International Women’s Day: A collection of reflections

The UN defines International Women’s Day (IWD) as a time to celebrate and reflect on the progress made on women’s rights and a day to call for the end to ingender inequality. With this in mind, we asked marketers to reflect on #BreakTheBias and what marketing can do to challenge gender equality in the workplace. Here are their thoughts.

Toni Allen, executive director, IET

Diversity and inclusion isn’t just about giving people an equal and equitable voice - it’s about working to consistently create a culture of belonging. Harvard Professor Borys Groysberg, author of Glass Half Broken about shattering the barriers that hold women back at work, said one of my favourite quotes: “Diversity is counting the numbers. Inclusion is making the numbers count.”

While IWD focuses on breaking the bias, so too should marketing. Gender diversity is crucial in bringing about different ideas, creativity, and action. It’s business critical for employee value propositions, succession, product development and innovation, for sales and, ultimately, for growth. Marketing has a key role in how we communicate internally and externally. The imagery, language and accessibility across our brand interactions, photography, websites, or campaigns set the scene for the whole organisation. 

Marketing should take responsibility for holding a mirror up to the organisation and taking a leading role in bringing the insight and examples of others. We are the eyes, ears and conscience of an organisation - we must challenge ourselves to eat our own dog food. 

Questions appear in front of us every day that are important to the gender equality agenda. Does that event you’re running have a diverse panel with at minimum equal gender split, but inclusive of other protected characteristics such as ethnicity, neurodiversity, LGTBQ+? Are we using diverse language and imagery in our product marketing, advertising and content? Are we celebrating dates that champion gender diversity such as IWD throughout our organisations? Are we challenging unconscious bias in our propositions? Do our teams reflect gender equity? If not, are we challenging ourselves through succession planning and diverse recruitment to make sure we meet this goal? Are we the ally we should be to the organisation and to the women we work with, sell to, and model our products on? 

We must make sure that we support our organisations in highlighting gender inequality, but most importantly we must build the frameworks that help to educate our organisations, customers and society. Be the marketers that #BreaktheBias. When one of us wins for gender equality, we all win.

Aditi Chauhan, director of marketing, NI

Equality in the workplace feels like a daunting issue. But it’s one that we each play a role in impacting. When we stand up for equality within our sphere of influence, we contribute to broader improvements. Marketers advance equality when we ensure that the room where marketing decisions are made contains people with diverse viewpoints.

Employers are listening. Here at NI, we’re not only working towards equality in the workplace but also believe that bringing together people with different backgrounds can lead to breakthrough innovations. Through our Corporate Impact Strategy, we have committed that by 2030, 50% of our global workforce will be women, as will 50% of our managers. We envision a world where the racial, ethnic, cultural, and gender representation of engineers matches society. We’ll work toward this vision by increasing the diversity of our own workforce and supporting aspiring engineers.

Maria Dahlqvist Canton, VP marketing, Exclaimer

Although the gap between average earnings of men and women is closing, men still earn on average 15.4% more than women per hour. While gender equality is improving, there is still so much left to do to close the gap completely. However, one industry in particular that’s pushing forward with equality is marketing. Currently, women now hold over 45% of all marketing executive positions compared to just 29% in 2019. 

Marketing is becoming a benchmark for other industries and the world to follow. It’s encouraging and promoting discussions on gender equality and showing others how to put gender equality and inclusion as a priority in their strategies going forward.

Having women in leadership roles that positively influence the business world and properly represents almost 50% of the population is key to cracking the glass ceiling. But to do so, organisations need to ensure they implement the correct policies to build towards this outcome and then consistently support it so great talent does not drop out when they are about to reach higher management levels. 

A work culture focused on equality has the power to elevate previously unheard voices and value diverse experiences, as well as increase confidence that a company will treat all employees fairly. This type of environment not only attracts more diverse applicants but also has the structural supports in place to set them up for success. This not only acts as a reminder internally to fellow colleagues but can also build awareness externally, prompting other companies and organisations to follow suit. 

Kate Farrow, DEI leader

The UN’s theme for IWD is gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than their male counterparts – they make up the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on natural resources. Gender equality is intertwined with climate destruction; achieving one runs parallel to the other.

Whilst activities designed to encourage gender parity are often presented as being motivated by ethics, this isn’t the whole story. Studies from Copenhagen’s Business School show that management teams with at least 30% women launch more innovative products. And if anything’s going to help solve the climate crisis, it’s innovation.

