Koo Govender


Underrepresented groups need a seat at the table and an inclusive environment in which to thrive, says Koo Govender, CEO of DAN South Africa

Diverse teams bring broader ideas and new perspectives to the table. This isn’t news, but if this is a living, breathing strategy, it will foster business innovation and allow organisations to resonate with a wide range of consumers.

At Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), we endorse an inclusive culture and celebrate diversity. I have seen, first-hand, how diverse teams perform better, as each team member brings a unique perspective, creating a forum for debate that results in robust solutions.

Many times along my career path I have been the underrepresented minority:

  1. As a female leader, and
  2. As a female leader of colour.

I had to work twice as hard to prove myself, but my values and authenticity guided me to where I needed to be.

My personal goal has always been to give underrepresented groups a seat at the boardroom table, and to drive home the importance of being both successful and making a significant contribution. As that underrepresented minority, now in a leadership position, it is incumbent upon me to mentor, coach and encourage young people to be the best version of themselves, regardless of their background and perceived limitations.

Whether personally or professionally, mentorship is a passion, which is why the launch of Phakama Women’s Academy in 2014 is a proud personal achievement. The academy was designed to empower young women in the marketing, advertising and communications industries, and equip final-year students with the necessary life skills and opportunities to enter the corporate world and pursue entrepreneurship.

As the CEO of DAN South Africa, I am able to help shape the future of female entrepreneurs and empower women to realise their full potential. My vision is to focus on mentoring and coaching women, opening our networks for further opportunities and assisting with funding for education, programmes and upskilling courses that will create a holistic approach to the digital economy.

DAN’s Female Foundry initiative was one our company whole-heartedly embraced. It successfully supports local female entrepreneurs and helps to bridge the gender gap and promote parity across South Africa.

Leading with openness, understanding and trust is at the core of what we do at Dentsu, and these are a few of the pivotal points businesses should be focusing on to create an inclusive and diverse company culture:

Put your plans into action

Our approach to attracting, developing and retaining talent is rooted in the belief that the potential of our people is the potential of our business.

At DAN, we are responsible for embedding a full-transformation agenda to build equity in the representation of our employees across all levels, and particularly at senior management level. We use targeted resourcing to ensure employment-equity talent is successfully attracted and developed through our internal learning philosophy and development opportunities.

Our network is supportive of identifying, coaching, mentoring, upskilling and retaining our high-potential employment-equity employees, and to ‘grow’ and promote from within the group through our world-class learning and skills-development platforms and frameworks.

Encouraging staff to study further is of the utmost importance. We offer financial assistance to internal and external learners in the form of bursaries, which ensures growth and accelerates the pipeline of young, high-potential talent that has chosen to pursue a future within our industry. At DAN, we are committed to our bursary programme, as our industry currently has a scarcity of skills. It is our responsibility to make our industry more attractive and to encourage loyalty and growth.

The selection criteria around the interns that we support has been developed over the years and priority is given to candidates of colour. The intention of DAN, and the programme, is to onboard the interns as permanent staff within the group, which has resulted in us successfully onboarding 65 interns over the past 5 years, with a 77% absorption rate. Interns have not only had success at DAN, but a few of them have also been given the opportunity to pursue new ventures within other media agencies and corporates.

Building home-grown talent via these programmes, as well as motivating and empowering self-investment through programmes such as Skills Academy and Dentsu Academy, allows our employees to learn new skills as well as build and accelerate their personal growth.

Be transparent – it builds trust

According to a 2019 Forbes article, business transparency is ‘the process of being open, honest and straightforward about various company operations. Transparent companies share information relating to performance, small business revenue, internal processes, sourcing, pricing and business values.’

The continued sharing of our financial performance and business successes, along with the reinforcement of our transformation agenda, has encouraged transparency within the network. This assists in building inherent trust within our teams as well as establishing a positive company culture, which encourages employee loyalty, dedication and engagement.

Ongoing feedback

Aligned with transparency is the need for effective feedback. Both positive and negative reporting is extremely powerful in any organisation, as it is valuable information that organisations can use to make important decisions.

At a global level, Dentsu Aegis Network runs an employee-engagement survey, which assists the leadership team in understanding all aspects of how the staff feel about working within the group. The survey creates a voice for the staff to share where they believe the network is doing well, as well as where they believe we could improve.

In 2019, I launched a local ‘check in’ called Reflections, which gave my management team and me the opportunity to communicate directly with all staff within our organisation, showcase where each business is – from a financial perspective – as well as gain insight and communicate agency performance across the group.

Our main aim is to build confidence and give employees exposure. It’s important that each staff member crafts their own story in order to achieve their dreams, make an impact on society and leave an admirable legacy.

As a business leader and a CEO, I believe we have to ensure that we are creating those opportunities and are continually striving to create the best environment for everyone to succeed and leave their own individual legacy.