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Why this is a great time for women in marketing

While the number of women in senior business roles has remained fairly stable over the past three years across our economy, in marcomms we’ve seen growth.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) 2014 Agency Census gives an indication of the direction we’re travelling in as an industry. The UK marketing profession marginally outscored the wider economy in terms of gender equality development last year; with an overall male/female split of 50:50. Over a quarter of top jobs in marketing were occupied by women in 2014, up from 22.2% the previous year.

In digital terms, women are taking on more roles. Their representation in digital creative roles doubled from 15% to 27% between 2013 and 2014, while the number of women in digital programming and web design has grown from 10% to 17%.

This, of course, is not the full story. But as the majority of commentators this week will focus on how far there is left to go before we can think about congratulating ourselves, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the work that’s already been done and the opportunities that is creating.

At Bray Leino, half of our Group Leadership Board are women, and in our client services team division, women in senior positions outnumber men by roughly 2:1. We can offer independent roles in a creative, fast-paced environment where it’s possible for talented people with the right attitude to make an immediate impact.

In marketing, where our people are our product, holding on to talent means that flexible working for returning mothers is a massive issue for our industry. A fifth of our senior female employees take advantage of flexible options like job-sharing or flexitime hours. This has seen us curb the attritional loss of talented women who no longer have to make such a stark choice between family and job.

When it comes to leadership, the focus has shifted in recent years away from the traditional assertive characteristics you’d expect in the boardroom, to traits like empathy, collaboration and emotional intelligence. This is especially true in marketing.

Late last year research from talent management firm Hudson UK indicated that young women were perhaps the best-placed to capitalise on this trend. The research identified a number of personality traits increasingly prominent in generation Y women, born between the early 1980s and early 2000s.

For instance, gen Y women scored the most highly for traits like being ‘socially confident’, ‘helpful’, ‘organised’ and ‘meticulous’. In fact, in comparison to older ‘baby boomer’ males, gen Y females scored 16% higher on people skills, 22% higher on social confidence, 22% higher on altruism, 16% higher on optimism and 21% higher on ambition.

These characteristics correlate with many of the new leadership qualities we see coming to prominence as part of the changing attitudes in the boardroom.

The shift has been more pronounced in fast-moving disciplines like marketing. But in more traditional industries that tend towards hierarchical structures, like the military, where it can take upwards of 25 years to create an admiral, the trend will inevitably be borne out more slowly. The case for diversity at board level, however, has been repeatedly backed up by research from various sources around the world.

Kate Cox is CEO of Bray Leino, the number one agency in B2B Marketing’s current Agency Benchmarking Report, and presides over 50/50 male, female board. She says businesses that promote gender equality and actively support and nurture their rising female stars are more likely to thrive in the modern world.

“Those that don’t will be left behind,” she says. “Smart young women who apply themselves should achieve a well-deserved place at the top table, and the businesses they operate in will be better for them being there. My message to them is to be brilliant, be confident and brave, and use your great innate female qualities of collaboration and empathy in abundance.”