Last week, myself and 14 other female marketing leaders across the globe met in NYC for Direct Marketing News’ 3rd annual Marketing Hall of Femme conference. It was an extraordinary honor to be among such influential women who come from such a wide variety of backgrounds. The common denominator among us? We are the senior-most leaders in marketing at our organizations… and we are women. It was such a pleasure getting to meet and interact with these amazing women, but DMN organized sessions and keynotes that really brought the event full circle.
Here are some of the topics that were discussed in the sessions/keynotes/among the hall of femmes:
Being a female leader
It’s not easy to lead. In fact, most leadership skills are innate, and know no gender. But just because someone possesses leadership skills, doesn’t mean it’s easy to put them to use. Women often receive feedback of being ‘bossy’ or ‘pushy’ when employing leadership skills, whereas men are deemed ‘leaders’ or ‘ambitious’. This issue was tackled in a session lead by Michelle Bottomley, CMO of Mercer, and Romy Newman, cofounder of Fairygodboss. The takeaway here for me was it’s only about gender if you make it about gender – be the best you, the best leader and the best collaborator and forget about the politics. In another session called “Prove it”, Leilani Brown, CMO of Starr Companies and Linda Vetter, VP of Marketing at Lifecycle Marketing, discussed proving the value of our marketing efforts. I feel comfortable saying that Marketing is the department the receives the most attention – good and (mostly) bad. Brown said that “…marketing gets its unfair share of attention. I’ll bet no one in your companies ever has an opinion about the servers, but everyone has an opinion about marketing.” The problem here for leading female marketers is that it puts us in a position to constantly prove our value and constantly stand up to justify our spends and activities. Brown talked about the challenge of marketing taking the blame for losing a big account as well as the challenge of sales getting the credit when winning a big account. The answer is to speak your mind no matter how uncomfortable or intimidating. Women in the minority in the boardroom need to walk, talk, and act like they are supposed to be there. Own it. And if it doesn’t feel like you’re supposed to be there, then fake it.
Building the Team
Being in a leadership position means managing a team, but the reality is that some employees will excel and some just won’t – in fact some may bring the team down and some may lift it up. There are many moving pieces to being a manager, but as a group and in the sessions, we discussed this issue at length (probably because managing is actually harder than being a leader, a marketer, or a woman). Alicia Tillman, the CMO of SAP Ariba, offered a creative piece of hiring advice that seemed to resonate with everyone: never hire someone that you haven’t interviewed outside of the office; make them feel more comfortable, get them in an environment where they can be more of themselves. Another piece of advice circulated by several of us, including myself, is that hiring is difficult and time consuming – turn to recruiters that specialize in the specific role you are looking for. And what about employees that aren’t working out? Advice passed around the room was, take action sooner rather than later. Some even said to take action the moment you have ‘the feeling’.
I’ve always known that collaboration is key – my greatest accomplishments have all come as a result of working closely with not only my team, but other departments. But at the Hall of Femme event last week, I was introduced to a new idea: collaborate with other female leaders outside of your organization. Why would I collaborate with leaders outside of my company? Well, Shelly Zalis, founder of The Girls’ Lounge, said that being alone in circumstances that are dominated by men can change the way you perceive yourself; you may find that you are less confident. She described a time where she went to one of the biggest tradeshows, CES, all by herself, outside of her tight network. Zalis paints a picture of a massive tradeshow floor in Las Vegas crowded with almost all men, and tells the Hall of Femme Audience that the experience made her lose herself a bit. She called a few lady friends to join her – a few came on the first day, 50 on the next, and by day 3 she had a posse of 150 leading ladies marching the floor of the conference. Zalis says “Two things happened…one, all of the guys were like, what the f–k? And the second was this feeling that we had this power of the pack and could accomplish anything.” That is why it’s important to collaborate with women outside of your org. We can share ideas, share tips, advice, but most importantly we can support each other. We are all facing the same problems and trying to solve them…independently! Let’s solve the world’s problems TOGETHER.
Promotions and Culture
When women walk into their manager’s office to ask for the raise/promotion that they know they deserve, they’re being ungrateful, pushy, over the top. So the response is to sit back and wait until the promotion is rewarded to you. That seems silly – we can’t ask for something that we deserve (while men are encouraged to) so in turn we have to sit around and wait for someone else to recognize our value? And to add insult to injury, we still get paid less than men. So what’s the right answer? It’s not an easy one and it all depends on the specific situation and circumstances of each person, but what I took away from this event is that if you can walk into your boss’s office with data-backed justification for why you deserve a promotion and get negative feedback – then you might want to reconsider where you are working and for whom you are working. If an organization doesn’t have a culture that supports women stepping up and proving their value and requesting more compensation or a bigger title, then that’s an organization I don’t want to be a part of. Your boss may have good reason to not give you a raise, and that’s fair, but with no good reason from your boss, there’s probably no good reason to stay. So many women find themselves in this position and unfortunately so many women walk back to their offices defeated and just keep going. That exacerbates the problem. A good company will have a culture that supports women and men equally and that doesn’t make gender an issue.
That’s all I’ve got on my expansive report on the Direct Marketing News’ Marketing Hall of Femme event, hope you all find these points as empowering and inspiring as I do. And feel free to comment, I’d love to hear what thoughts you may have!