little louder to get your voice heard, but you’ll make it.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure women in advertising are given the right opportunities, tools and flexibility to succeed, and that requires a paradigm shift across the board. It means building a culture that promotes and facilitates female leadership and career growth. It means deliberately looking at a 50/50 balance between male and female employees at all levels. It means investing in women the way you would in men. It means breaking down the longstanding clichés that are attributed to women in the industry, unlearning our biases and reframing the rules of the industry so that they are agile, inclusive, and thoughtful.

‘‘Male or female, we are on this journey together.”

Heather Mc Donald
Co-founder and managing director, Wild Pepper Studios

I am the co-founder and managing director at Wild Pepper Studios, a female-owned communication and content company. I have worked in production and advertising for more than 20 years, including serving as the content division director at Filmmaster MEA, the head of production at JWT MENA and the general manager for a Dubai-based production company, and leadership roles at ad agencies in South Africa.

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

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced excellent leadership in companies, where management has seen and recognised my potential early on and given me opportunities to grow. Now I do the same for my team members. It’s the best feeling in the world when you watch a team member flourish and thrive because you have given them the freedom to do so.

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

My low point as a woman in advertising is when I had to navigate racism and sexism toward myself and my team members.

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

Learn boundaries and self-care early in your career, and ensure your well-being is high on your priority list. We work in an industry with a high burnout rate. According to Forbes, approximately 83.3 per cent of marketing professionals experience burnout. You need to create a healthy work-life balance; it’s not a ‘nice to have’, it’s crucial. Find a life coach, therapist or mentor to help make sure you put yourself first. This is an exciting industry, but it can also suck you in and spit you out. A robust support system is so important.

What warning would you give them?

Many industry leaders are so caught up in chasing targets and clients, and drowning in pitches that it’s hard for them to balance looking after their team. You must manage your time well. Be clear about what you can and can’t do, don’t take on too much responsibility, and pace yourself. You might get pushback, but if you want to succeed, and not fall into the 83.3 per cent trap, you need to manage upwards. Read books about successful leadership and surround yourself with support. If you find yourself in a toxic environment, move on. If you love what you do, you will find another company that values your contribution and takes care of you.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Male or female, we are all on this journey together. I have amazing male and female mentors. I want to be sure that men in advertising know that there may be women on their team who are ideal for a role that they may first assume would be better suited for a male. I have left two companies because, as a single mother, I was not considered for roles that would be ‘too hard to handle’, so they were given to males. I moved on and performed the same role in my next two companies. If someone wants to move into a new or different role, give them the chance. However, this is advice I’d give to any leader, regardless of gender.

‘‘My high point will be the day I am no longer asked about my success as a ‘woman’.”

Akansha Goel
Founder and CEO, Socialize

I started my career, as the youngest ever editor of Stuff magazine in Singapore, at the age of 20. A couple of years later, I moved to Dubai to head up marketing for a now-defunct loyalty marketing business. In 2010, I started Socialize and, today, continue to lead the business as its founder and CEO, while also playing an active role within the executive team of the network that acquired us, as regional lead and vice-president at We Are Social/Plus Company.

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

My high point will be the day when I am no longer asked about my success as a ‘woman’ in advertising or a ‘female’ founder, a day when we no longer have to gender-qualify roles and achievements.

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

Granted it was a long time ago; I attended a client meeting with a junior team member, and the traditional, senior male officials in the room chose to ignore me and speak directly to my executive. That was a low point not because of what they did, but because I allowed it to continue. I was proud of how my team managed the situation, because of the seniority of the client, but I was ashamed of myself for not having taken a stand tactfully. Over the years, I have come to realise that as leaders, every action – or lack of action – perpetuates the biases within the industry. 

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

Own your ambition. Know who you are and, most importantly, know who you are not. Stick to your values, it’s the one thing that should remain constant and help drive decisions in the most uncertain times.

Don’t underestimate networking. Get out there, make yourself known. Ask questions, listen to other people’s stories and be curious. Be a lifelong learner. Invest in upskilling yourself, online courses and self-learning. Strong technical knowledge has been my superpower. Seek mentors and look for mentorship within your organisation. That’s invaluable.

What warning would you give them?

Family, friends, health, hobbies, sleep, career progression, etc.… Come to terms with the fact that at any given time you can’t have them all. It’s not a sacrifice, it’s you actively choosing.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Finding the right female representation on your leadership team is as hard for me as it is for you.

‘‘Don’t let toxic niceness harm your effectiveness.’’

Jennifer Fischer
Chief innovation officer, TBWA\RAAD

I’ve worn many hats as a strategist, a storyteller, a consultant, a therapist and an orchestrator. And I’m lucky because I get paid to be curious, use my imagination and tell stories.

