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10 Marketing Experts Discuss International Women's Day
This year, for International Women's Day we are celebrating our female authors and showcasing their industry knowledge.
We asked ten of our Marketing & Communications authors about their experiences as a woman in business, including what prevailing stereotypes need to be broken, and what advice can be shared with young women entering the world of work.
Heidi Taylor – B2B Marketing Consultant & Speaker
Colleen Fahey – MD, Sixieme Son
Natalie Berg – Retail Analyst, Founder of NBK Retail
Miya Knights – Head of Industry Insight, Eagle Eye Solutions
Co-author of Omnichannel Retail
Claire Brooks – MD, ModelPeople Inc
Stephanie Marsh – Head of User Research and Analysis, GDS
Author of User Research
Dr Jillian Ney – Dr of Social Media and Digital Behavioural Scientist
Bev Burgess – Senior Vice President & Global ABM Practice Leader, ITSMA
Imogen Osborne – Owner, The Pulse Business
Co-author of The People Business
Betty Adamou – Founder, Research Through Gaming
Q: What does International Women's Day mean to you?
For me, IWD is about celebrating ourselves as women, our achievements large and small, and continuing to challenge the still-ingrained perceptions about what we can and cannot - or should and should not – do in every aspect of our lives.
IWD reminds us all that everyone should care about women’s rights and opportunities because they are reflective of the human rights and opportunities we all aspire to enjoy.
IWD for me is about giving a voice and shining a spotlight on those who identify as women, female and non-binary; to celebrate their talent and achievement and continue the conversation and positive actions in the push towards equality.
Dr Jillian Ney:
When I was growing up, I have to say that I didn’t really have that many inspirational female role models. This was before the internet when you were reliant on your family, friends, school and books to teach you about the world. While I love my family and the women in it, I think I was limited without access to wider information and people. IWD is a celebration of women doing exceptional things. It is a chance to find those role models that maybe you would not have seen before. Sometimes, as women, we don’t promote ourselves enough and get drowned out. IWD is a good reminder to be proud and a way to connect with other women.
As with all days, weeks or months that promote specific groups of people, my thoughts are that every day should promote and celebrate those people. But, in an age where we still need spotlights on particular groups, I’m over the moon that International Women’s Day brings people together to talk about the progress that women are making, as well as the gaps that need to be addressed. What I’m more thrilled about though, is that these conversations are now happening every day, not just one day in the year. The women and men that drive those conversations daily whether through social media, conferences, articles etc. play an instrumental role in this shift.
Q: What have your experiences been as a woman in business?
I have experienced a wide spectrum of situations at work. I know what it’s like to be bullied, disrespected, undermined and underestimated in the workplace by both males and females, to have to work harder to prove myself and be paid less than my male counterparts. I also know what it’s like to have people believe in me. I know what it’s like to be trusted, supported, have respect and autonomy to do the work that is needed and be paid fairly for it. The best manager I’ve ever had was male; a man with high emotional intelligence, someone who was compassionate and supportive, who treated me like a person and not a resource.
Dr Jillian Ney:
My experience has been a pretty mixed bag. Being one of the first at something isn’t an easy road, but being a young female probably made that harder. I faced a lot of laughter in what I was doing at the start. Yes, people wanted to use social media to communicate but nobody was really thinking about the value that analyzing the data can bring (and the complications in actually analyzing the data). I had to build my own confidence in what I was doing and why it was important.
I have always worked in technology and engineering companies where the culture is typically masculine. This was more explicit when I started work - at British Gas and Epson in the 1990s - when there were very few female executives in the boardroom or at senior management levels that could help us imagine ourselves in those roles one day. I have occasionally been in tricky situations where I’ve been propositioned, bullied, or had my ideas ignored, but my network of colleagues and friends, and the business mentors I’ve been lucky enough to have, all helped me get through those things relatively unscathed.
