Reigniting the debate around women in marketing

Anne Godfrey, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Marketing
Anne Godfrey, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Marketing

Young women embarking on a career in marketing need to know they can make it to the very top of their organisations, writes Anne Godfrey, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

When my colleagues at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) first came to me with the idea of launching a research project focused on women in marketing, my immediate reaction was less than positive. I felt that gender imbalance in marketing was, if not a thing of the past, then certainly not a big deal.  

As a female marketer, I have never experienced what I felt to be discrimination, neither have I felt at a disadvantage to my male counterparts. However, it was soon after, when I  attended a launch for CIM’s marketing mentoring scheme, that I came to see that I may be guilty of complacency.

Marketing is on many levels a hugely female friendly profession, enjoying a more balanced demographic than many other professions. There are amazing examples of marketing departments and organisations that foster cultures that enable women to fulfil their professional potential.

I found myself surrounded by ambitious, and very persuasive, young women crying out for senior female mentors to act as role models.

However, at the mentoring event I found myself surrounded by ambitious, and very persuasive, young women crying out for senior female mentors to act as role models and help them navigate the early stages of their careers.

While as a profession, marketing is very effective at attracting female talent - the vast majority of graduate and entry-level positions are held by women - a mere 23% of marketing and sales directors are female. What is happening to these women, where are they getting lost, and why are they not progressing to CMO level alongside their male counterparts?

Similar questions arise when looking at remuneration. The male-female pay gap in marketing is reducing and at most levels of the profession marketers enjoy equal pay. However pay inequality rears its ugly head at the very top of the profession with men still being paid more at director level.

Reigniting the debate

Marketing as a profession leads the way in cultivating diverse workforces, of which female representation is just one factor. As a profession we should be hugely proud of this, however, as I learnt, now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time to reignite the debate of women in marketing to ensure we continue to lead the charge as opposed to simply following the pack.

To kick off the debate, CIM convened a panel of senior marketers from some of the world’s biggest brands and businesses to discuss the challenges facing women in marketing and to begin shaping possible solutions.

A much debated, and highly polemical, solution to female underrepresentation in the workplace is to impose quotas. While some argue that quotas stipulating the number of women on a company’s board or at a particular management level have the potential to focus minds and begin to level the playing field, they have also been widely criticised. Quotas can often serve to worsen the problem, with capable female executives being reluctant to take on roles due to the potential stigma of filling a quota or being the "token woman".

One of our panellists, Charlotte Sweeney, former international head of diversity and Inclusion at Nomura International argued that, "People hear the word quota and they hear sub-standard, or only getting the role because of the quota." However, Charlotte went on to argue, quotas do not mean second best, and in many cases she believes they are the only viable way of instigating the essential culture change that needs to occur within so many organisations.

As Sarah Speake of Google noted, positive discrimination in the form of quotas is not the only possible solution. Sarah suggests that companies focus their attention on targets as opposed to strict quotas, sharing her experiences at Google where they established a 50-50 male-female target of interviewees for a senior role. "Nowhere was the word quota used. This stops it being a top-down mandate where suspicion arises about whether the right candidate has got the job." Approaches such as this demonstrate a commitment to equal opportunities as opposed to engineered equality.

Gender-balanced workforce

Women are one of the marketing profession’s greatest assets. There is a wealth of research which suggests that a more gender-balanced workforce is beneficial to business: among other studies Thomson Reuters established that, from a cross-referenced database of environmental, social and corporate governance matters, companies that are ahead of their peers in gender equality tend to have share prices that outperform rivals.

Marketing needs good women just as much as it needs good men.

Marketing needs good women just as much as it needs good men. For the profession to truly assert itself within the business community, we need the very best senior marketers taken from a diverse and able talent pool. Young women entering the marketing profession today need to be able to see a future for themselves at the top of their organisations alongside their most capable male colleagues.

Setting out these issues is just the beginning. Now is the time for all marketers to join a conversation that’s already happening in marketing teams and agencies across the profession. We’re just adding some new voices to that conversation, and we want to hear your experiences, the problems you’ve faced, what’s worked and what we need to do. It is through bringing together the varied and diverse opinions of many different marketers that we can begin to identify the real solutions which will help build a better future for women in marketing.

Join the conversation at


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