“You must be the marketing girls,” said the big guy wearing a polo adorned with his contracting company’s logo. He was speaking in reference to myself, the CEO and Co-Founder of Simpatico Studios, a full service advertising agency, and my female employee.
On that balmy May evening, my team and I were putting the finishing details in place for our client’s big event: a card exchange featuring the reveal of their agency’s rebrand, sponsored by our local Chamber of Commerce. The attendees were arriving—local business owners, friends and networking partners from the community—and my employee and I were testing the A/V connections when this man from the contracting company turned to us and said:
“You must be the marketing girls.”
I’d like to say I don’t know what possessed him to interrupt our work to call us that, but the truth of the matter is, he was simply verbalizing the sentiment that runs rampant in our industry, and one that he was trained to accept without a second thought. Though the sentence seems innocent enough without context, the trope of the Marketing Girls is one that has long followed hard-working women in the world of advertising.
Much like a ball follows the ankle it is shackled to, the concept of the Marketing Girl is both inescapable and detrimental for women in the marketing industry. A Marketing Girl is a woman with a lower level to middle management role in the advertising industry who executes projects and produces deliverables—and receives little to none of the recognition or accolades she deserves for that work. The Marketing Girl is rarely promoted to higher than middle management, and no matter how much she contributes to the execution of a project, her work is often perceived as supplemental or simply supportive of the ‘real’ work (i.e. the idea and concept).
With the strides women are making, in the wake of everything Mad Men has brought to light about the historical context of women in marketing, one might wonder how the Marketing Girl can continue to stifle the careers of bright women in advertising in this day and age.
The field of marketing and advertising has undergone a series of evolutions in the last 15 years, moving from a set of strictly-defined functional areas to an interconnected, integrated and multidisciplinary web of tactics for building brands and influencing consumers. But for all the advances in technology, connectedness and even roles within the field, one thing has conspicuously stayed the same:
Women are desperately missing from the highest ranks in agencies and creative studios.
Let’s talk stats.
10 years ago, 51.3% of all marketing roles were held by women.
Of those women, only 13.5% held high-level roles such as chair, CEO or managing director.
Of the rest of the women, a meager 27.3% held other executive management positions.
Women’s earnings were 67.7% of men’s earnings for the same roles (Brandweek Survey, 2009).
Now, let’s fast forward to today.
As of December, 2017: 53% of all marketing roles were held by women.
30% of all women held leadership roles (less than a 3% increase), but still only 18% had titles including chair, CEO or Managing Director.
Even worse, less than 3% of all creative leaders—particularly Creative Directors—are women (Boston Globe, 2017).
No matter what your gender is, statistics like that should infuriate you. I am 15 years deep in marketing (my sole career), and I can confidently say I’ve encountered as many brilliant women as I have men. But more often than not, the people I find myself liaising with across the board room tables, the conference room lines and the finance offices are men. Those brilliant female minds rarely, if ever, have the title CEO, Creative Director or Partner—but I see those minds at work in nearly all of the Marketing Directors that I work with and for.
Are we to believe, then, that the reason for the lack of women in positions of power is that men become smarter and more promotable as they get more experience, and women don’t? Are we to believe that women who choose to start a family lapse so drastically in their skills that companies just can’t possibly even take the risk of moving them into a senior role? Are we to believe that 70% of all experienced women marketers just simply do not possess the qualities of leaders?
As a young lady from Florida, who is forging her own path in a male-dominated industry, eloquently put it: I call bullshit.
And yet—though I’d like to say that being a female CEO has allowed me to escape the inequality so many of my colleagues still struggle with, the Marketing Girl label continues to find me. I still find myself thinking carefully about every word I say and how I say it when in meetings with certain male clients. There are certain situations where it takes strategy to know when to push and demand respect based on my merit and experience, and when to have my partner/husband repeat what I just said to gain consensus.
I can’t imagine how much talent and leadership, how many ideas and innovations, we are missing out on from brilliant women in the field who are seen and not heard. But, as with the gentleman from the card exchange, I have found that the sexism and disparity arises mostly from a place of conditioning and ignorance, and less so from a place of malice or ill-intent.
So I’d like to put conditioning and bad traditions aside, and set the record straight for the hard-working women of advertising: no, we are not the Marketing Girls.
We are branding experts, social media mavens, event managers, public relations rock stars, data analysts, programmers, digital marketers, copywriters, media buyers and graphic designers. We are educated degree-holders. And yes—we are Creative Directors, Partners, CMOs, CEOs and Owners.
We are marketers: professionals dedicated to growing businesses, building brands and leading teams to create and innovate, push the envelope, draw new boundaries and think like there isn’t a box (or a ceiling) that ever even existed.
And we intend to do just that.
By Jill Whiskeyman, CEO and Co-founder of Simpatico Studios