People and Talent Director, GroupM MENA
Letter From a Dedicated HR Leader
Career Overview: Graduating from Pantheon Assas in Paris, France with an MS degree in Economics, I have over 17 years of HR experience, 15 of which were spent with IPG working in a highly matrixed structure as the People and Talent lead for creative agencies such as FP7McCann, MRM, Mullen Lowe, Momentum, Commonwealth, Craft, and McCann Health. Throughout my career, my main focus has been on people strategy, working closely with the leadership to attract, develop, manage, and retain talent.
I joined GroupM in September 2021 as People and Talent Director for MENA, leading the people strategy for all GroupM agencies across 11 markets. Being part of the MENA ExCo, my role is to partner closely with the leadership and ensure that we continue to put our people first by creating a diverse and inclusive culture.
Communicate sat down with Hamdan to explore her journey to where she stands today and how being a woman has influenced different phases in her career.
How would you define your job today?
I love my job because it puts me at the heart of the organization, close to the people – listening to them, helping, guiding, and coaching them to overcome the many challenges they are facing – and it is my role to raise our people’s voices and bring up uncomfortable issues with the leadership. I am a firm believer that empathy, authenticity, and listening are critical to building a work environment that promotes equality.
What’s the biggest challenge you face at work as a woman?
My biggest challenge, as a working mom, has always been, “How can I be my best at work and be the best mother at the same time?” People think it’s easy to balance personal time and work but sadly, it’s not. It takes a big toll and I walk around with this massive guilt –that I am not spending enough time with my kids and that I am not giving my 100% to work.
Do you advocate for more women’s representation in the industry and if so, how?
As HR, we play a big part in [moving] the business [away] from old practices to implement organizational and cultural changes, such as work flexibility and equal pay; we [fight] gender bias and encourage more women sponsorship to attract and retain the right talent – if we didn’t do that, we would face a substantial women talent shortage, losing them to other industries where the culture and work environment is more inclusive and tolerant of diversity.
I feel fortunate to be working for GroupM and WPP, which are strong advocates of DE&I and women empowerment. We have many programs in place to help female leaders unleash their full potential, such as “Walk the Talk,” an award-winning training program in partnership with Shine; and WPP Stella, a community of WPP senior women developed to connect, inspire, and empower women in the workplace.
What do you think women uniquely bring to the communications, advertising, and marketing industry?
In the world of communication and media, women can bring diverse opinions, experiences, perspectives, and a lot of insights since they drive more than 70% of all consumer purchasing. With the importance of social media and the role that advertising can play in reflecting the world better, and as an industry, we can only start from within. Having more female voices taking control over their stories and positioning themselves as thought-leaders and opinion-shapers will help further disrupt the status quo.
Moreover, women tend to lead with compassion, ethics, and respect, which makes them excellent communicators and incisive leaders.
Do you see a shift in the way the regional industry embraces women? And, by the same token, in the way, women position themselves in this industry?
Unfortunately, in our industry, women are still underrepresented at the top – look at the latest Communicate report where only 13% of the top 30 leaders in the industry in the region are women. While it is clear the industry has a gender imbalance in leadership, it is worth mentioning that many of these women already [are there], but they are not recognized or sponsored because they are part of a minority in a male-dominated industry. GroupM, for example, has 44% women as managing directors or regional heads within its MENA leadership teams.
But I am personally optimistic about the next few years. We have a lot of talented women at the mid-senior level who will be able to break down these gender stereotypes. Our role is to ensure we nurture, retain, sponsor, and support these women to grow into C-level roles.
And, having worked in the industry for over a decade, I see a major shift in the way women present themselves nowadays. In the past, they avoided promoting themselves or talking about their work or accomplishments as favorably as men; they would credit others for their success, staying out of the spotlight to avoid looking arrogant and aggressive or to prevent conflict. Today, women put their confidence on full display, talking about their achievements and their ambitions.
While we are still far from an equal man-woman ratio in the industry, it is heartening to see more and more women take the top spots and support the cause. Our GroupM CEO EMEA and WPP Country Chair, Demet Ikiler, is a role model and inspiration for many women rising up the ranks of media. In April 2019, she launched the WPP Culture Project across the 25 WPP agencies she is responsible for in Turkey to address the issue of gender equality. She also represented GroupM and WPP at the Global Agenda Council of Women’s Empowerment at the World Economic Forum 2021.
What’s your perspective on the general evolution of women in the workplace today in the region?
Many successful female entrepreneurs and CEOs are taking center stage in the GCC business world as they feel empowered by progressive reforms undertaken recently by some countries and leaders. Led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the region has been witnessing a change in recent years, with countries pushing ahead with gender neutrality measures as part of their national strategy to achieve sustainable growth for society.
In January 2022, in a first-of-its-kind initiative for the UAE private sector, 18 leading local and multinational companies from diverse sectors signed a pledge to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).
In February 2022, the UAE introduced new reforms and labor laws around flexible working arrangements, fighting discrimination, bullying, and harassment, and imposing equal pay between men and women.
With the 2030 vision in KSA, focused on the contribution of women to the economy and the need to have more women in the workplace, we are already seeing female entrepreneurship being more recognized and more women in leadership roles growing within both the private and the public sectors.
Gender equity and women’s empowerments are a necessity and an issue that concerns all humanity. Our job doesn’t stop here; organizations must commit and act to provide women with more choices, better access, enhanced digital tools, improved connections, greater opportunities, and more seats at the decision-making table to avoid falling behind this growing shift.
From where I stand today, and being the only female leader in the GroupM ExCo, I feel I have a bigger purpose to accomplish!
This profile has been featured in Communicate's Q2 2022, "Women to Watch" issue.