Dentsu Aegis Network APAC

As we close off a month of celebrating #EachforEqual and honouring women internationally, we speak to some of our leading women across Dentsu Aegis Network APAC who share their inspiring views as well as encouragement on gender equality and being a woman in leadership.

This chat features:

  • Kinch Ong, Regional HR Director, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC
  • Pauline Chu, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Hong Kong
  • Prerna Mehrotra, Managing Director, Media group, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore
  • Sarah Weyman, Chief Growth Officer, Dentsu Aegis Network China
  • Simone Tam, CEO, McGarryBowen, Greater China

Is gender quality and female empowerment relevant in this age that we are living in?

Sarah Weyman: The current situation isn’t acceptable.  We still see a huge data bias that favours men and ignores women.  Sometimes this isn’t active discrimination but if women aren’t equally represented at every level of business, you get decisions that are made from a male perspectives only. That’s not a complete perspective, it’s misleading and propagates inequality.  We’re only just starting to see how what we ‘don’t know’ because women weren’t asked, is influencing the world we live in.

Simone Tam: That’s right and so gender equality is absolutely critical. Without it, we quite simply dismiss 50% of the world’s talent. And I do not believe in female empowerment, I believe in empowerment period.

Pauline Chu: For me, the fact that we even talk about gender equality is an issue. True equality happens when nobody talks about it. While female empowerment is another subject. Women make up half of Asia’s population, but shockingly, only around 3% make it to the top office. It is important to have diversity at work to bring different voices to the table, to broaden our views and thinking, as well as to challenge and be challenged. Because that’s how we get better. We always talk about having the right person in the right role. So I believe that the same logic applies when we look at this from a bigger picture - are we creating an equal and balanced mix to drive the organisation forward?

Kinch Ong: I agree. I am a firm believer of meritocracy. So, while I support diversity and look to welcoming more female composition in leadership roles, for me as a custodian for talent, the key difference amongst employees in the organisation are individuals’ performance and potential.  Basically setting a level playing field for talent to thrive, regardless of gender.  

Prerna Mehrotra: I read an interesting article that said that we should get rid of “empowerment” as a defining word of feminism. When you look up the meaning of Empower, it means to give power or authority to.  That seems to be the issue: to give power or authority. To give. So, to empower women, power must be given to them. But to make real progress, it has to be about using and growing the power we women already have.

How is Dentsu Aegis Network driving this change?

Kinch: At Dentsu Aegis Network, we can’t and won’t force the diversity agenda for the sake of it in exchange for sub-optimal performance. We believe that we have a collective responsibility to ensure no one is discriminated against or impeded by bias.  Towards authentic inclusiveness, we should be looking at gender-equal, instead of women-based opportunities. Our women in leadership are in their roles by track record and not simply because they are females. This is made possible by us firstly taking bias out of the system and building confidence as well as trust amongst our employees. We are constantly looking to further finetune our talent management approach by setting and reaffirming a safe workplace that starts with the mindfulness of unconscious bias and by moving towards a culture of calling out inappropriate behaviour.  In getting employees to be the best they can be, it is fundamental that we create an environment where every individual feels safe and they can bring their whole self to work without being judged or perceived by diversity factors.

Prerna: I second what Kinch has shared. Diversity and inclusion have always been key to our people strategy at DAN. We are making work/life balance a priority for our employees. We are supporting mothers by allowing flexibility and the option to work remotely where possible.

Sarah: Dentsu Aegis in China has some incredible female leaders and we’ve got a good gender balance across our teams and managers but there’s still scope to improve. Over the past year our flexible benefits program has helped to ensure that all our people can choose the right package for their life and family situation.

Simone: I too am pleased to see a decent proportion of female leaders across Dentsu Aegis Network. In fact, at mcGarrybowen Greater China, we actually have more females than males in the agency.

Pauline: Many organisations in the world including Dentsu Aegis Network have been working hard to create workplace equality, diversity and encourage female leadership There are many programs, communities, and institutions born out of the aim to make a difference, to create awareness and encourage change. At Dentsu Aegis Network, for example, we have launched Female Foundry, a global initiative developed here in Asia that drives diversity and inclusion in business. But ultimately our mindset and commitment to this subject will carry more weight, and they will be reflected in how we run our business every day, including how we hire and support different groups of employees.

What do you think can be done to inspire the next generation of diverse leaders?

Simone: I’d say let’s stop talking about diversity and start doing something about it!

Sarah: Absolutely! It’s not just about inspiration, we need action to support a diverse leadership mix.  For example, we should be leading the industry in every market to adopt equal paternity and maternity schemes. Family care all too often falls on women as unpaid and unvalued work, and that has to change.

Pauline: Perhaps we can also stop categorising leaders based on their backgrounds. It is important for everyone to have an open-mind, free from judgement, and to truly embrace individuality with kindness and respect. Inclusive, cohesive and collaborative culture breeds openness, and that unlocks possibilities and success. Every one of us needs to play a part in that.

Kinch: Again, from a HR perspective, people leaders need to be intentional about career planning and developing employees from the start of their career with the organisation. This shouldn’t just stop at or be about lifting female employees; all High potential talent should also be developed to become future inclusive leaders.  And, this is a two-way street.  Employees themselves should take a proactive stance in seeking mentors and finding role models who they can learn and develop from. And, leaders should remove any real or perceived barriers to set the platform.

Prerna: We should also encourage employees to have greater empathy towards those all backgrounds. Provide mentoring and sponsorship opportunities to culturally diverse employees. Identify diverse staff with leadership potential.

What are your words of advice for our aspiring female leaders of tomorrow?

Pauline: Leadership is about influencing and inspiring for betterment. There are many qualities and none of them are defined by gender. So get yourself out of this box, whether it gives you privileges or challenges. Focus on things that do make a difference to yourself and people around you.

Prerna: First of all, enjoy what you are doing, and make sure you are having fun. Secondly, remember that there’s never going to be a right moment to speak, share an idea, or take a chance. Don’t let perfect get in the way of really, really good.  But those are not specific to women. It is important for any aspiring leaders of the next generation to keep these in mind as they build their careers. If you want to succeed, regardless of gender, you need to play on your strengths, actively manage your career, practise resilience, and definitely have humility.

Sarah: Focus on what you want, what you know and be confident. Look for opportunities you can pursue and go for it, you’ll always learn more by doing.

Kinch: Be fearless, seize the opportunity, fail and grow and most of all, believe in yourself.

Simone: Just believe in yourself and what you do.

Thank you to our contributors:

  • Kinch Ong, Regional HR Director, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC
  • Pauline Chu, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Hong Kong
  • Prerna Mehrotra, Managing Director, Media group, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore
  • Sarah Weyman, Chief Growth Officer, Dentsu Aegis Network China
  • Simone Tam, CEO, McGarryBowen, Greater China