A call for more women leaders
Eloisa Francia (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The world is changing, and it is changing fast. Numerous campaigns and calls to action across the globe have sprung a new generation of women: game-changers and icons who are boldly scaling new heights in various fields as they resist gender disparity and transform the world.

What happens when women win the workplace? Maria Garrido, chief executive officer of Havas X and chief insights and analytics of Havas Group, expounds on the pressures and successes of a woman CEO.

Garrido joined Havas in 2014, backed with 18 years of experience from conducting both operational and strategic marketing roles in North America, Latin America and Europe. The company is one of the world’s largest global communications groups, employing 20,000 people in over 100 countries.

At present, Garrido leads a global team of 200 people and handles the consumer, brand and market studies. She recognizes the gravity and magnitude of the unique position she is in: “It’s important to have solidarity among us and help each other so that there isn’t just one woman on the board… It’s very comforting when I sit with other women and hear they’re using the same tricks to stay sane in this environment and maintain their mental health, composure and balance in their professional and personal life.”

When she’s not busy running her team, Garrido continues to speak at several media and client industry events, most recently at the Vital Health Marketing Conference held in Makati. The goal of the conference was to help the health-care industry marketers develop an innovation mindset for their approach to the Philippine healthcare market, whose milieu continues to change in the face of advancing technologies, new relationships between provider and patient, and the millennial demographic.

Women in power

Garrido realizes that her leadership position is both an achievement and a responsibility. Just a few months ago, she was invited to join a panel in New York to talk on innovation and inter-connectivity for social development as an emerging issue for 2018. She discussed how social policy could be re-examined to ensure that the benefits of technological advances and interconnectivity are broadly shared to promote inclusive development.

In her interactions with fellow successful women in various fields, Garrido saw and experienced the major difference between a man and a woman in power. She notes, “maybe it’s cliché, but the one difference for me as a woman in this position is that we talk a lot more in the ‘We’ versus the ‘I.’ It’s more collaborative… everyone brings added value and I don’t shine if they don’t shine. It’s a very different approach than my male colleagues — we are not motivated by the same things. Maybe the definition of power at a leadership position is quite different for most women than men. At least that’s what I’ve seen in other females in leadership roles.”

In all her achievements as a global CEO, Garrido shares the spotlight with the people under her leadership, “the collaborative thing is really important to me… working as a team for the betterment of everyone is key. I will not pretend to know everything. It’s really important for me to surround myself with the right people who know how to ask all the right questions. I like to mobilize the troops and try to be inspirational so that we’re all moving toward the same goal. I think people are more productive and are better at their jobs if we’re all on the same page.”

While tension and work politics cannot be avoided in any workplace especially as a woman, Garrido emphasizes the importance of focus and humility: “…there’s a lot of egos running around this world and staying humble is good. You need to slap yourself in the face every once in a while and stay humble, that’s probably another key. And integrity is really important to me, personally.”

On navigating industry changes

One of the highlights under her leadership is the new innovation practice, Meaningful Brands, which conjoins the various innovation brands and talents within Havas Group. It is the first global analytical framework to connect human well-being with brands at a business level, and observes the benefits that brands bring to our lives. Backed by eight years of research and studies, it has covered over 1,500 brands globally in 15 industries to date. Garrido encourages her team to focus on the exploration of data science, artificial intelligence and future ecosystems in providing values services that drive a more meaningful impact on the businesses of their clients.

While both advertising and communication industries are well known for incorporating and utilizing advances in science and technology, Garrido is aware that people can be over-zealous in getting their hands on the latest technology at times. She underlines the importance of balancing the technological and human side of her operations and notes, “I often refer to it as ‘shiny object syndrome.’ We see the shiny object and we rigorously chase it.” Garrido reiterates the value of finding the real impact of these scientific advances on brands and businesses to properly employ these innovations in realistic and more effective applications.

With the know-how that she has, Garrido acknowledges the rapid changing trends in the industry, “internet and the digital connections that people have had sort of engulfed their personal lives. The impact that paid media has on people is becoming less and less important. There’s a lot of things that the advertising world doesn’t control that are having more and more influence on how people move through the ‘I know about a brand’ to ‘ I think maybe I’ll buy it’ to ‘I buy it’ and then ‘I talk about it afterwards’.”

In effect, Garrido recognizes that the whole business model for advertising agencies in general is becoming more unpredictable, and the only way to cope with these changes is by adapting quickly and staying nimble. She takes it upon herself to guide her global team in navigating these changes accordingly, “We have to look at that space saying, ‘Okay, I used to be doing only paid media, I have to expand my scope’.” She admits that there is a need to figure out how to influence the owned media that the client generates, and how to make sure that the paid media amplifies the earned media generated by consumers since they are starting to play a bigger role.

Conscious efforts toward progress

Amid the different and numerous campaigns across the globe, Garrido maintains that while it is not necessarily the role of communication agencies to meddle with specific political or social issues, it is important to be aware and proactive in tackling worldwide concerns. She points out the value of taking a clear stand, undertaking actions and enforcing new policies that address universal social discussions like representation of women in companies, call for gender parity and the abolition of gender wage gap.

As a company, Havas considers its employees to be its main asset and believes in the principles of compliance with human rights and strict enforcement of social laws. Garrido elaborates: “Just two or three weeks ago, we were all required to go through a sexual harassment training, but then it also included ethical issues and how you deal with clients in different countries and corruption and bribery and all that. Every company should do that kind of work.”

Garrido also cites the company’s responsibilities with regard to the living conditions of its employees and the particular importance given to the concept of equal opportunities and fairness in terms of individual career development and due compensation. In line with this, Garrido is proud to talk about the company’s continuous effort in realizing these concepts, “…and we talk a lot about not just diversity but inclusion. It’s one thing to check off the list that you have a diverse workforce, but it’s another to actually give that diverse workforce an opportunity to grow within the organization. So both are important: diversity and inclusion.”

Balance is key

As Garrido continues to lead Havas X toward innovation and success, her years of hard work and experience give her a better understanding of balancing her personal and professional development.

Amid all the scientific and technological advances in the industry, she points out the importance of being human and staying connected with fellow human beings. She reiterates, “technology is great and I’m glad we’re all connected through it, but sometimes it takes precedence over actual real human contact. And if you want to be a good creative, you have to be connected to human beings and their emotions and their motivations. So don’t forget to have face-to-face interactions with people because that will inspire your process.”

Globally, women are reclaiming their rightful places across multiple disciplines and fields. Garrido realizes that despite recent developments with regard to the advancement of women in their personal and professional lives, there is much room for progress and growth. However, Garrido also notes the importance of self-care: “For women, it’s more about balance. If you don’t have a hobby, get one. It’s important that you do things for yourself outside of your professional environment.”

In addition, Garrido advises young women who want to thrive in the creative and communications industry to never neglect their personal health and development in favor of their careers, “I think when we’re young women trying to climb that corporate ladder, we have a tendency to give too much of ourselves and we don’t take care of ourselves as people and not just as professionals. Make time for yourself – we have to. I think that’s key.”

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