What does this mean for marketers?  What’s in it for you to demonstrate a more proactive approach to gender parity and giving back more to the environment than you take? 

Edelman has been researching trust for over 20 years. For them, it’s the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions build with stakeholders. Their 2022 Trust Barometer highlights that trust in governments is on a downward trajectory, and the public have a greater expectation for businesses to lead the way.

58% of the population will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values; 60% will choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values; and 64% will invest based on their beliefs and values. From a business perspective, this represents a chance to increase market share, increase brand attractiveness to investors, and be observed as industry leaders in inclusive and sustainable business practices.

So, don’t just think about the progression of women in society as a moral importance. The power of women being free, safe, and encouraged to contribute to their fullest potential, is as yet, a globally untapped asset. The possibilities are endless and bountiful.

Perrine Farque, managing director, Inspired Human

Closing the gender gap has increased from 99 years to 135 years during the pandemic. Today, only 8% of CEOs at fortune 500 companies are female. And for 64% of women, experiencing microaggressions at work is a reality. Women have to provide more evidence of their competence than men and are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone in a more junior position. Our words have the power to shape a more equal tomorrow. 

Let me explain. 44% of women don't apply to jobs described as  ‘aggressive’. The words we use everyday have a bigger impact than we think on who gets promoted, gets pay rises, and gets stuck in junior positions. We should avoid using masculine-biassed words in favour of more gender neutral language. 

We need to challenge common microaggressions - the small, subtle acts of discrimination. Common microaggressions women experience include when someone asks the only woman in the meeting: “can you take notes?”. Or when someone says “I’d like to see her prove that she can handle this responsibility before promoting her” - women tend to be promoted on past achievements and men on future potential. Lastly, Stanford University researchers found that the main reason women are not promoted as much as men is due to the vague feedback that women tend to receive over their careers. Women are less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes.

As humans, we are all biassed. But we can change that by making the unconscious more conscious. Let’s use our words more consciously to shape a more equal tomorrow.

Leeya Hendricks, CMO, Delta Capita

The most basic definition of equality in the workplace is the absence of discrimination, having an inclusive and safe work environment that provides equal opportunities, equal pay and acceptance and safety. But we are yet to reach a point of celebrating everyone for their differences.

Being an active ally means stopping, listening and ensuring all voices are heard. Becoming a better ally starts with understanding your privilege and using that to support and grow others. Make a concerted effort to drive change and talk about it – the more we talk, the more awareness, education and understanding.

Within marketing, having women in leadership roles who positively influence our industry and represent our audience seems obvious. But it hasn’t been solved by now. In the financial services sector, for example, there has been a focus on leadership teams and boards to include fewer white men. But this needs to move beyond the gender focus as the only answer, where many organisations have now moved to white females. Organisations need to address intersectional representation for brown and black women too.

Change isn’t surface level. Look at the foundational issues and develop a clear, tangible plan on what policies and actions will drive change. Consistently support this through continued education and having a strong network (including men as allies). This will help make sure that your talent doesn't drop out when they’re about to reach higher levels or feel excluded and unsupported when achieving that leadership level. It will help avoid talent leaving due to biases and unsatisfactory treatment.

Is Gender Equality progressing? YES. Is it progressing fast enough? NO. It’s not an easy pill to swallow. We need to continue to #BreakTheBias that continues to exist in social and business environments. We need to call it out and speak up. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary evil for people who feel uneasy talking about it. 

I dislike downplaying or softening these issues; or worse, superficially addressing it through tokenism and virtue signalling. The more we acknowledge excellence in women that have achieved success through merit and hard work and recognising the talent and efforts of their work standing on its own, the more we are able to drive meaningful change. 

This year’s theme encourages us to “imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.” I would love to see us sooner rather than later living it rather than imagining it!

Susanna Kempe, chair, B2B Marketing

Two years ago on IWD, I sat on a stage for a women’s equality in business event and was asked what I hoped the world of business would look like for women in ten years’ time. I answered: that we wouldn’t be sitting on stages talking about women in business. 

It wasn’t as glib a comment as it might sound. I am bone weary of talking about this. Because, let’s face it, it really isn’t rocket science, is it? How complicated is it to do these ten things?

