This year's International Women's Day theme is "#BreakTheBias" in an attempt to break deliberate or unconscious bias that makes it difficult for women to move ahead. The campaign which urges for a level the playing field comes as representation of women in leadership still isn't where it needs to be.

According to data from McKinsey, while representation of women has increased across the pipeline since 2016, women of colour still remain significantly underrepresented in leadership. For example, about 25% of C-suite positions were occupied by women as of 2021; about 28% and 30% of senior vice presidents and presidents were women respectively.   

In light of International Women's Day, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to prominent female leaders in our industry, inviting them to talk about a number of topics, including their career, challenges in their respective industries, and their ideas about women in a leadership position. In this article, we feature Carol Yeung, vice president, Golin Hong Kong, who talks about her views on these issues.

Yeung joined Golin Hong Kong as senior manager in January 2017 and over the years, she worked closely with the agency's China team, digital and creative team to deliver insight-led communications strategy for its clients in the region. She left the agency in mid-2018 and returned to it in March 2019 as director. In February 2021, she was promoted to vice president. More here on her story.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:   Can you tell us a little bit about your role?

I am vice president of the PR team at Golin Hong Kong. I am responsible for developing smart strategy for our clients, managing our phenomenal team, driving integrated work across the agency, and overseeing our business performance.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:   How did you get into the industry?

After obtaining a bachelor's degree in marketing, I started my account servicing role in advertising. I wanted to learn more about building brand trust and reputation through earned media, so I decided to shift my career path to public relations.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What are some of the barriers you think women in the PR industry face?

We are still facing stereotypes and labelling issues. Women represent a major portion of the workforce in both agency and in-house roles, but senior leadership positions are still dominated by men. A survey commissioned by The Women’s Foundation with Ipsos Hong Kong found that while there was a belief in supporting gender equality in principle at work, many people still believed women should look after their families, with 42% of men believing that families will suffer if women devote less time to take care of them.

This sentiment demonstrates the degree of responsibility laid on women, and the expectations of where our time should be spent. I continue to see women leave middle to senior leadership roles to take care of their family, assuming the role of the primary caregiver.

I really wonder whether we have done enough to support women in the workplace. I don’t have the answer, but I think we could stop this brain drain by helping women balance career progression and family.

And on the other side of the spectrum, single women in senior leadership roles may be associated with negative traits. They are not compared fairly with their male counterparts. For instance, men in their 30s or 40s who are single and focus on their career would be described as driven and ambitious, but women who are in the same stage are often associated with being difficult, or not having a personal life. This image is reinforced in media or TV episodes in Asia. 

Regardless of age, marital status and appearance, women in the professional world should be assessed equally with men on their ability and performance. It doesn’t matter what we look like or do in our personal lives, we should be respected for our counsel to and impact on our business and our clients, irrespective of anything else.

Speaking on breaking stereotypes, three years ago I started a hobby that was often met with a raised eyebrow: pole dancing. An athletic endeavour, it’s an art that’s overshadowed with judgement. I am vocal about my love of pole dancing because it has taught me resilience and respect – but also because I want to set an example of how a woman in both leadership and life can show up, however she wants.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Have you faced any personal prejudice or misconception in the industry?

At Golin in Hong Kong, we have a relatively young workforce; I myself was promoted to vice president when I was 33. There have been times when I’ve walked into a room with a group of more mature, male-dominated senior management clients or potential clients where I have had to spend a lot more time to build trust or presence, as they might question my knowledge and experience based on my appearance and age. Frankly, this is ageism, and it’s a mindset that’s harmful to both business and society.

Ultimately I am able to sway such opinion with my counsel and results, but this is an example of the extra energy women seemingly need to expend every day, without justifiable cause. It comes down to unconscious – or conscious – bias: we must ask ourselves if we are judging a book by its cover, and why we think that’s acceptable.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What is one area that you are looking to tackle as a woman in a leadership position?

I want us to feel that we can be proud and loud about our achievements. As women, many of us have grown up believing that we should be modest in many ways. However, this is a learned behaviour and aside from celebrating our successes, it’s vital to let the next generation of leaders see what they can be.

I take my role as a mentor to women in PR very seriously. While our professional journeys may take varying paths, we can learn and grow from each other’s shared wisdom. Platforms such as IPG’s Women’s Leadership Network have given me and other inspiring leaders in our industry the chance to share our stories to any staff wanting to acquire knowledge and understanding.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What are your hopes for the PR community in general in 2022?

Other than hoping for a more equal gender representation in the PR community, I also hope that the industry will continue to empower women to balance both their roles in their personal lives and also career progression. The PR industry is built on influencing people to think, feel and act in a certain way, so we have a unique opportunity to be the catalyst for change in bringing about true gender equality.

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