Monika Weerasinghe – CEO of Madison Media
Monika’s career journey in the Advertising industry began with a mandatory management trainee program, which made up the curriculum of the fourth year of her degree in Marketing Management at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Twenty years later, she is the CEO of Madison Media (Pvt) Ltd, the mom of two children, and an inspiration to all women who strive to maintain a balanced lifestyle between work and family.
“I think it’s all about how passionate you are about what you do and how you prioritize things. I’ve been maintaining a balance between these two aspects of my life for the past 20 years. In my profession we always segment people into groups, using different classifications. In the same way, women are classified into full-time workers or full-time housewives. I would actually define myself as a full-time working woman cum full-time housewife.
I have always had my parents and husband for support. If I have achieved anything in my life so far, it is thanks to them. They are my pillars of success. However, I make sure that 99% of my responsibilities as a mother and a wife are taken care of by me. My secret is that I never sacrifice personal for professional and vice versa. Therefore, I’m a full-time working mom as well as a full-time housewife, since I make sure I am fully committed to work as well as to my family. I strongly believe that as a woman you are much stronger than anyone else in terms of holding things together, bearing burdens, multi-tasking, and handling stress and emotions. That is the beauty of a woman.”
Describing some of the greatest challenges she has faced in her uphill climb, and how she overcame them, Monika narrated, “The very first significant challenge I faced was as a management trainee. The Chairman of the company I worked for was of the belief that I was too local and disciplined for the Advertising industry. I took up the challenge and set my mind to do exactly what he thought I couldn’t do – make a name for myself in the industry. I knew that my performance would speak for me. All of my success is based on my performance, and I am proud to say that I have never compromised my values to get to where I am now. The second and biggest challenge came when my children were born within two and a half years of each other. It was a tough adjustment as I didn’t want to give up my career. But with the encouragement and support of my parents and husband, I went back to work after my maternity leave was up. I’m very proud of the bond I share with my kids, and their love for me is the best thing in my life. The third main challenge was gender inequality. There have been a number of incidents where people have looked down on me simply because I was a woman. But I never let it get to me, and allowed the results to speak for themselves.”
Asked if there have ever been situations where her leadership was undermined due to her gender, Monika replied in the affirmative, “There have been no major situations. However, I have faced a few minor situations where my leadership did not receive due respect because I’m a woman.” Moving onto how she handled such situations, she said, “I always handled those situations by being very patient and letting the results speak. But I have never taken a shortcut to overcome such barriers. When I was young, I used to panic when I faced a situation like that. But as I matured, I realized that panicking was not the answer and would never get me the right results.”
On the topic of the status of the Sri Lankan Advertising industry and how a woman can make her mark in it, Monika said, “For me, it is the most interesting industry in Sri Lanka. It’s highly competitive and extremely stressful but also really innovative and fun. It is also one of the industries that keeps changing rapidly with the evolution of technology. Further, the industry plays a huge, but silent role in the success stories of many a brand. At a glance many people think that advertising is not a suitable industry for a woman, especially for a married woman with kids, because it is not an 8.30 – 5.00 pm job, and is always task driven. A woman has the potential to make her mark if she has the right attitude, values, commitment and emotional discipline. Because this industry is one that revolves around people and dealing with different personalities, a woman always has a better potential to succeed if she conducts her affairs in the proper manner.”
Talking about why many women opt not to rise through the advertising hierarchy, Monika explained her thoughts on the matter. “First, if you compare this industry with all other industries, advertising is a hidden pillar behind many successful brands and organizations. It’s not as popular as banking, accounting, engineering, manufacturing etc. So, without any gender classifications, only a few select this as their career path. Yet, I think there is a myth amongst the elder generation that advertising is not a suitable career option for a girl, as it is seen as a very outgoing and demanding job. As such, parents don’t allow their daughters to choose this industry. Second, the women who join this industry, quit their career after getting married and having children, as it requires a lot of effort and commitment to balance your personal and professional life. So, the easiest way is to quit the industry, which is what most women choose to do. Third and most importantly, we as Sri Lankans always tend to look for the comfort zones. I think this is common among both genders. Many people always tend to do a job, simply for the sake of it. This is the main reason why only a few women opt to climb the ladder of the Advertising industry. Because as I said before, if you are not passionate about advertising, media planning and buying, continuously looking for opportunities to innovate, not willing to adapt, then this is not the industry for you.”
As an inspiring mentor to many young female media professionals, Monika offered words of advice to be taken to heart. “No matter what educational background you are coming from, be humble enough to keep learning. Always be passionate about what you do. Never treat your profession as just a job. Don’t try to find short cuts, maintain your values at all times, and always have the right attitude and be honest.”