Head of Data & Insights, Havas Middle East
Career Overview: My route to advertising was slightly less conventional, having started my career as an auditor and Chartered Accountant with KPMG Montreal. I loved learning about my client's businesses, but I really wanted to do something that was more forward-looking. When I moved to Hong Kong, a small fluke led to a major career change and I started all over again at MEC, eventually transitioning to Red Fuse, an integrated agency servicing Colgate-Palmolive.
After a few years in the planning, I was entrusted with growing the Red Fuse data team. And this was my ‘connect the dots’ moment: my background in audit/accounting and planning experience came together to help me deliver client solutions that focused on translating data into actionable insights.
Having always been fascinated by the Middle East, I moved to the UAE in 2017 and have been working at Havas Middle East ever since.
Communicate sat down with Anne He to explore her journey to where she stands today and how being a woman has influenced different phases in her career.
How would you define your job today?
As Head of Data & Insights, I actually wear many hats: data consultant, data analyst, data evangelist… It really depends on the day! In a nutshell, my primary role is to help clients make data-driven decisions and leverage data to have a real business impact. Regardless of where clients are on their data journey, I guide them in navigating their unique challenges and provide services that range across business analytics, consumer insights, measurement & optimization, data strategy, and more.
I have a transversal role, across the Havas Village, meaning that my team and I support our creative, media, and PR disciplines across all clients and categories. Because of this, we have exposure across a wide spectrum of data use cases and truly benefit from synergies when it comes to tools, insights, and learnings.
How do you find your place in the tech industry, which has long been seen as not welcoming to women?
I’d like to ask you to picture in your head the typical data scientist or data analyst. Take a moment now to imagine that person.
Chances are, the person you have in mind is male. This stereotype is pervasive in many countries due to the way pop culture portrays this role. When I started in data many years ago in Hong Kong, we occasionally received vendor info or promotions through print. My male data colleagues would all receive brochures for various data services. And as the only woman on the team, I was even excluded from the data spam! It is a funny anecdote but it really illustrates how the industry didn’t think that women mattered in this field.
When we don’t fit the stereotype, our credibility is called into question. Like women in many fields, we’ve always had to work harder to prove ourselves. For me, it is an ongoing fight to demonstrate that we have the capability and that we can do the job.
But I no longer feel alone in this fight. I have incredible role models to look up to: Houda Tohme (CEO of Havas Media Middle East), Dana Tahir (General Manager of Red Havas Middle East), and my amazing team of women who inspire me every day with their ideas and energy.
This is also reflected in the data. According to our Q1 2022 Havas Proprietary Prosumer Study “When Women Advance, We All Advance,” we are seeing a decline in imposter syndrome. 78% of UAE and 81% of KSA women agreed or strongly agreed that they “deserve their professional situation,” attributing their success more to their hard work (93% across UAE and KSA) and skills (94% UAE/91% KSA), and less to luck (57% UAE/64% KSA).
As for me, I might still be guilty of ticking the ‘luck’ box sometimes. I’m truly grateful for all the times that managers (female and male) took a chance on me and entrusted me with the next big role. But based on the popular quote, some variation of “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” it seems there is indeed causation and not just correlation!
What do you think that, as a woman, you personally bring to your job?
Data often gives the impression that it is final and absolute, but in reality, there could be inherent biases in the way the data is collected, organized, and interpreted. Even the simplest survey question could be phrased in a leading way or present only some of the possible responses.
Different research studies tend to approximate that globally, only 15-22% of data science professionals are women. With the majority of data projects still managed by men, there could be many instances where we are making decisions based on the world seen through a male lens.
It is imperative that we have the female perspective as well, on research topics that are not only about women but about all humans, in order to open up the possibilities and minimize the inherent bias.
More generally, what do you think women uniquely bring to the industry?
When it comes to understanding the consumer and uncovering the nuanced human stories behind the data, women tend to have an advantage when it comes to empathy (68% in the UAE and 69% of KSA think that “Women managers tend to be more empathetic”). It is that ability to relate and consider a different point of view that will result in more well-rounded discussions, holistic insights, and better business results for our clients.
In the age of AI and machine learning, creativity is most cited by both men and women as qualities that the management of tomorrow should have (40% UAE and 47% KSA). At the same time, they consider women managers more creative (72% across both UAE and KSA). Women managers are considered more collaborative, brave, and sensitive – all qualities required when we tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Do you advocate for more women’s representation in the industry and if so, how?
Everyone has their own way of advocating for women’s representation in the industry, and I really admire the women who are making an impact in a big way! I believe that breaking boundaries and glass ceilings starts with women helping each other. Thus, what is most meaningful to me is small everyday actions of supporting my team in their journey and helping them achieve their career ambitions, creating a tradition that is continued wherever their careers may take them.
I’m also very proud to work for an agency that truly advocates for women in work/life balance and flexibility. In the same Havas study, balancing family and work was cited as the biggest obstacle in women’s careers (63% UAE/78% KSA). Thus, the most practical action I can take to advocate for more women in the industry is to keep them within the industry by doing everything I can to support them in this balancing act.
What do you think about women’s voices in the region in general?
Women in the region are truly coming into their own. They are unapologetic and true to who they are. Through various research focus groups conducted and discussions I’ve participated in, I have found it an incredible experience to learn about their attitudes, challenges, hopes, and fears. Things are not perfect, but there is progress, built each and every day by women raising their voices and being the change that they want to see in the world. It has been an honor to highlight their stories through our campaigns and communications.
This profile has been featured in Communicate's Q2 2022, "Women to Watch" issue.