Director – Sustainability & Culture at Omnicom Media Group MENA
In the DE&I Driving Seat
Career Overview: I started as a media planner in London almost 15 years ago, specializing in B2B. I spent two years there before moving to OMD Dubai as a digital planner, where I stayed for five years. At that time, the digital sphere was on the cusp of exponential growth. I could count on one hand the number of digital specialists across all agencies in the UAE because the quality content and website landscape were small and roles in social media, performance, SEO, etc., simply didn’t exist. Many people have now changed roles, much like myself. In 2015, I moved internally into a newly created role to head sustainability and wellbeing, reporting directly to the CEO. I absolutely loved this job; it connected to my values and stimulated my purpose. Fast forward to today and I still manage the sustainability and wellbeing agenda. In addition, I support the People Team with internal comms and HR projects. I am also responsible for driving OMG’s DE&I agenda.
Communicate sat down with Turpin to explore her journey to where she stands today and how being a woman has influenced different phases in her career.
What do you like most about your job today?
Every single day is different, and I never stop learning. That’s what I always loved about media agency life – the landscape and dynamics are constantly changing. It’s the same with my current role. I’ve been able to evolve and learn [everything] about global and local trends and strategies, such as implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as well as pursue the interests of people around me. Take corporate wellness, for example. What was a perk a few years ago is now an absolute necessity for an organization. It is business-critical today to have wellbeing initiatives integrated into all company operations. The quality and quantity of well-being providers have exploded in the last two years as organizations realize that the health of their people is equal to the health of their business. The same goes for sustainability and the mounting pressure for governments and corporations to embed climate action strategies into their business; and with DE&I, as the world constantly strives to do better.
What do you think that, as a woman, you personally bring to your job?
I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I come to work every day knowing that I’m doing something that I enjoy – I’ve often been told that this shines through in my work and attitude. Yet, I don’t think being a woman makes me any more or less capable of doing the job I do. Corporate life isn’t always plain sailing, but the tough times have made me stronger, more empathetic and understanding of the situations that arise for our employees. Principled and caring, it was a very natural progression for me to join the People Team a couple of years ago.
It’s very easy to get tangled up in clichés when discussing genders and roles. My soft, feminine side helps break down barriers, build trust, and drive inclusion. My open-door policy helps me connect with every single employee, while the zen vibe in my office (think buddhas, Nepalese prayer flags, and essential oils) puts people at ease. But there’s also a masculine side to me, probably coming from growing up with two brothers, that makes me athletic, competitive, and sporty – I used to be a triathlete before I really settled on my passion for cycling last year. I bring all my passions into the workplace, often encouraging participation in training and races but also meditation and yoga, which has helped me connect with many colleagues on a different level.
I believe it’s important to inspire our future leaders and show them that working smart will reap rewards, but we should always find time for our passions. I always say that my cycling is like my meditation. The detachment from your day job can create balance, help you think clearer, be more present, and hone skills that translate into the workplace. It essentially makes us better leaders.
The ability to perform in this role, ultimately, comes more from personality, attitude, and aptitude than gender. Being a woman doesn’t necessarily help me do a better job, but the self-awareness and balance, throwing away any stereotypes, most likely do.
What role does the industry have to play in unstereotyping roles in ads?
There is no denying that the MENA region is playing catch up to the Western world when it comes to diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I), both within the workplace and traditional roles at home.
Media ads need to evolve with the social dynamics, and that’s not moving fast enough. Take Saudi Arabia, where there are now 33% of women in the workforce – double what it was five years ago. Yet, research by the Unstereotype Alliance (convened by the UN Women) and Kantar shows that only 8% of female characters cast in ads were depicted in non-traditional roles in 2021, despite predicting a 20% higher ROI for advertising with positive female portrayals.
Our industry is moving in the right direction but could move quicker. Along with multiple other organizations, including competitors, OMG MENA is on the board of the Unstereotype Alliance, which seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content by raising awareness, research, and education. This is a fantastic example of how the United Nations SDG #17, the partnership of the goals, can be applied for the greater good.
Since DE&I was added to my remit earlier this year, I’ve been tasked with raising awareness internally and creating engagement with our external stakeholders as well. Progressive advertising is daring but needed to push the needle.
How have you adapted your approach to women in the workplace over COVID?
Research from PWC showed that in 2020, global progress towards gender equality at work was set back at least two years, as women’s employment losses from COVID were worse than men’s. Lockdowns forced parents to take on multiple, concurrent roles, the burden of which often fell on mums.
We have always tried to be supportive of working mums at OMG, but COVID clearly showed us we needed to go further. Through panel discussions and webinars with working parents, I developed a better understanding of their needs and have provided new recommendations for policy updates.
Having embraced the DE&I agenda, I have taken the opportunity to refresh the way we track and monitor our data, and implemented more accountable and stringent KPIs. Our opportunity to grow is in the mid-top layer of management and these KPIs aim to retain our strong, female talent, nurturing them along their career funnel right through to leadership. As a signatory to the pledge of the Middle East Inclusion Council (MEID), I work closely with our Group CEO to ensure we are on track to meet our commitments.
I was fortunate enough to mentor a young professional in the recruitment industry a few years ago, in partnership with Reach Mentoring. It’s a fantastic way to impart your knowledge and offer guidance to those trying to navigate the corporate world. While this paused for a couple of years, it’s a partnership that we have continued again this year, because of the even bigger need.
There is still a lot of work to be done, yet there are shoots of growth and hope. I’m incredibly fortunate to be once again on the point of inflection like I was when I started in digital media almost 13 years ago! Yet, this time, it’s got an even bigger purpose.
This profile has been featured in Communicate's Q2 2022, "Women to Watch" issue.