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

The moments that stand out most are the ones that shaped my character, like the times when I had to go against someone more senior than me in the organisation over a decision that I felt was unethical. I might not have always been right, and I certainly didn’t always win, but I sleep better at night for it. And good sleep is definitely a high point.

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

A few years back, I was presenting a strategy to an influential local client, and at the end of it his question was unexpected. “Are you married?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” I answered, somewhat confused.

“OK, but are you really happy in your marriage? Because if you are not sure, I have a son to marry.”

He then pointed at his son who was seating across from me in the huge majlis.

“Oh.” Awkward.

Was it a low point? Maybe, but also definitely a funny one.

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

The best type of self-confidence is believing in your ability to learn, not in your ability to know everything. The absence of doubts breeds arrogance, while curiosity and openness lead to learning and growth.

What warning would you give them?

Don’t let toxic niceness harm your effectiveness as a leader.

Negative feedback can feel uncomfortable to give or receive.  It might seem like a nice thing to do to avoid it, but it is not. It is disrespectful and  even harmful. Not sharing honest feedback means that we deny people the opportunity to learn and grow, wasting both their time and energy. 

So, embrace those short seconds of discomfort. They are worth it.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

I’d give the same message to men and women. At the scale of the universe, everything we care about, from awards to titles, is completely insignificant. Humans, no matter how accomplished, are specks of dust in the universe.

I find that thought very freeing. We don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. As we move through life, we get to do it with playfulness, kindness and joy, making it all worthwhile for us here on Earth.

“As women, we are constantly under immense pressure to be master multi-taskers and strive for the balance of ‘having it all‘.”

Roxanne Gahol
Director of strategy, OMD UAE

I first started as a wide-eyed junior planner about a decade ago and today, I am Director of Strategy at OMD UAE. My key role is to design end-to-end marketing and media solutions for clients to address a variety of brand and business challenges.

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

As someone who is passionate about learning, one of the many high points of my career in media and advertising is that I am constantly evolving. Every time I think I have mastered one aspect of my job, there’s a new and exciting challenge ahead of me. Growing into more senior roles, I learned that my technical skills are as important as my soft skills; sometimes, soft skills even outweighed them.

While winning new business is extremely satisfying, one of the most memorable moments in my career was when I started expanding my business unit and had to build teams from scratch. It’s extremely fulfilling to be able to groom and mentor the future movers and shakers in our industry, to pass on what you’ve learnt and share experiences, especially in an industry as dynamic as ours.

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

As I suppose many driven women do, I sometimes get carried away and overlook the importance of setting boundaries and limits. A low point was when I failed to respect my personal limits and continued to push forward at my expense; I learned, the hard way, that if I don’t take care of myself first, I can end up failing my team and colleagues.

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

Self-reflection is one of the most underrated elements in the advice we give to young 20-somethings even though it’s one of the most valuable. I often share the wise words my father still tells me to this day, always to be honest with yourself about your strengths, your areas of growth and to question whether the goals you set out when you first started are still relevant to who you are today.

Through self-reflection, we find and nurture our authentic selves. If your conviction is unrattled, nothing can stop you from achieving what you set out to do. The last piece of advice I have is to be patient with your progress because, with your conviction in your purpose, perseverance and hard work, the only thing left to do is to trust the process.

What warning would you give them?

First, be prepared to make sacrifices. Second, stay composed when faced with a new challenge, as you will learn faster and upskill as you go. Lastly, be fearless on whatever path you decide to pursue, as fortune always favours the bold.

As women, we are constantly under immense pressure to be master multi-taskers and strive for the balance of ‘having it all‘.

I believe you can have it all, but not necessarily all at once. It would be naïve to think that there won’t be late nights, cancelled holidays or tough briefs to crack but remember this, the further away you stray from your comfort zone, the closer you get to achieving growth and greatness.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Continue upholding a high level of integrity in your work and respect everyone you engage with. We must embrace our differences; as Christine Caine noted, “To build a strong team, you must see someone else’s strength as a complement to your weakness, not a threat to your position or authority.”

”Do not allow stereotypes to define your abilities or become your own personal ‘ceiling’.’’

Karen Doumet
General manager at PHD UAE

I have been the General Manager of PHD UAE for just over a year now. I joined Omnicom Media Group 12 years ago in a media planning position, progressing to senior planning director and, before my current role, executive business director.

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

There have been multiple significant moments in my career where I have felt proud to be one of the women in our industry and the change we have collectively contributed to in this region and beyond. Only a month ago, I was invited to interview our CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA, Elda Choucair, on an Instagram live session organised by Omniwomen, Omnicom’s networking and learning programme for female employees. One of the key topics that generated a lot of engagement during the talk was how women can empower one another. It was an inspirational and authentic conversation with stories we could all relate to within the workplace and that offered solutions and ways to build together. For me, when I see the people around me raise each other up, it is always a high point.

