Gender equality within the brand communications industry is an issue close to the heart of Suhana Gordhan, creative director at FCB Johannesburg and this year’s Loeries chair.

Gordhan cut her teeth in the industry when it was still very much an exclusive boys’ club. Though things have changed significantly since then and the industry is far more inclusive than it used to be, she maintains that there are still not enough female faces at senior agency levels. She says this is because some women don’t believe the industry will support them if they want to have children while others simply don’t consider a career in advertising an option. She points out that agencies that provide more flexibility and accommodate working mothers are still the exception rather than the rule.

Transformation, she says, remains an issue ad agencies are very publicly grappling with, and Gordhan believes the industry is not attracting young people of colour.  “We also battle to keep young women of colour in the industry. Often they’re lured away to other jobs or leave to start up on their own because the industry does not meet their needs or future goals,” she says. “This may have to do with the millennial mindset but also the perception of lower remuneration. It’s become a systemic problem that we need to address, and address with urgency.”

Despite the transformational challenges facing the industry, Gordhan says there are a host of inspiring and successful women who show that it is possible to thrive in this industry and attain big goals. “And we need to shine a light on these women and celebrate everything they do, in order to provide more examples of excellence to other young women,” she says.

Her advice to young women aspiring to be part of the ad world is: “Trust that you are good enough to be anything you want to be. Speak up and make your voice heard, be present and take the initiative. Hard work and consistency are difficult to ignore. Ultimately nothing is stopping you –  you can make this a very rewarding and fulfilling career.”

Strong female mentors, she adds, have a crucial role to play here, particularly in terms of building confidence. It is up to the current leadership in the industry, Gordhan believes, to make space for and identify the next generation of leaders. “We should be giving of our knowledge and time, and helping young talent to learn by doing,” she says. 

The big take-out: 2017 Loeries chair Suhana Gordhan is passionate about gender equality. She says it’s imperative that agency leaders identify and nurture female talent.

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