Corporate Communications Director, TBWA\Raad
Hand in Hand
I started my career in the creative field as a graphic designer, working out of Lebanon where I later launched my own design studio and enrolled in a master’s program in Marketing and Communication at ESA/ESCP Europe. Little did I know that this decision would play a pivotal role in my career.
I joined TBWA in 2014 and have filled a variety of roles, garnering learnings across many different disciplines, which have served as a pillar for my role today. As the Corporate Communications Director at TBWA\RAAD since 2018, I lead the communications, PR, and marketing efforts for the agency, promoting its creative product and vision for Disruption in the region and helping it create brand communications that are culturally relevant and newsworthy.
My journey isn’t devoid of challenges.
Leading an agency’s communications is challenging, simply because a whole reputation is at stake. Leading the communications for the Disruption Company and one of the most awarded agencies in the region brings an even heavier weight to carry!
When I first took on the job, I was hesitant, intimidated by the fact that I was reporting directly to two very senior male leaders. I used to doubt my capabilities and understate my role. My self-perception was biased. However, the support and trust that I received helped me overcome obstacles, master my fears, and gain the confidence to grow and lead. This made me realize that most of my challenges had nothing to do with me being a woman.
Being a woman in this role isn’t what really shaped my career. At no point did it restrain or accelerate my success. It is rather who I am as a person, the experiences that I lived through, and my environment that have forged my character and determined my path.
Having said that, I am a strong advocate for workplace equality. I do not believe in the stereotypical myths circulated about genders. Just like men, in addition to being an essential pillar of society, women play a key role in advertising. They bring diversity of thought and unique insights and ideas that elevate the work, based on their own personal experiences.
Women, just as much as men, can excel at making decisions, taking initiative, driving results, and all other leadership competencies.
By working side by side as allies and supporting each other, men and women can build a powerful force, elevate any creative idea, and give it more authenticity and realness. A diverse team will create diverse and inclusive content that appeals to a wider audience and increases engagement and sales. A great example would be all the teamwork between both genders at TBWA\RAAD that went into launching campaigns that addressed women’s rights issues, shed light on dangerous societal problems and patriarchal practices, and drove great engagement and affinity with a wide audience. “The Art Gap,” launched by Standard Chartered Bank, triggered a conversation on gender parity by exhibiting 19 incomplete paintings created by Emirati and expat women artists. “The Noble Speech” for The Womanity Foundation promoted gender equality by using technology to bring late female scientists back to life and turn them into Nobel laureates for their significant work. “The Traditional Virginity Test” for NGO M.A.L.I promoted equality in sexual rights for girls and women and fought virginity testing in Morocco.
The energy involved whenever inclusive teams rally around an idea to bring it to life is absolutely incredible! And that is the beauty of advertising.
Women also play a fundamental role in the industry because they constitute a large chunk of consumers. They are the key decision-makers and are responsible for 70 to 80% of all purchases worldwide (“What We Know About Marketing to Women,” WARC Best Practice, May 2021). Having a balanced workplace contributes to creating an accurate portrayal of women in ads, and therefore helps brands engage more efficiently with their female consumers. Indeed, 70% of women believe that brands should accurately portray women and consumers spend more on brands that portray women accurately in ads (Event Reports, ANA Measurement and Accountability conference, WARC, December 2021).
There are incidents that make us question the progress in our industry, cases of workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexist behavior across agencies. But I do not believe that they reflect the industry’s workplace culture as a whole. Unethical behaviors are becoming more reflective of the oppressor’s own personal issues, as many agencies adopt strict policies against such behaviors.
Although many countries continue to have very patriarchal cultures and deeply rooted beliefs around gender roles, most agencies are working towards achieving gender balance –particularly those that are part of global holding groups. These agencies are adopting the policies established by their networks, including mentorship programs and executive coaching to empower women. In 2017, for example, Omnicom launched the UAE chapter of its global initiative Omniwomen, a program to recruit, retain, and promote women. TBWA also initiated its own gender balance agenda with ‘Take the Lead,’ a program tackling gender equality in the leadership ranks of TBWA globally, which was later refocused to drive DE&I across all aspects of the business. TBWA also launched its Circle of Women Program, which provides executive coaching to grow the pipeline of female leaders across all its agencies. TBWA\Raad itself has had a considerable rise, with 30% of women in leadership roles now, up from 23% last year.
The effort shows in the awards industry too, with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity launching its ‘See It Be It’ initiative, which provides mentoring to women aiming to rise into senior creative roles.
As agencies begin to value flexibility, strive to create a balanced work/life environment, prioritize employee wellbeing and mental health, and offer solutions such as remote work, the workplace culture is becoming more supportive of gender equality. I believe we are on the right path.
However, a balanced number of women in the workplace isn’t enough to achieve gender equality. There is a lot of work to be done internally, at an educational level, in order to raise awareness of all gender imparity’s problems and dangers and foster a culture of respect and inclusion.
And although we are beginning to see more women rise to C-suite positions, there aren’t enough women in creative leadership – in Chief Creative Officer and Executive Creative Director roles.
As for the region in general, we should not be discouraged by the gloomy stats released in the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, or the World Bank’s report on “Women, Business and the Law 2022,” which found that only twelve countries in the world offer full legal protection to women, ranking Middle Eastern countries at the bottom. There is indisputable progress. Women are taking center stage as leaders and entrepreneurs; they are taking the lead as the most influential and successful people in rankings published by Forbes, Arabian Business, and other business publications.
GCC governments are adopting major reforms to diversify the region and its economic landscape. For example, women’s empowerment is at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030; women are not only able to drive and travel alone, they are also active members of the workplace, even in industries that long were male-dominated – Sarah Al-Suhaimi, for example, is the first woman ever to head the Saudi Stock Exchange. In the UAE, the Federal Crime and Punishment law was updated last year to reinforce women’s rights for the first time in history; the government also launched a Gender Balance Council, approved the law on equal wages, and elected the first woman in the Arab world as speaker of a national council – Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi. Today, the UAE cabinet counts nine female members.
All these reforms clearly show that women today have the power, tools, and means to rise and claim a front seat in the workplace and in society. Success and achievement are not reserved to any gender. Women need to step up, speak up, join forces, and partner with their male counterparts to make the world an equal, tolerant, fair, and better place for every individual, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or background. It’s all up to us.
This profile has been featured in Communicate's Q2 2022, "Women to Watch" issue.