Today at Cannes Lions, Cheil Worldwide hosted a session looking at the particular challenges facing Asian women in the bid for equality at work and in society.
Pully Chau, group CEO of Cheil Greater China; Atika Malik, COO of Cheil India; and Kate Hyewon Oh, CCO of Cheil Worldwide, shared personal stories and calls for action to affect change.
Asian women are more subject to stereotyping than most. An instant poll found that 43% of the audience see Asian women as “hardworking and conscientious,” 27% saw them as “tiger mom and dutiful housewife,” 17% as an “exotic beauty” and 13% as a cute and docile girl.
Pully, Atika, and Kate introduced themselves not just by their job titles, but by their interests, which varied from photography, vegetable farming and dancing, to being a shopaholic and a helicopter mom.
Although Asian women are catching up on men in some fields, including university education where 54% of students are female – they are still very badly represented on boards. In Korea, only 2.1% of board members are female at publicly traded companies, although at Cheil this rises to 17%.
Kate said: “I see the light at the end of the tunnel in the small changes to TV, movies, life and culture that break away from stereotyping.
One such piece of work is Cheil’s 2018 Glass Lion winning campaign that tells the story of a girl who grew up to become an engineer through the Samsung academy, and in doing so threw off the “Beta” label that many sons in India give to their daughters. The word “Beta” means son.
Nike, Infiniti and Durex are among the brands that have gone beyond the stereotypes, showing women as decision makers and powerful individuals. But Malik still decried the slow pace of change. She said: “There has been a tiny change but the stereotype goes on and on. There are only a handful of creators who are trying to make a difference.”
Culture is changing, but women and men need to keep pushing forward on equality. The three women all shared their own personal mantras that motivate them to rise to this challenge on a daily basis.
Pully's motto is: “Who says I can’t?” She explained that she wants to encourage women to dream big, believe in themselves, and never back down. A few years ago she had to wait three years to be appointed to a job she knew she was qualified for, watching as first an Asian man, then a white man, then a white woman all failed at the job, before finally she was given the chance to make a great success of it, turning the company into profit.
Atika’s motto is: “Make it happen.” In a previous role she was given the seemingly impossible task of creating an affordable nutrition solution for the poorest Indians that was also a profitable brand. She made it happen, and that achievement has empowered her ever since.
For Pully, the key to equality is to get everyone on board – both men and women – to create opportunities and give women the space to speak up and live life the way they want to. Her motto is: “Liberate the Lioness within and let the world hear us roar.”