“It’s sometimes the smallest action that can invoke the biggest positive change.”
Following the release of our first ‘Industry Insiders’ feature last month, we are pleased to bring you our next piece! We’ve had the privilege to catch up with Grayling CEO Loretta Ahmed, a strong influencer who advocates for women representation in businesses and whose company policies include diversity and inclusion.
Here, she takes us through her career background and how their business in a women-dominated industry sees the ‘gender balance’ challenge as often the opposite to many other industries in the region:
WEPs UAE: Hello, Loretta! Please introduce yourself, the role you currently hold and the size and structure of what you oversee.
Loretta: I am CEO for the Middle East and Africa region for global communications agency Grayling. We have 60 staff across the region based out of Dubai, Oman and Nairobi and we also work with affiliates as well as our global colleagues to provide pan-regional support to clients across the full marketing communications mix of PR, digital and creative services.
W: What is your career background and what brought you to this role?
L: Prior to this role I headed up the UK business for Grayling and I stepped down when I became a mother. I was invited back to the business as a non-executive on the global board and was given the brief to secure a new head for the MEA region – a role I ended up taking on myself and I’m so glad I did it. Five years on and we now have a team on the ground in Africa and have moved the Dubai PR business on to become a full service marketing agency.
W: What measures does your company have in place to help with gender balance/D&I in the region?
L: The PR sector is dominated by women, less so at a senior level – but overall the gender balance is definitely tipped in favour of women. So, our gender balance challenge is often the opposite to many other industries! In the creative team we have a better gender balance as the creative sector in general presents a more equal ratio of candidates. Our measures are informal – based on HR tracking our ratios and us constantly trying to level out the playing field when we are hiring new staff. It’s a constant juggle for a smaller business where the balance can change very quickly – but it is also relatively easy to address it based on the constant pool of talent available. Here in Dubai we employ many different nationalities due to the transient nature of the workforce and, like many others, we continue to seek ways to hire and retain local Emirati employees.
W: What do you feel these policies have achieved? Can you highlight a success story/case study?
L: Our policies in this area are flexible and not set in stone but as we continue to grow we will look to embed these in a more rigorous way into our business. As we have a female-dominated business at managerial levels we have focused our efforts on offering an improved maternity policy – with extended leave and flexible return to work options to ease our working mothers back into the workplace. This year we have seven staff either on maternity leave or just returning and each has a very different set of circumstances, but getting mums back to work is a no brainer. They offer significantly more value in terms of experience and knowledge than those starting out in their careers so it makes absolute business sense.
It is hugely challenging for us to manage but it is possible with the right level of listening and planning – not just for the mother returning to work but also for their clients and colleagues so there is absolutely clarity around shared roles, reduced hours and duration of any new working arrangement.
W: What is the representation of women like at senior levels in your team and how do you encourage retention/post-maternity return?
L: Senior level roles are currently split across one female CFO, three male managing directors, two female digital directors and two female deputy managing directors – so pretty equal. Two of our senior female directors are working mothers and both have opted to return to work on reduced hours. One of these posts has done this before with her first child and worked reduced hours for her first year before returning to full time hours and it worked well for all parties. We have created a private room for our working mothers to express in comfort as well as recently launching a global helpline service for anyone who feels they need to talk to someone in confidence about anything that might be making them anxious or stressed so we remind our people of the importance of their mental as well as physical health. Agency life can be a high-pressure environment and it is all too easy to lose perspective – this is particularly true for those whose lives have changed dramatically and who may be experiencing a whole new set of demands outside the workplace.
W: Why is D&I important to you/your company right now?
L: It’s important for every company. Every business is a glass box now – staff, clients, applicants and all other stakeholders want absolute transparency and it’s not enough for the CEO to stand up and wax lyrical about their values and beliefs – the business has to live its values and give tangible proof of doing so – across diversity and inclusion through to sustainability and community commitments to prove their good citizenship. Gen Z and Gen Y, in particular, place huge emphasis on this – and rightly so. Interviews are a two-way process with these candidates and if we want to secure the best people we’d better be sure we can stand up to their scrutiny!
W: And finally, is there more you’d like to do/bring to the conversation?
L: For anyone out there wondering if they are doing enough to empower women in their workforce I would urge you to ask them. It sounds obvious but sometimes we just don’t listen enough. Get out from behind your desk and talk to your working mothers about what really stresses them out, what hinders their productivity, what weighs on their mind that you could help alleviate. It’s sometimes the smallest action that can invoke the biggest positive change.
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