International Women's Day

6 March 2024

We are celebrating International Women’s Day by reflecting on some key questions about the Insights, Strategy and Marketing world that we find ourselves in as an agency.

We asked a handful of our powerhouse female clients to reflect on experiences of being a woman in our industry today; where we are winning in terms of progress, challenges to overcome and their biggest learnings. 

Purposefully provocative we wanted to share their perspectives, experiences and hopes for the future as we continue to move towards equality. Themes that are consistent across all the women we have heard from are:

Diversity only makes our work, our teams and our industry stronger

Inclusivity and open conversations about how we can work more collaboratively and be inclusive of all opinions makes our daily lives better. By addressing greater diversity especially at decision making level, we will move forward and keep women’s views, experiences and needs at the heart of brands and business strategy. 

Women don’t always speak up from themselves or celebrate their successes as much as we should

We often achieve and create brilliant opportunities but do not share these as strongly or confidently as we must. There is so much we tend to balance, and the mental load is real. Part of addressing this is creating a cultural movement so that women have a voice that is heard in the workplace and a voice we can own. 

Being a woman in the workplace is not always easy regardless of age BUT we all want to continue making change for the better

Everyone has had an experience of being underestimated or disregarded over the course of their career. Some felt this acutely at the start of their professional career, others continue to feel this as they become more senior. We need to move past judgement on our appearance or perceived experience or ability as women want to be assessed on their merit. This conversation continues to be important and will pave the way for future women in business.

Empathic leadership can be just as powerful as authoritarian leadership 

We need to acknowledge that there are different forms of leadership that women bring that can not only benefit teams, but enable them to thrive and perform better. It is about creating space for different ways of working that reflect a more diverse working team that many global businesses and brands now have.

Sam Roberts, Marketing Manager at Electrolux. Sam has been part of the team for just over four years. Prior to that she has worked for construction businesses in UK and Australia, having started in industry from the age of 17. When reflecting on changes Sam has seen in the workplace from her perspective, there is greater openness to talking more openly. 

“From mental health discussions to women equality, it’s being discussed, and it has been amazing to see and experience this first-hand. Not everyone will have the same opinion as you and you’re not necessarily going to change someone’s opinion but there is a way to respectfully discuss and understand different views”. 

Having these conversations has had a positive impact on the workplace and dynamics within the team and women working in business at large. “The growth I have seen in women entering positions of power and female owned businesses thrive continues to encourage me. It’s amazing to see more flexibility enter the workplace, this has been one of the biggest changes I have seen”. The shift we have seen more recently with the adoption of more flexible working has created better work life balance which in turn plays a big factor when it comes to employee priorities. 

When it comes to articulating what makes women such an asset to working teams, Sam fortunately has several female colleagues and positive experiences to reflect on. “The level of support and success makes me so proud to be a woman and a member of the Marketing team. Watching these women excel in their careers whilst juggling all aspects of life and some being working mums, you have to admire it”. 

As an industry harnessing the power of listening to customers, sharpens the focus with addressing their needs when it comes to marketing. “Individual opinions, fresh ideas and open discussions are so important in marketing and as women we can bring unique viewpoints, different skillsets, new ideas and a core understanding for female audiences, which in turn strengthens marketing campaigns by appealing to a wider audience and being more inclusive”. 

One thing you would tell your younger self: Start the day knowing that I am going to be my full self and bring all I have to offer, while ensuring I treat people with respect along the way. That is all I can and need to do. Be kinder to yourself. Know that you will not get everything right, and that’s okay. Make mistakes, learn from them, and keep growing!

Lesa Ali, Research Manager at Bupa as well as business owner and entrepreneur with Ali Educational Consultancy. Lesa has worked in the insight industry for 13 years and is also part of the Executive Advisory Committee that provides strategic input and advice to the CEO and his Exec team on key decisions that affect the direction of the organisation – driving behavioural change and maintaining momentum. 

Encouragingly Lesa’s experiences are that we are seeing more females in leadership roles within insight, and if anything, it’s becoming a female heavy industry. In her mind it is all about keeping the balance right and “ensuring we are still striving to close gender pay gaps and other inequalities that still exist. We should embrace diversity in all its forms and consider intersectionality in this discourse”. 

Rather than seeing imposter syndrome as a bad thing, she’s chosen to flip it on its head as a positive. “We often speak about imposter syndrome and not feeling good enough which for me has turned into a relentless pursuit of knowledge and improvement. A person who pursues knowledge and growth is an asset to any industry”. 