  1. Pay women the same amount of money as you would pay a man.
  2. Have gender pay parity across your entire organisation. If you don’t, check that you have enough women in senior roles. 
  3. Make sure all voices are heard (and people aren’t taking credit for others' work). This isn’t just about gender. It’s about all types of diversity, including neurodiversity. Our businesses are poorer when only the loudest voices are heard. 
  4. Avoid task stereotyping.
  5.  Provide sponsors that will support and champion your rising stars and their development.
  6. Give feedback. Whether it be a senior member of staff giving junior men development opportunities or women allowing men to take credit for their work, speak to them about it.
  7. Review your promotion criteria.
  8. Recruit blind. When orchestras began to audition behind screens, it made it 50% more likely that a woman would advance to the finals. But don’t get complacent at the hiring stage - what else can you do within your organisation to avoid unconscious bias?
  9. Get rid of presenteeism.
  10. Have plenty of role models. It sounds trite, but the mantra of “if you can see it, you can be it” rings true. When I started working, it never occurred to me I wouldn’t go on to be a leader of a department or a business; my manager was a woman, as was hers, as was the head of Europe, the president of the NY office, etc. It was only later when I worked for a company where, until I arrived, the only women in the HQ were secretaries that I realised this wasn’t the norm.

And yet, here we are on IWD and I jumped at the offer to reflect on this again. Because only 8% of CEOs of FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies are women. Because it will take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity. And because, despite my optimism that the pandemic would have been good for gender equality, it’s made things worse. Since the pandemic began, nearly 1.8m women in the US have left their workforce. In the UK, women have been one and a half times more likely to quit or lose their jobs than men. The pay gap has increased. So, if we are going to avoid having the same conversation in ten years’ time, we do have to talk about this now. Better still, we need to act.

Note: You can listen to Susanna’s B2B Marketing Podcast episode on IWD here.

Katie Martell, Ignite USA co-moderator

I'm working on a documentary named Woke-Washed that tracks the recent collision of social movements and marketing. This time of year, during Black History Month, Women's History Month and IWD, brands incorporate themes of feminism into social media, advertising, and other marketing channels. This is known as "femvertising." 

Feminist ideals are those that work towards the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality, making femvertising essentially a promise that the brand behind the ad is upholding these ideals and/or working to further them in society. When we see companies fail to live up to those ideals, through practice or often through the nature of the industry they’re part of, that femvertising is inauthentic and performative. 

This comes with the following risks:

  • It reduces the work to be done to “hashtag activism.” The real work to be an ally to the ongoing struggle for women's rights is so much more about the policies and politics of an organisation. This is an opportunity for brands to lead via actions, not words.
  • It exploits a human rights movement for corporate gain. Brands who jump on the bandwagon now (especially those without meaningful contributions to the movement behind the Tweets) are barging into the conversation without respect for/understanding of the movement they seek to co-opt, its demands, and the sacrifices made to-date.
  • It creates an illusion of progress. That's what marketing does best - creating a perception of reality. What consumer has the time to research the actions and supply chain of every brand they buy from? The problem is, our sea of statements only create a false illusion that the world of business is far more equitable than it really is. It hides the real scope of the problem. We can’t solve problems we don't see or understand clearly.
  • It not only opens our brands up to be called out on social channels, but the very nature of performative allyship further undermines the trust of already sceptical consumers - 58% of adults don’t trust a brand until they have seen ‘real world proof’ that it has kept its promises.
  • It drowns out the brands actually making a difference – performative allyship and femvertising adds to the noise around a movement that relies on grassroots organisers who cannot compete with the reach or budget of larger brands. 

My advice for all brands? Centre the strategy and story around the marginalised communities the movement is meant to uplift. Seek ways to leverage your platform and privilege to address the real demands the movement is asking for. Ask yourself - if we are to be part of the solution, how have we been part of the problem (e.g. equal pay, policies internally that don't support working families, bias and other workplace matters that all brands can improve upon.) 

Sue Mizera, co-founder, TorchFish

Let’s face it, we’ve come a long way. Not that long ago, '90s and early noughties, the B2B Marcomms role was classically filled by department assistants, usually women, who were promoted to do events ("party planning") and ads ("pretty pictures.") The trajectory in sophistication, skill requirements and business contributions from those days that the role now requires - advances in branding, the ramp up of content and social marketing, the totally new demands of ABM and CRM - is nothing short of breathtaking. You do now (as you did not then) want to come out of a prominent business school with a shiny MBA and go straight into B2B marketing. Still, we can pose the difficult question: Have women’s roles in B2B - in terms of advances, expansions, and authority - kept track with the expansion of the role itself? In the absence of research, this question is difficult to parse; responses doubtless cover a range of personal experiences, positive and not so, which is fair. 

