In Senegal, the economy is mostly driven by women. They are business people, entrepreneurs, traders, artists, leaders, and much more. Oumou Souloy, account director at Dentsu Aegis Network Senegal, says women in media must be bold and shape the narrative around them.
For the past 12 years, I have worked in both Europe and West Africa, and I’ve been struck by how well-represented women are in the media industry. Don’t get me wrong, there is still much to do to ensure full equity in the field – and much of it has to do with what roles women and men come to occupy in the industry. But I wonder: what draws women to this field, and what makes them thrive?
Some say that women are naturally gifted communicators, good listeners, organised and can multitask. Those things can be true, but they remain gendered stereotypes – albeit positive ones – and may prove harmful to opening space for women in the business world.
In Senegal, men and women are still unequally represented in several industries. Most women are project managers or account directors, while men dominate so-called “technical”, creative, production and digital jobs. These domains are not male by definition; there are no specific technical or personal traits that would limit or facilitate either gender to thrive, and yet reality points to the current situation.
This lack of diversity, unfortunately, may cause many of the products of our industry – the ads we create, the events we curate and more – to propagate stereotypes and misrepresentative visions of women in our societies. It has always been intriguing to me how an industry where women are so largely represented still portrays women through the prism of predominantly male decision-makers: creatives, producers and especially advertisers.
Yes, women cook; yes, they are the ones who, by-and-large, still take care of the wellbeing of households; but we also live in a country where the economy is mostly driven by women. We are business people, entrepreneurs, traders, artists, leaders and much more.
Emancipate our view
There is a lot we can do in the industry to continue to uphold one another and move forward. Of course, we all come from different backgrounds and we live in countries with different histories, cultures and social constructs. The idea is not to erase the reality we see and live in our country, but to provide a different, progressive and emancipating view of the world. A view that represents the ambitions of African women. We must be bold and shape the narrative around us.
The media landscape remains dominated by men. Male journalists are usually the ones in charge of “hard” news, while women are relegated to “soft” news. Diatou Cissé, a female Senegalese journalist, said that “a socio-cultural deconstruction is necessary to change the perceptions of women in media, and this is obviously linked to time”. She is also enthusiastic about the future and believes that we have great opportunities in this digital era, where social networks and web series are enabling women to access and produce relevant local content and to be as daring as we want.
In Senegal, most of the agencies are run by women, which is a great thing, and opens up opportunities for a few things:
• Breaking down the stereotypes of “female” and “male” jobs
• Promoting this high-potential industry to women
Reflecting on all the progressive ways in which women are moving, changing and building societies at large, from where I sit – actually, where we all sit – we have a responsibility to make sure that what we put out to the public reflects those values.