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IWD 2024: Navigating the gendered landscape of marketing
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

“Aren’t you a clever girl, doing more than making the tea?”

International Women's Day provides us with a poignant moment to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that persist for women across various professional realms. In the dynamic and often demanding field of marketing, it’s hard enough as it is without fighting a potentially invisible gender bias. 

While my current employer champions fairness and equality, my reflections on over two decades in marketing provoke deeper introspection into the broader landscape of gender dynamics. From subtle biases to blatant discrimination, the journey of women in marketing has been marked by resilience and determination in the face of adversity.

This article stems from a discussion with one of our seasoned marketing suppliers; she and I each have a wealth of experience, and we had a particularly candid conversation. Our discussion delved into the nuanced struggle of getting business owners to understand marketing and the disheartening reality that our gender may have, at times, impacted how our ideas have been received.

As we shared our stories, it became evident that our journeys have been marked not only by the intricacies of marketing strategies but also by the deeply entrenched biases we faced as women in positions of influence.

I recounted an unsettling experience several years ago in previous employment, with a superior who, upon witnessing my marketing acumen, remarked, "Aren't you a clever girl, doing more than making the tea?" The implication of this statement is not merely an isolated incident but a reflection of the stereotypical assumptions that still persist in the workplace. It highlights the need for a cultural shift that recognises and appreciates the skills and contributions of women beyond traditional gender roles. Moreover, conversations with an HR manager who expressed hesitance to promote women in their 20s due to potential family plans highlight systemic challenges women face in the workplace. Such biases not only limit opportunities for talented women but perpetuate environments where gender becomes a hindrance rather than an asset.

I also left a role, because, whilst waiting at the printing machine, I saw the contract of a male colleague emerging. He was on the same grade as me, but as the page containing the salary came into view, it transpired he was being paid nearly twice as much. When I challenged this with the boss, I was told, ‘He’s older than you,’ which added age discrimination to the bag. 

My marketing supplier shared a chilling encounter where a boss, in a moment of apparent candour, uttered, "If you were my daughter, I would tell you there's no way you will rise any higher in this organisation because you are the wrong gender." This revelation speaks volumes about the persistence of gender-based barriers, even in the 21st century. Such discriminatory attitudes not only undermine the potential of talented women but perpetuate an environment where gender becomes a hindrance rather than an asset. Needless to say, within two months of that conversation, she had started her own business which continues to thrive.  

The overarching question raised in our conversation was whether the resistance to marketing ideas stemmed from a difficulty in understanding the concepts or if it was, in fact, a manifestation of gender bias. The answer, as we concluded, lies in the complex interplay of these factors. While marketing strategies can be intricate and require a nuanced understanding, the additional layer of gender bias compounds the challenges for women attempting to assert themselves in the professional sphere.

On this International Women's Day, it is imperative to recognise the need for continued advocacy and systemic change. We must challenge outdated attitudes that limit the potential of women in marketing and other fields. The experiences we shared underscore the importance of fostering inclusive environments where ideas are valued based on their merit, irrespective of the gender of the person presenting them. It is not just a day of reflection but a call to action - a call to ensure that every woman, regardless of her field, can navigate her professional journey without the weight of gender bias dragging her down. The time for change is now, and it begins with conversations like these - unveiling the realities, challenging the status quo, and paving the way for a more equitable future.

In the landscape of marketing - a realm pulsating with creativity and strategic prowess - women carve their paths, confronting challenges with resilience and vision. Having witnessed significant improvements over the years in addressing the gender gap, I stand as a testament to the progress made and the potential for further empowerment in the marketing industry.

So, to all the aspiring women marketers out there, remember: your voice matters, your ideas are valuable, and your potential is limitless. Embrace the journey, defy expectations, and together, let us shape a future where gender is no longer a barrier but a catalyst for innovation and progress.