Since then, I think the environment has changed, with more visible senior women and less of a ‘macho’ culture in the companies I went on to work for. I have still been in the position of being in the minority on management teams dominated by men, and I have used coaching over the years to help me perform well in that situation with my own style rather than trying to emulate my male colleagues. Now I am very comfortable with my own style and don’t even think about being a woman in business - I’m just in business. On the rare occasion that I meet someone who begins to treat me differently because of my gender, I’m genuinely surprised!
I look back at my past experiences with a smile, and look at the future in the same way. I’ve had many adventures and fantastic experiences so far, been able to travel the world through my work, and can’t wait for more. I’ve been supported and mentored by both men and women, and I’ve always felt at equal footing with my peers. I’m not afraid to ask for what I want, and go out and get it. Gender doesn’t even come to mind. On paper, I’m a female CEO working at the intersection of games, research, data and design. In reality, I’m a person that wants to do useful things, and when people see that and have a collaborative mindset, then what does gender matter? And if anyone holds you back from achieving what you want, then carve a role for yourself, and even start your own business if it means those barriers disappear.
Q: In what ways have you led change in the workplace?
For decades, I was the only woman on an executive committee of 10. I think my perspective led to more flexibility in working hours, more inclusive insurance plans and more attentiveness to all disenfranchised groups. Changes you make to help women usually help everyone.
Change is led by successful example. It doesn’t have to be a major change. Being a good coach and mentor effects change in the people who work for you. Offering clients a new approach that works creates change in business process and outcomes.
The change I’m most proud of is the pro bono work ModelPeople has done in the mental health space. We have used our strategic research skills and resources to explore the lived experiences of mental health patients and carers and we have advocated for them internationally with health professionals and NGOs. We have become part of a movement that is driving for change in treatment and outcomes for mental health service users.
I have focused mostly on giving women (and men) in my teams the flexibility they need to be able to achieve their potential. I was very lucky in that my husband stayed at home with our two daughters while I worked, so I didn’t have the horrendous juggling act to do that many parents have, while trying to do their best at work and at home. But I saw the challenges many people had in their working day and tried to make those easier. For example, I was able to change the contract of one of my long term colleagues to be home-based rather than office-based, when few people were working that way in the company. People can’t perform at their best and enjoy their work when they are constantly tired and stressed by the mental load they are carrying of non-work-related tasks, and often the answer can be both a simple and powerful one, which just takes a change of mindset and culture in the organisation to put into practice.
I have also mentored many young women as they’ve developed their career, both formally through consulting and training engagements, informally through my networks, and on a volunteer basis as a Princes Trust Business Mentor. This has been one of the most rewarding parts of my career.
I’ve often tried to champion and support those people who are on the back foot (usually due to personal circumstances) because they are usually lacking in confidence and just need somebody to make them feel valued and they start to thrive. I’ve also hired people based on what they can do, rather than what they may tell me they are capable of.
Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken in your career?
The biggest risk I took in my career was leaving a job where I was unhappy without securing another one 15 years ago. That decision led to me running my own freelance business, owning and publishing RetailTechnology.co.uk, moving into research and, this year, publishing two books.
Leaving a secure job as a well-paid partner in an ad agency to set up my own strategic research consultancy. I happened to be the family breadwinner at that time and I worked two jobs until the business took off. Looking back, I shake my head in disbelief!
Telling two of my bosses that I wasn’t prepared to be discriminated against. I raised a formal grievance each time and it felt very empowering. My hope was that there would be a step change in each person’s behaviour as a result. In fact, they were shortly fired after I raised the complaint so well worth it!
Q: What stereotypes/assumptions of women in business would you like to see broken?
I’d like to see an assumption added: the idea that women live longer than men do and might wish to work longer, too! Look at the likes of Nancy Pelosi (78), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (85), Isabel Allende (76) and Dame Judi Dench (84).
As women, we need to get better at celebrating success.
I would like to see more women bosses supporting those coming up after them. I also think women need to feel more confident to highlight their skills, experience and contribution to their businesses, so they can progress more quickly during their careers.
