Women in Global Marketing: Real Talk, No Mansplaining

For our latest Global Marketers’ Club webinar we were joined by a fabulous line-up of leading female marketers for some real talk about Women in Global Marketing.

Our guest speakers included:

  • Susan O’Brien – Chief Marketing Officer at Just Eat
  • Meher Mumtaz – Global Head of Brand Strategy at Western Union
  • Flavilla Fongang – MD, Brand Strategist, International Keynote Speaker, BBC Brand Advisor & Founder of TLA – Black Women in Tech
  • Vivien Ivanyi – Director Brand Management, Raffles Hotels & Resorts at Accor
  • Melissa Romo – Global Head, Social Media, Content & Customer Advocacy at Sage

From starting out in all-male teams, to demanding that next promotion, to taking up leadership roles, to mentoring the next generation of female marketers… our speakers have certainly experienced it all, and weren’t afraid to share some truths.

Here are our notes from the event in case you missed out (without any mansplaining, we promise). Equally, if you’d like to watch the full recording of the event, you can do so here.

Topic 1: Marketing post #MeToo, female representation in advertising and faux-feminism

  • Companies themselves have come a long way towards making the workplace a safer space. The #MeToo movement forced company leaders to look at the internal situation.
  • Brands that have traditionally shaped the narrative around a woman’s place in society – like beauty and fashion brands – have had to change how they communicate with audiences as the fight for gender equality has progressed. For example, Always went from being a functional brand to an emotional brand (see examples of their more recent ‘femvertising’ campaigns below).
  • But, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Many brands – especially on social media – promote unhealthy weight loss/diet culture and present unrealistic beauty standards.
  • According to Think with Google, analysis of the top 100 viewed global ads revealed that female characters were much more likely to be dressed in revealing clothing than male characters. Equally, male characters are given more speaking time in advertising, having their voices heard 1.5X more often than their female counterparts.
  • Marketers have a responsibility to progress the subject of female representation. Especially since today’s consumers are so savvy, speaking out against brands when necessary. If brands want to survive they have to recognise the issues close to their consumers’ hearts.
  • Of course, brands can’t drive change on their own. They must collaborate with corporations and external groups or forums to accelerate progress towards fair representation. For example, they can work with clearance bodies to pass necessary regulation, like the ASA’s recent ruling around gender stereotypes in advertising.
  • Brands shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon when it comes to movements like #MeToo or Black Lives Matter. Brands should align their company culture and company vision to movements they support to be truly authentic. If actions aren’t being taken internally, then any external brand communication around a movement is just fluff. Change needs to start at the top, with fair representation in the boardroom.
  • Companies often make a mistake in assuming that their advertising should and can be a platform for a social movement. It doesn’t always work, and it shouldn’t always be the focus. Brands have to ask themselves: does the issue actually affect our target audience? Sometimes, it makes more sense for companies to address the issue internally, rather than addressing it in their external communications.

Topic 2: Managing cultural differences and promoting gender equality on a global scale

  • Inclusion must start within the global marketing team. When working on a global team, it can be difficult for voices to be heard, as English accents tend to dominate the conversation. Marketers must remember to let everyone have their say, and to make room for the less dominant voices. This can get even more complicated when the issue of women’s voices going unheard comes into play.
  • When marketing to female audiences around the globe, you have to understand each culture first. You can’t assume that the position of women in one culture is the same as another. Marketers should work with diverse teams and local partners who can provide feedback on all creative and messaging.
  • The journey towards gender equality is at different stages across different countries. For example, things that women might perceive as demeaning in one culture might be the cultural norm somewhere else. Brands and marketing should aspire to make progress, but shouldn’t go against local culture too strongly as that might do more harm than good.
  • The small details really do matter. Brands should look through a local lens to ensure that creative or messaging doesn’t subjugate the women in that culture, or fall into stereotypes. For example, in their advertising, brands should focus on the minutiae, like how a woman’s hair is done or the gestures a man is using when talking to her.
  • Marketers should be aware of what’s going on the world when it comes to female representation and the progress towards gender equality. They must remember that the marketing a young girl might see today will help shape her perception of herself, and will have a lasting effect.

Topic 3: Gender equality in the marketing industry

  • The stats speak for themselves. According to a Marketing Week 2020 salary survey, gender bias is evident in leadership roles; 60.9% of all respondents were female but their numbers dropped significantly as the roles became more senior.
  • Female marketers should find themselves mentors from different categories and different industries, both male and female. It makes a huge difference to be able to talk about things, and to get a different perspective.
  • Equally, female marketers should look out for groups, forums and organisations which already exist; there are lots out there! (See our resources list below for a few examples.)
  • Closing the gender gap is actually good for business and the economy. And in the marketing industry, helps to produce advertising that resonates better with audiences.
  • Companies should create internal support groups for the women in their workforce where they can speak about any issues and help the company to take concrete actions.
  • When hiring, companies should look at job descriptions. For example, if a role seems to have little flexibility this instantly alienates working mothers.
  • Companies can set an official agenda to increase the representation of women at director level and above. They can then provide resources and support to women who have the potential to go far. Women should also ask for these resources if they’re not being provided, it’s likely that there will be others looking for this support who don’t know how to ask for it.

Topic 4: Advice for up and coming female marketers

  • A challenge that’s often seen as cliché, but one affects women in all industries, is the worry around being good enough. Am I a good mum? Am I a good person to work with? The key is to allow yourself to be imperfect. Don’t obsess over the fear of imperfection.
  • There’s a lack of diversity in the UK advertising industry, so moving into this line of work from another culture can be difficult to navigate. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t be apologetic about your cultural or professional background, focus on what your background can bring to the role.
  • When people underestimate you or see you as inexperienced, don’t see yourself as they see you. Portray your confidence to change the atmosphere around you.
  • Sadly, men in our industry have privileges that women don’t. For example, men are usually listened to more than women. Right now, you might not be able to change the gender imbalance in your workforce. So, develop really strong one-on-one relationships with some of the men in your team or company who recognise your talent so that they can help project your voice.
  • You don’t have to be incredibly senior in your company in order to make a difference to the gender disparities. Sometimes other people don’t notice these issues, so be brave and point out anything that’s amiss.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your hard work is enough to get you recognised. You have to ask for what you want, like that next promotion. Be direct and go for it!

As you can see, it was an incredibly insightful session thanks to our guest speakers. A huge thank you to Susan, Flavilla, Meher, Melissa and Vivien for taking part! We hope their words provided you with some food for thought about women in global marketing, and how we can keep making progress in a male-dominated industry. 

See below for a list of resources, including female marketing groups, mentorship schemes and inspiring campaigns. We hope you find them helpful. And do let us know if you know if you come across any other useful resources.