Lou Dela Pena, CEO of Publicis Communications Singapore, on the cover of Marketing Magazine
What's the toughest thing about being a female boss?
Dispelling the notion that female leaders are more emotional, and by implication, less effective than their male counterparts. One's gender does not predetermine one's conduct, work style or ability to do the job. My focus every day is on growing the business and cultivating talent within Publicis Communications agencies in the best way I know. We really have to stop assuming that all women conduct themselves in the same stereotypical ways.
Staff members aren't always the kindest to opinionated female leaders. What are your thoughts on this?
Generally, when a man asks for recognition after delivering his target, it's perfectly normal. When a woman asks for the same, she can be labelled competitive, aggressive and ambitious -and not in a good way. Personally, I've been known to speak my mind and to fight for what I believe in. Understandably, this can make people uncomfortable, even intimidated. As long as I believe I am being fair, I won't apologise for my leadership style because it is who I am. If I didn't, I doubt I'd be where I am today. I've had to learn how to shut out the noise. We have to remind young women that knowing their worth is everything. Real confidence comes from when a woman knows her worth, and when she is comfortable moving between tenacity and grace. That's always been the balance I seek.
Would your career experiences as a CEO be different if you were a man?
Well, no - I've been very fortunate at Publicis. They hired me as CEO and have given me every opportunity to grow since. They have asked me to lead the change consistently over four years and have supported all of my initiatives. I'm really fortunate to have bosses who believe in meritocracy and in me; helping me in creating a culture where women, too, can thrive.
Have you had to face gender bias in your role?
Before I joined Publicis, of course I did. As a Filipina living outside my country, I still feel the shadow of bias now and then. It's frustrating, but I refuse to give in to the stereotypes. I think what has helped me cope, even thrive, is a strong desire to live fearlessly. Being courageous or speaking up might seem like an innate personality trait, but it isn't. It can be learnt. Courage is a muscle we can develop if we practise a little act of fearlessness every day.
Sexism and harassment in the ad industry: Is this an issue in Singapore?
As a leader, I believe organisations have to make it incredibly safe and easy for women to report inappropriate conduct. I often ask my team, if the most junior person in the company needed to make a report against someone senior, would they know how to do so? Could they do so safely? It's our responsibility as leaders to ensure this is possible, not just as a matter of corporate governance, but also something enabled by the company culture.
How do you aim to make a difference?
I never had a grand plan to make a difference in the industry. I just really believe women too can be amazing leaders. For example, at Publicis Communications here in Singapore, you'll find a majority of the leadership positions -heads of agencies and departments -are female. They were hired not for their gender or race, but for their talent and ability to lead. It isn't a PR talking point for us. It just happens to be our reality and it is something we are very proud of.
Biggest issues plaguing the ad world?
First, staying ahead of the unrelenting changes taking place in the industry. Business models, consumers' expectations, technology, loyalty -all these are shifting. We always have to be many steps ahead in order to respond quickly and not be left behind. We have to break or even change the rules from time to time if we are to thrive. Second, finding and keeping great talent. In the face of all this change, it's difficult for many people to see what a career in advertising might even look like. It has been a constant struggle to find talented and dedicated people. This is why it's also now more important than ever that we find ways to make a career in advertising more attractive to women. Many women leave the industry because of pressure on their family lives. We need to create better work environments that enable women to better manage both their careers and their children. We need to evolve the talent conversation much faster, and in much more tailored ways if we are to win in this space.
A tip for ambitious women: Be authentic and true to yourself. Do not be afraid to speak up, and to speak with confidence. Leadership is not about titles or designations, it is about leading and showing the way to those above and below you so together you can all become trailblazers.