Anine De Wet, co-founder and managing director of Cape Town through-the-line agency 2AM addresses the issue of gender roles in the workplace. 2AM, which De Wet co-founded with Marco Russolillo in 2014, was recently acquired by Hoorah Holdings, where she retains the role of MD.
As the battle for gender diversity lingers in South Africa, De Wet believes that it’s up to women in the workforce to stop making excuses for their strengths and achievements, to fine-tune their careers goals and to chase these unapologetically. Rather than viewing their sensitivity and intuition as a weakness, women should also leverage these valuable assets that are absent in their male colleagues, urged De Wet.
So why are we still talking about gender in the workplace in 2020 at all? Because there are undeniable differences between women and men that affect the way we lead, the way we interact with others, and how we handle challenges, in particular. In addition, confidence in a woman is (still) not as appreciated as it is in a man.
Confidence is key
This is of particular concern to De Wet, because she believes that leaders need to be confident in order to be successful and to inspire confidence in others, a behaviour she says appears to sit more comfortably with men than women.
‘I believe very strongly that women need to own their strengths and achievements by not making excuses or deflecting. Too often a woman will say ‘I don’t mean to be vain, but…’ as if they need to qualify it before admitting a strength or achievement.’
She is also concerned that, in her experience, women are less outspoken about their career goals, suggesting they are less clear about the nature of these. In her team, she actively encourages young women to define their goals, and then to work hard to put in place the necessary measures to achieve these.
Another fundamental for De Wet is that women need to do a better job of supporting their female colleagues in the workplace. A big part of this support is making room for women, and mothers in particular, to manage motherhood along with their professional obligations. In its simplest form, this means flexible working hours and judging a woman’s competence on her output, and not the number of hours she is in the office.
We have to create spaces that allow women to incorporate their children, and the associated responsibilities, into their lives. Until we do that we won’t have brilliant women in the workplace. On the matter of motherhood specifically, De Wet equates the responsibility with ‘running two massive businesses, both competing for the same limited time and energy’.
The thing with motherhood isn’t that you can’t manage your time. Rather, the challenge is around the fact that your mind is occupied with the kind of responsibility one can’t really understand until you have felt it. Getting your focus right is key, or rather the ability to instantly shift focus between two things that are of equal importance to you.
The character of leadership
The ultimate leadership characteristics differ from person to person, because all leaders bring a bit of themselves to the role. De Wet believes her style of leadership to be defined by her determination, her positive outlook and sensitivity. ‘I have a well-developed sense of intuition, which is one of my most important skills and my competitive advantage when it comes to client relationships. Agility is also very important, especially in today’s very fast-paced world where it is crucial to adapt as quickly as possible. I don’t view sensitivity as a weakness, and I make a point of encouraging women to develop their EQ and so develop ways of working with their feelings – and not just the ‘soft feelings, but also irritation, anger and frustration.’
Considering the future of her industry, De Wet stresses that the unknowns are what makes it crucial for leaders to be resilient and adaptable, and to be prepared to learn fast. True leadership, she stresses, is about being able to take the lead in that unknown space.
‘What we do know, however, is that agencies of the future must move away from seeing themselves as service providers and rather work to forge true partnerships with their clients. That’s because the era of creativity for creativity’s sake is over.
‘I have always believed that creative work should be aligned to a brand’s business goals and that advertising must have a level of measurable effectiveness. If it doesn’t work for the client then why are we doing it? And this is why client service, and strategy, is so crucially important. Client service ensures there is a business objective behind whatever it is that you’re doing.
‘Women should continue to work hard, but also smartly, and be strategic about their goals. And be your own champion.’