Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

How women are acing the marketing function

Published in Nov-Dec 2017
Women in the region are making all the right moves, writes Anthony J. Permal.

I have been in marketing for about 15 years, and in that time, I have had the opportunity and privilege of being managed by some incredible marketing heads and managers across three continents. One thing that struck me recently was the fact that the best marketers I have worked with were women. This is not to say I didn’t work with great marketing men; however, somehow it just happened to be the women marketers whom I saw as the people I aspired to learn from.

In a world where women still have to break glass ceilings and ask for equal treatment and remuneration, such things make us sit up and take notice. What is it about the nature of business that even in 2017, women in marketing (and especially in senior positions) are the exception rather than the norm?

I would like to share my thoughts about women in marketing, based on my experience of working with, and for them, in the hope that this may help add to the language of change in the world of marketing.

Education

Every time I run a training workshop or master class on digital marketing, copywriting or marketing strategy, the overwhelming majority of the attendees are women. Yet, when I look at the marketing departments of most companies in the Middle East and Pakistan, most functions are primarily occupied by men. Is it something in the water? Are the hiring practices skewed? Maybe my examples are anecdotal, yet when we think of advertising, we think Mad Men and when we think of secretaries and assistants, we think women.


Do a quick search on LinkedIn for ‘head of marketing’ and choose Pakistan as the location. You will see one woman for every 10 men, but you will also see 100 women for every 1,000 men, which means that women are there in large numbers, but are drowned out by the sheer number of men.


The aspirations of women in this region are those associated with traditional women’s roles which the developed world has made strong attempts to leave behind. In most developed countries, women CEOs or women working in senior armed forces positions or as heads of marketing and so on, is taken for granted. Yet in Pakistan, they are used as examples of the exception. We have all seen social media posts about the ‘incredible Pakistani woman becoming the first XYZ’. Without taking away from the achievements of these women, they are not alone. We are surrounded by other such women, but we are so blind to them that we celebrate them only when we finally ‘realise’ they are there.

Industry stereotyping

Consider the fact that most, if not all, marketing conferences and events seem to favour mostly male speakers, despite the fact that women hold senior marketing positions in these countries (and come from all strata of society). Do a quick search on LinkedIn for ‘head of marketing’ and choose Pakistan as the location. You will see one woman for every 10 men, but you will also see 100 women for every 1,000 men, which means that women are there in large numbers, but are drowned out by the sheer number of men. Yet, despite being in positions of leadership, they are overlooked as thought leaders and speakers.

Courage

Women are taking control of the spaces they are rightfully an equal part of, and nowhere do I see this more than in marketing. Across the region, I have had the privilege of seeing women taking control of the digital marketing industry and powering it forward. Women such as Kalsoom Lakhani, Samra Muslim, Aniqa Sandhu, Nageen Rizvi, Danielle Sharaf and Sadaf Zarrar in Pakistan and Meredith Carson, Johanna Issako, Alexandra Maia and many more in the GCC. These examples shine so brightly, they shatter the darkness of convention and tradition. They are among the women who have taken the marketing industry by the collar, pulled up their bootstraps and forged new paths to success. Lots of clichés in this paragraph, and every one of them true.

Hiring practices

I receive thousands of CVs every year for positions in marketing and on average, 20% are from women. The overwhelming 80% that I receive from men are (anecdotally of course) made up of half having experience in marketing, and the other half having none at all. One hundred of the women who apply are marketers. I am not saying this happens everywhere, only that it happens a lot of the time with me especially since 2003, and that I have grown used to expecting that I will hire a woman because of the quality of the candidates coming my way.

Why does this happen? Is it because women try harder when they apply for a job? In one case, after sifting through hundreds of CVs, we shortlisted 13 candidates – eight men and five women. Of the 13, the women all stood out by the quality of their CV and the eloquence of their answers. They had done their homework and didn’t come expecting to ace the interview. One of them, who had considerably less experience than the rest, had gone the extra mile and presented a paper in which she summarised what she hoped to accomplish during her first 90 days. I was floored.


Women marketers, especially the younger ones who have just started out in their careers, need support. Not the pandering kind, but in terms of mentoring and belief. They have the will, resilience, creativity, passion, motivation and commitment. What they need is an opportunity.


A young marketing executive with barely three years’ experience outshined her peers. She got the job and she is still working for the company.

To summarise, women marketers, especially the younger ones who have just started out in their careers, need support. Not the pandering kind, but in terms of mentoring and belief. They have the will, resilience, creativity, passion, motivation and commitment. What they need is an opportunity.

By no means am I suggesting that anyone should choose a woman over a man. Choose the best candidate on merit. At the same time, be aware of your role in equalising society. Hiring managers are the ones who decide not only for the team and the company, they decide for generations to come. So the next time you receive the CV of a woman marketer, imagine where she could be, not where she is.


Anthony J. Permal is a marketing specialist based in Dubai. @anthonypermal or @marketingdude