There is more we can do to address current imbalances; the gender pay gap, seats at the top of organisations and working more collaboratively as women because, we aren’t always each other's allies. We need to support, elevate and cheerlead other women. 

One thing you would tell your younger self: Every part of your journey is for a reason and one day it will all make sense. 

Jane Dempsey is Head of Marketing at Ballance Agri-Nutrients. She has worked at many iconic New Zealand companies over the years including Fonterra and Lion, as well as Yoplait and M&S in the UK. Reflecting on some of the positive changes seen in industry, Jane notes a change in attitude around maintaining better work life balance. “Remote working is more accepted and has demonstrated that productivity continues even when team are not in the office (especially true over and since the COVID period)”. This flexibility enables parents, particularly women to juggle paid work and care tasks. In fact, multi-tasking is often a key strength that women bring to the team – something that does lead to efficient ways of working. There have also been significant and meaningful changes in parental leave (for both men and women), which is leading to greater parity with parental responsibilities. 

Diversity in thinking is also something Jane considers essential in marketing: “Women bring diversity of thought and leadership to the table. I do like the age old saying “If you want something done, give it to a busy woman” – because it talks to being outcome focused, and getting through a large to do list!".

We have come along way but there is more to be done to tackle the conscious and unconscious bias that can exist – shifting the perception of women being possibly seen as aggressive to assertive if they speak up in a meeting. Pay equity, parental leave and promotion to leadership positions in particular is where there is still more work to be done for fairer representation of women.  

One thing you would tell your younger self: Focus on your strengths and ‘back yourself’. Also, focus on doing a good job and earning respect.

Leann Smith is Head of Marketing at Burger King. In her 14 years at Burger King she has had many positions and roles throughout the company, meaning she has a real understanding for the market dynamics of QSR. 

She agrees that some of the changes brought about by COVID have been for good in the workplace as these had led to flexible working – “It has proved everyone can achieve as much, or sometimes more, than in the office”. This message is important to communicate as there are still challenges with salary and role parity when taking time out to have a family. Spells of maternity leave can delay career progression and in some cases in business, reduce earning power. That, and the mum guilt that can come with the juggle. 

She believes in marketing, a balance between commercial realties and placing yourself in the shoes of the customer is essential and the ability to do so are real strengths that women bring to the table. It’s also important to understand the business objective in hand and to go after this with laser focus: “For a woman in any position knowing and understanding who they are and what table they want to sit at, is important. Knowing what we are we good at and where we can make the business better, rather than trying to be involved with everything”. 

One thing you would tell your younger self: You can do it! I always subconsciously held back and I didn’t always back myself to take on bigger roles, especially leading/managing people and working in a creative arena. I know now that no one has it all worked out and there’s strength in  surrounding yourself with clever experts to lean on.

Lexi Brown is Head of Marketing Research – EMEA for Prime Video. She has worked at Amazon for two and a half years both in the UK and the Netherlands as well as having previous experiences with Adidas and Nike. 

She believes that representation of women in senior roles has grown significantly over the past decade of her working life, which has been an encouragement and inspiration as they have acted as positive role models. “You have to see change to believe it” is something that rings true for her at Amazon. At Prime Video, we participate in the Bright Sparks Mentorship Scheme with the Creative Mentor Network and offer many apprenticeships to support young and diverse talent into the Entertainment industry. “We can all agree we are on the right path but “the top layers still skew male and there is still a big diversity gap that initiatives need to address if we are to make progress”.  

In Lexi’s opinion, women often advocate for change and provide more coaching and mentoring within the workplace which often leads to a more inclusive and collaborative work culture. However, she maintains that her professional and personal experiences (rather than gender) have made the biggest difference. Making bold moves in our careers where you step outside of your comfort zone; move market, move roles, take up mentorship roles and board roles that expose you to different people, perspectives and work outside of my industry/expertise will only do you good – “I have passions outside of work that continuously give me new experiences and I bring this all back into the workplace to think differently about the way we do things”.

Challenges still remain in the workplace; gender pay gaps are all too common, and companies are not proactively right-sizing salaries when they see a disparity. “The return to office is paramount to building relationships and driving work forwards, but without the right policies in place it could put those who take on more of the parental care on the backfoot in their career, and too often I see workplaces look to minority groups to find a solve rather than coming together as a collective”. 

One thing you would tell your younger self: OK I cheated. Here are three things! (1) Being confident doesn’t mean knowing everything and always getting it right. (2) Make your own ‘circle’ by building a network of mentors and coaches. (3) Careers are non-linear and you should look to create opportunities based more on what you think you will learn rather than where it might take you. 

Tags: Insights, One Picture, International Women's Day