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

A few times, I have been shocked to hear the assumptions made about women as consumers and decision-makers in purchasing. There has been too much generalisation around women’s choices and behaviours, whether in the workplace, shopping or at home. A lot of these assumptions are not based on facts but stereotypes. It’s like saying all men enjoy football as if this were a universal truth. This generalisation still happens today; it’s a fight we have to win every day to show and respect the uniqueness of the individual.

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

Your success is always going to be defined by your competence, professionalism, and the relationships you build. Focus on that and always work on yourself, it’s a life-long lesson.

What warning would you give them?

I would caution any person starting out in the industry to not allow stereotypes to define your abilities or become your own personal ‘ceiling’.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

I would offer men the same advice I give to women, to focus on professionalism, competence and rapport. We are fortunate enough at OMG to be true advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion. We passionately learn from and share experiences with our peers and partners, working collaboratively to represent society and embrace its needs. For example, we are part of the UN Women’s Unstereotype Alliance, which aims to tackle gender bias in advertising, and sit on other equality representative boards that work towards the same premise such as the ABG and the IAB. Internally, we promote the cause of women with our Omniwomen initiative and OMG’s DE&I programme.

”Often we feel the need to compete with each other and don’t realize that another women’s victory is a collective victory.”

Poonam Lakhani

Poonam Lakhani
Regional strategy director, Initiative MENA

I started my career at the Mediabrands in New York as a summer resident. What began as an internship, while completing my bachelor’s degree at Columbia University, evolved into a full-time position that grew over the years. Last year, I moved back home to Dubai and have been working on strategy and business development at Initiative across the region.

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

As women we are always subconsciously fed the idea that you must choose either your family or your career. When I decided to move back home to Dubai after a few years of graduating and working in New York, I was nervous – giving up the life and idea of success that I had created. Upon moving back, I soon realized that I am not only my best, but also my most successful, self when I am surrounded by the people who love and care about me most. Ladies, you are allowed to have both: a successful career as well as family and friends who champion and uplift you. Striking that balance has definitely been the highest point in my career.

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

I strongly believe that empowered women empower women.  Too often we feel like we are in competition with each other and don’t realize that her victory is also a collective victory – it’s important for us women to celebrate and cheer each other on.

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

This is the mantra I live by and practice regularly in my career and all aspects of my life: you can be grateful for what you have and demand what you deserve. It’s the advice I received on my college graduation day and the best I could share with women starting their careers. Historically, it’s always been men in power with a seat at the table, however, today the leadership landscape looks very different. This table now includes women taking charge and using their voices to shape the industry, so don’t be afraid to make your own voice heard.

What warning would you give them?

Women don’t need to be warned. But I would say to them that people will inevitably underestimate you when you’re just starting out – don’t let that deter you. Count on those who believe in you – your family, friends, and coworkers, however, at the end of the day remember that you are your biggest cheerleader so just keep going and do what you do best.

What message would you like to give to men in advertising?

Be an ally for the women in your life. And that’s not just limited to your mother, sister, best friend, or wife. For example, if you’re in a meeting and notice a woman’s valuable input has been overlooked, don’t ignore it. Repeat it. Repeat it again. Amplify her voice.

‘‘Have the grit and courage to take it all the way.”

Vidya Manmohan
Founder and CCO at V4Good

I’m an art director who took to copywriting mid-way through her career and then pursued it till she founded her own agency in 2020.

With more than 25 years of experience with WPP agencies, V4Good was set up with the purpose of working with like-minded women from around the world, so we could help each other grow. This was my high point as a woman in advertising, to be able to walk the talk, albeit, in a small way.

I had a few things going against me other than just being a woman. At times, my ethnicity, colour and looks too were a hindrance. But I guess nothing can or should come in the way of good ideas and intention.

My advice to anyone starting out in this industry would be to focus on making your work matter. Nothing else will hold ground. Today, you may have all the support, but tomorrow no one knows. So don’t get carried away by all the support, or division, or anything else that may arise along your journey. Just focus on what you can do.

Secondly, don’t be hasty to judge an idea. Where a person comes from or what they look like should not be a filter to judge an idea. We all know that an idea can come from anywhere or anyone, but what’s important is to know how to make it happen. Have the grit, courage and commitment to take it all the way, and make it see the light of day.

I personally don’t think we can mimic another person’s career path or life. We can all learn from each other and be aware and prepared. So I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone by saying don’t do this, or do this. All I would like to say is give what you love your 100 per cent and then move on to the next and the next thereafter. The results often take a while to come. Don’t be disheartened.

I see that today’s young generation is much more tolerant and open-minded than us folks. Therefore, I have no messages of caution for them.

Continue being the amazing human beings you are and put your hearts into what you do. The world is yours to make.