by MarkLives (@marklives) How are South African creative agencies faring in ensuring gender equity in the workplace? Are women enjoying the same opportunities and pay as their male colleagues — or are they still mired in gender bias, sexism and harassment? Without any real hard data available, Nino Naidoo of Duke is the next key female executive to give us her assessment of the state of adland.

Nino Naidoo

Nino Naidoo is a director and head of operations at Duke. For more than 20 years, she’s helped run, manage and organise some of the country’s biggest advertising and marketing institutions. She’s been doing it for so long that logistics and managing deadlines are a fundamental part of her. In Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), she has co-chaired an Education year and won a Best of the Best Award for a youth exchange programme which she ran at the end of 2017.

While there have been many notable changes in the 25 years since 1994, gender equality still falls somewhat behind race and culture. I have seen it play out in our industry, and am aware of many subtle and some not-so-subtle gender gaps, but I do believe there are ways in which we experienced industry women may assist others in traversing some of those issues.


I’ve always been privileged to work alongside some exceptional female mentors who helped instill the right kind of business values, provided me with valuable advice, always had my back and, through their guidance and encouragement, gave me the confidence to stand up for myself. I do believe that having strong, female leaders who mentor others and lead by example is essential in creating a culture of equality. A collective voice can shout far louder than individual voices. All too often, women in business aren’t supportive of each other, choosing instead to compete with each other. This divisiveness doesn’t help our case in fighting for gender equality; it simply serves to bolster pre-existent prejudices.

The culture of an agency or business generally stems from the top. So, if you’re talking about a white boys’ club, it usually originates right from the highest level and you have a pretty good idea what that work environment will be like. Do your homework — find out what the culture of an agency is like before you opt to work there. What are the CEO and MD like? Are there any female leaders? Ask other women what their experience has been like. Is there anyone there whom you admire and look up to? We haven’t eradicated the gender beast — perhaps we never will — but we can choose to work in environments that foster the values and culture that best serve our needs.

And by no means whatsoever are we saying it’s okay for those environments to exist; it just means we don’t want to subject ourselves to spending our time there. Those dinosaur agencies will die a slow death on their own. Look for those fundamentally transformed agencies that walk the talk, that empower women and support them in ways that matter. If you can’t find one, no one says you can’t also get out there and create one, too.

Overcoming “motherhood penalties”

I don’t know that we will ever completely manage to overcome the “motherhood penalties”; it remains difficult to retain female talent because women remain the primary caregivers when it comes to raising families, regardless of how progressive our male counterparts are and are becoming. There’s certainly room for better childcare assistance, flexitime and less judgment for the women who work and parent and still manage to get the job done in amid an extremely strenuous juggle. What I do know is that an unfailing work ethic, committing to the absolute highest standards and always delivering the best possible work help to set the standards for how others treat you.

Also, if you’re the best in your field delivering incredible work, regardless of your gender, that agency is going to do whatever it takes to keep you there. Women very often underplay their worth — don’t be afraid to ask for what you believe you deserve. Men certainly aren’t.

As a female in senior management in our industry, you’re aware that you’re the exception; there are never as many women around the boardroom table as men. You become impervious to the relationship-building events that exclude women: the rounds of golf, the rugby and soccer matches at luxury suites.

Our most-important role

While we do need to address the gender bias, many women are afraid to speak up, preferring to protect relationships within the industry. But, while we look for ways to redress the imbalance, our most-important role is to show up despite the circumstances, produce incredible work, set a powerful example for those young women who look up to us and over-deliver on our promises.

See also


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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