Is Gender Parity Within Our Reach? - She Runs It
Thought Leadership

Is Gender Parity Within Our Reach?

By Lynn Branigan


Where has she gone?

That high potential, high performing woman who entered the marketing and media industry fresh out of college (or early in her career), then painstakingly climbed through the ranks of her agency or company to achieve a management role …. only to disappear just when the top job was within reach?

She is NOT in the C-suite, which should arguably be her most likely location. And as organizations like 3% remind us, she’s not leading the creative department inside her agency. So where?

There are, of course, theories about “her” whereabouts. One of the most persistent is that she is ‘opting out’ of her career track in favor of families and children. Certainly there are examples of women who make that very important choice, but it really doesn’t account for the vast number of women who leave later in their careers when the C-suite role is just within reach.

There is the old Kevin Roberts’ theory: that women leave because they “don’t want to manage a piece of business and people … they want to keep doing the work.” But that theory was so aggressively debunked the man is no longer working in our industry.

Then there is the theory that women are under-valued and misunderstood (or mistreated) by a male dominated leadership structure. For many women, this is far more than theory. But how can this condition prevail when women control 85% of all consumer purchase decisions and with so many determined champions (3%, Girls Lounge, Makers, She Runs It), working to propel and protect the women (and men) who share our mission to see as many women leaders as men in our industry.

We tried to find her.

In 2016, She Runs It partnered with EY and LinkedIn to analyze the career trajectories of nearly 4 million people across 4,000 companies to understand what happens to the women who work in our industry. The study, Accelerating the Path to Leadership for Women in Marketing and Media, revealed that while 41% of the people at early stages of their careers in media and marketing industry are women, that number drops dramatically – down to only 25% –when  calculating those who hold executive leadership roles.

Two particularly alarming data points were surfaced:

  • Women leave or are stalled at their posts, in droves, just prior to gaining access to the C-suite. Plotted on a graph, the drop off is the proverbial hockey stick.
  • This exodus is consistent across all sub sectors of the industry – publishing, pure-play digital, broadcast and cable networks, ad tech companies, creative and media agencies, public relations and advertisers – but it’s most dramatic inside media and creative agencies.

However, there is also evidence that the tide can be turned. Women can take constructive steps to fortify their trajectories, and many industry leaders are also taking action through persuasion, policy and practice to right the balance.

On an individual level, women can devote more time to building a personal brand, at every stage of their careers. Our study indicated that women do not prioritize their personal brands as much as men do, nor do they create as many personal connections inside and outside of the companies they work for. These gaps are relatively easy to close by women who devote time and energy to create a stronger social presence and engage in meaningful networking opportunities.

Women can also increase their sponsorship of other women. Our study showed that 70 to 78 percent of all professional endorsements made in our industry on LinkedIn are provided by men, who endorse both women and men. If woman start to rally around one another, we could see a rapid fix.

There is also a skills gap that women can traverse. According to our study, women in the “messy middle” have a 25% gap in possessing four of the key skills possessed by leaders, including HR, Strategy, Finance and Business Consulting. Women can seek out opportunities to develop these skills, and companies should develop paths and programs to give women an equal measure of experience and training.

She Runs It is designing its programming to address these disparities through mentorship, professional development, networking and thought leadership opportunities. In our effort to achieve gender parity in our industry, we are joined by several champions who are actively working to make a difference:

  • Michael Roth, the Chairman and CEO of Interpublic Group and a She Runs It Foundation board member, who puts diversity goals in the performance plans of his senior leaders and reward positive impact financially.
  • Antonio Lucio, the chief marketing officer of HP Inc., who sent a letter to his advertising and public relations agencies giving them 12 months to create a plan to diversify their ranks.
  • Marisa Thalberg, CMO of Taco Bell and our 2017 She Runs It Woman of the Year, who is a tireless mentor and advocate for propelling more women into CMO roles. In fact, in 2017 She Runs It recognized 18 Changing The Game honorees, eight Impact Award recipients and 26 Working Mothers of the Year in large part for their trailblazing work to pave the way for women to excel across the marketing ecosystem
  • USAA Chief Marketing Officer Roger Adams, who made diversity a selection requirement in its 2016 RFP, and Publicis Groupe leaders who won the business in part by pledging to hire 30% of new staffers from diverse communities and backgrounds.
  • Fearless women leaders, including Kat Gordon, Wendy Clark, Cindy Gallop and others, whose voices are reaching a crescendo, changing the industry dialogue on gender parity.

There are encouraging indicators that the tide can be turned. But there can be no pause in our efforts. We applaud the leaders who share our commitment to diversity and parity, and we will continue to confront those who don’t. We will keep digging and learning until we isolate all of the barriers to equality, then we will tear them down. We will keep pushing the agenda, and keep the spotlight shining hotly on the problem. We won’t turn down the volume until we see greater diversity at all levels of leadership, including the C-suite. It’s time.