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ACA Future Ballers: growth and success for women in the advertising industry

Get to know the latest with Future Ballers, an exciting monthly series and news source for creatives and professionals under 30, exclusively brought to you by the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA).
This month Saatchi & Saatchi Account Director Kgantshe Tau chats with Managing Director Firdous Osman, about how to grow and succeed as a woman in the advertising industry. Watch the video interview or read the full written verison below:

Kgantshe Tau: What lead you to ending up in the Advertising industry?

Firdous Osman: The advertising industry was not even an option when I was growing up. Becoming a lawyer, teacher, doctor, or engineer, were the options that I was exposed to growing up. I started out studying Bachelor of Science at the University of Western Cape and in my second year I realized this wasn’t for me. After knocking on several doors and finding myself outside of what I was “supposed” to grow up to do. I found Advertising and it all clicked. That this is where I was meant to be, with now over 18 years of experience in this industry, I haven’t left.

Kgantshe Tau: What is it that has kept you in the industry for all these years?

Firdous Osman: The Passion. Passion for our people, as they are the core asset of what we do, and passion for work. If you are passionate about what you do, you never work a day in your life. If you don’t have passion for what you do, it is going to be short lived.

Kgantshe Tau: What was the one single moment that you believe stood you apart from your colleagues in enabling you to progress your career?

Firdous Osman: It was the day I decided to bring my authentic self to the workplace. We are all different in our upbringing, and in mine though respectfully we do not speak out to our elders unless we are spoken to, respectfully I am very outspoken. Staying true to who you are and bringing that into the workplace was the pivot point in my career.

Kgantshe Tau: What are both Publicis and you, doing for women in the advertising industry?

Firdous Osman: At Publicis we are spoilt for choice. We are in a very fortunate position, whereby we have a number of women not only in our workforce but in leadership positions. Our offices consist of just about 60% Females in our South Africa, and of those 59% are Females in leadership roles. We have a number of platforms and initiatives in place to help grow females, one being a learnership program and its core focus is bringing young females into the industry to nurture and grow them.

Kgantshe Tau: What do you find the most challenging within your position?

Firdous Osman: I believe it is the ever-changing landscape in our industry. Post Covid-19 the industry has changed even further. This together with budget declines, means we have less time and people to do great work. We now need to consistently keep ourselves honest, “box smart” and mobilise around a very client centric approach in an ever-changing landscape.

Kgantshe Tau: What is your motto when faced with challenging scenarios?

Firdous Osman: Breathe. It is going to be okay, God has your back, so don’t fear.

Kgantshe Tau: You are very passionate about empowering women, what are your thought around woman not backing themselves around a boardroom table?

Firdous Osman: Women innately are emotional beings and nurturers. Men are rational beings. There is more than one area that I have seen women let themselves down, including myself on my journey in the industry. I have seen how we as women tend to lack the confidence in the workplace and second guess ourselves as we question whether we are being rational enough. I have seen how women have lost their femininity to show up against their masculine counterparts. Historically the industry has been male dominated, however we are fortunate that there have been women leaders ahead of us breaking the mould, who have paved the way for us to have a seat around the proverbial table, for us to bring our femininity into the workplace. As women, it is also our responsibility to nurture and grow the next generation of women leaders.

Kgantshe Tau: What skills or qualities have you recognised in yourself that have led you to where you are now? 

Firdous Osman: Firstly, taking a people first approach – within Saatchi & Saatchi and the broader Publicis Groupe this is critical for us. It is about knowing and understanding our people. I believe in nurturing people so that they can bring their best self to work. Secondly, Hunger! A hunger for always being in the know and at the forefront of what is happening in the industry to be a step ahead.

Kgantshe Tau: What would be the one departing insight you would like everyone to know without having to learn it the hard way?

Firdous Osman: Forge your own path. By that I mean, everyone is different and sometimes it feels we need to act or behave in a certain way to get ahead. The greatest act of courage is to be unwavering in your convictions and own who you are. Never be afraid to show up as your authentic self, speak up and be heard.