One interesting, if unofficial insight into this question, however, is provided by company websites. A quick look at the B2B management teams, featured on virtually every company’s site, shows that if there are women around the table, they are usually still in the CMO (and HR, another story) chairs. This is, of course, true for much of the corporate world, not just B2B, and so raises the larger issue of women’s progress in business, and glass ceilings, in general. B2B is hardly unique in this context. But one thing that's well-documented in B2B: We know how ephemeral is tenure in the B2B CMO's chair, with changes coming roughly every two years. Is this phenomenon, perhaps, related to gender, either as cause or effect? Just a provocative thought exercise, but instructive to ponder on the occasion IWD provides us.

When it comes to making advancements towards the future, how can IWD provide us focus and inspiration? My personal approach has always been a combination of  “push" and “pull". Knowledge is power. The issue of advancement and promotion is inseparable from human nature, from (corporate) politics, from the culture that is all around us, from the predispositions, conscious and not, that drive us all. It is prudent, correct, instructive, important, and even fun, marketer, to develop your personal network of colleagues, customers, sponsors, mentors, trainees, allies. From the ground up, day in and out, help them build with you towards true gender equality in discussions and daily demonstrations of authentic, professional, workplace best practices. If knowledge is power, network is strength in lifelines and community, You might be surprised how far they both can take you - and your company! Onwards and upwards.

Abhi Morjaria, senior global marketing manager, Ingram Micro Cloud

I’ve supported IWD for years. But of course, like other days of recognition for causes or issues, one day alone can’t change anything. That’s why my opinions on gender equity and equality are frequently shared (through my articles and posts). The moment we become silent or ignorant is the moment progress stops. There isn’t enough allyship in the world. Or people say they’re an ally, yet when confronted to be an active ally, may shy away. If you're an observer, I challenge you to stand up and become an ally. If you're an ally. I challenge you to prove yourself as an active ally. And if you're an active ally, don't ever stop. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

Paige O’Neill, CMO, Sitecore

I’ve been a CMO for over 15 years, but I’ve largely been one of a few women in the c-suite. #BreakTheBias hits the mark. Women make 49% of the UK’s workforce, but hold less than 19% of roles in the technology industry. This has to change. 

That’s why it’s so important that we all, not just women, break the bias by recognising the value that diverse voices bring to business and continue to build a future workplace where everyone is valued - equally. 

Many female executives fight bias throughout their careers, whether consciously or not. Having role models we can identify with is key to challenging this. That’s why I continue to speak up about my leadership journey – to affirm to young women that they can, and will, rise to the top.

Confidence is something a lot of people, especially women, struggle with – for me it starts with self-belief. We may all fall prey to imposter syndrome from time to time, but remember you’re in your role because you have the skills and experience your company needs. Own it and big things can happen.

Maria Winn, CMO, Mitie

#BreakTheBias invites us to explore the more subtle and nuanced reasons why there’s still much to do for women to consistently experience a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

Nowadays diversity and inclusion is embedded in many organisations’ policies and procedures whether that be company culture, hiring processes, GTM strategies and brand identity. McKinsey’s annual ‘Women in the Workplace’ report highlights important gains. But women are still underrepresented in many areas.

If organisations are tackling the structural issues to forge a gender equal world, then bias, and specifically unconscious bias, are barriers that need to be more deeply understood. #BreakTheBias shines a light on the associations outside of conscious awareness or control that affect judgements and decisions. Those things that mean we unconsciously gravitate towards people ‘like us’  - whether that be based on appearance, beliefs or background. 

Unconscious bias has received a bad rap in recent years with some organisations scrapping unconscious bias training as it was perceived as little more than a tick-box exercise delivering limited meaningful change. Whatever your feeling is on unconscious bias training, undoubtedly creating awareness of bias, how it impacts decisions and creating the environment when gendered actions and assumptions are called out is important.

Many marketing teams I encounter are more gender representative compared to other functions across the organisation. Our work does seem to attract people with progressive mindsets and inclusive behaviours. So, from that vantage point we have an important role to play to challenge bias where we find it, to make sure our campaigns genuinely show fair representation and to continue to champion gender equality on behalf of all people.

For more information on IWD, check out their homepage here.

At B2B Marketing, we know we’re not perfect, and we need to keep these things in mind as much as anyone else. If you have any ideas for content to keep this discussion at the fore of our industry, please feel free to drop us a line at: editorial@b2bmarketing.net

For more information on diversity and inclusion within B2B marketing, feel free to check out Propolis

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