Creative Agency Partnerships Lead, MEA, Meta
Emoji, the fastest-growing language in the world, has 70% of its user base female, but this didn’t stop the Unicode Consortium from designing a police officer, a runner, and other types of people, as male. The woman police officer was added to Emoji only in 2016.
When Apple launched the first version of its health-tracking app, it forgot to include a period tracker, essentially ignoring the needs of 50% of users.
According to The New York Times, Pixar’s reputation for male domination is well-deserved, with movies focused on men (20 out of 24 feature films); movies directed by men (23 of 24); and movies written by men (50 of 59 screenwriters). We have been watching movies through a biased lens.
It may be an oversimplification of the gender gap issue perhaps, but male-biased products and services are partly caused by the lack of female representation. Apple likely wouldn’t have left out an important “detail” in women’s lives had there been a female voice in the room.
And the same goes for advertising. Having a more balanced gender mix in this industry specifically is critical. I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of media and advertising in shaping cultures in societies. One day, during a review, a female strategic planner showed me a slide about CPG advertisers; all their ads were depicting women in a stereotypical way – and it was eye-opening to see it all at once, in one slide. [On the opposite end] we started seeing ads from the region, like Nestlé Egypt’s “Because You Are a Girl” campaign, to support girls and shed light on successful models in various fields.
Yet, regionally, I looked at the Creative Faces to Watch published by Campaign Magazine in April 2022, and I was very happy to see that the gender gap was almost non-existent. Females represented 50% of most categories, particularly PR with 40 female nominations out of 50. Conversely, in the Top 30 Leaders ranking published by Communicate recently, only four women made it to the top out of 30. Why is the gender gap in the industry almost non-existent [for people] under 30 years, but exasperated at a senior level? Even globally, just 24 female CEOs led the companies in the 2018 Fortune 500.
My own experience is telling. Before going on maternity leave to give birth to my daughter 12 years ago, I had a discussion with my manager as I was due for a promotion and had every intention to return to work. He asked me to wait until I returned, his tone suggesting that I wouldn’t. It was a little too presumptuous. I came back after a couple of months and received my overdue promotion, but my male colleague had been promoted four months earlier, although we were on the same career trajectory. This four-month gap between us, although not major, would have been bigger had I taken a longer leave.
To be clear, I feel no entitlement to having a business accommodate me just because I am a ‘high achieving’ mom. After all, this is business. And the role of a business is to generate value for its shareholders. Full stop.
So I carried on. I have struggled with guilt, feeling overwhelmed at times and intensely grateful for “having it all” at others. Working in advertising meant working around 85 hours a week, traveling for shoots, pumping milk in bathrooms, and attending client late dinners and events. And 12 years later, I know that my daughter is proud of me!
Yet, according to Harvard Business Review, 43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving their careers or taking a career break. So, since the prime career years also coincide with the prime time for childbirth, improved HR policies and programs are required for female talent to re-enter the workplace and to stop pipeline leaks at mid-to-senior levels.
Similarly, enhanced remote work policies also improve gender equality for women in the workplace. The biggest lesson humanity may have learned from the COVID-19 global pandemic is that hybrid working models and flexible hours do not impact productivity negatively, while a survey by Flexjobs shows that 65% of people working remotely during the pandemic want to continue doing so. Still, the advertising industry in the region was one of the quickest to mandate a return to the office at different capacities, a few months after the March outbreak.
One important factor that we must consider is the fact that women continue to have a worse day-to-day experience at work than men, according to leanin.org. Women are more likely than men to have their competence questioned and their authority undermined.
I consider myself lucky to be working at Meta, where I can draw inspiration from a long list of diverse, impressive women leaders. The company considers both women’s and men’s roles in childcare, offering paternity leave to fathers and perks like lactation rooms to mothers. It also offers necessary training and programs like “Unconscious Bias” and “Be the Ally.” But the single most important aspect in driving a diverse and inclusive workforce is perhaps our outcome-based work culture – if we want high-achieving mothers back in the workforce, don’t make it just be about the office and the work week; give us something to get done and tell us when you need it by.
I was and still am blessed with a network of successful women supporters without whom I wouldn’t have had the career that I have. My aunt in my first job referred me to her friend, the managing director of a big advertising agency in Jordan, who in turn not only sent a recommendation letter for my first job in Dubai 15 years ago but went out of her way to let the agency know that I am an overachiever – all the way to my current job, again referred by a female friend. Today, I am doing the same with some of the women I know. So, if I have one piece of advice for all the women out there, it is to stand together and help each other.