That women regularly drop work priorities to deal with family issues. I have rarely experienced this. In fact, my experience is that moms work harder to prove that they are reliable. More often than not I’ve had to tell women to go home and take the time they need for themselves and their families!
I’d like to break the taboo of people being too in touch with their emotions in the workplace. It’s not good for anyone to suppress their emotions and we can’t be on form all of the time’ we shouldn’t pretend so.
I’d also like to break the assumption that to need to have an ‘alpha male’ mentality to be effective and productive at work. I would like to see more people speak up about unacceptable behaviour that is disrespectful and demeaning, behaviour that is often attributed as ‘alpha male’.
I’ll be so happy when the women in a boardroom are not the heads of marketing and HR, as they typically are today. When they are P&L owners, running parts of the business - or the CEO of the whole business - on a regular basis. It will be a joy when the woman in the room isn’t asked to take care of communicating the strategy because she is better at people skills, rather than crafting the strategy in the first place. I think this is happening in some sectors more than others, but still not enough.
Q: Which women inspire you?
Jo Malone. I recently heard her speak at a retail conference and everything she said really resonated. She stressed the importance of happiness as a female entrepreneur. You need to have passion and creativity, but also resilience. Be prepared to learn from your mistakes.
In the course of my work, I interview a lot of ordinary women who are running families, running businesses, supporting friends and neighbours and making it all come together, with very few resources. They do it with grit and a great sense of humour and keep on doing it day after day. I’m in awe!
There are many women and non-binary people I work with now, and in the past, that inspire me – so many (I am lucky) that I fear missing people out in a list! I admire a mix of women from history and the current public eye; pioneers of their time who dared to push against societal constraints and achieved many great things. This includes Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou, Roxane Gay and the Bronte sisters, to name a few.
Dame Stephanie Shirley, who signed her letters ’Steve’ when she first set up 'Freelance Programmers’ (now part of Sopra Steria) in 1962, in order to get meetings with male clients. She set up a business that provided flexible working for female computer programmers, who ended up writing code for NASA and for Concorde’s black box. She is the most successful tech entrepreneur you never heard of since her company was ultimately valued at $3 billion, making millionaires of 70 of her team members.
Georgina Blizzard, MD of The PRnetwork who constantly practises humility and kindness.Loren McAllister, my son’s English teacher, whose passion is unbridled for both her pupils and her subjectRebecca Whitney, MD, Whitney Murray, whose loyalty and support are rare gems in the business world.
What advice would you give to women entering the world of business today?
Go on secondment to another country. If you ever have the opportunity to live and work in another country, absolutely go for it. Immersing yourself in another culture will influence the ways in which you see yourself and what you do in completely different ways. Whether it’s for the short or long term, your work will benefit from it and so will you as an individual.
Do more of what makes you happy. I've always been passionate about retail (my first internship was at a mall) and fascinated with how technology is changing the way that we shop. I consider myself an introvert but, when it comes to my subject matter, I have no problem getting in front of a camera or on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I certainly couldn’t do it for anything else! Find your passion and run with it.
Know your worth and work hard to attain and demonstrate it; develop the ability to distinguish between constructive feedback and negative criticism, and try to maintain a good work/life balance.
Business today requires a broad skill set, both functionally and managerially, so be flexible. Seek opportunities to develop new skills and experiences and stay open to where they can take you. Don’t stop learning.
Never suffer in silence if you are not being treated in the right way by your colleagues. It is difficult and scary to speak up, but it’s important to make a stand and highlight unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. Seek out mentors and coaches whom you can learn from, people who can help you develop your skills and build your confidence.
Dr Jillian Ney:
This is advice I would give to anyone. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m happy to admit that because I learned from them. The biggest thing is to know what you want and consistently work on making that a reality. Building a trusted network is so important and don’t wait for people to come to you, you need to reach out. I waited too long before doing that.
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