More research will help us break marketing's enduring glass ceiling

More research is needed within the marketing discipline to encourage women to further their careers in the industry, writes Caroline Gatrell.

Top marketing jobs are three times more likely to be held by a man
Top marketing jobs are three times more likely to be held by a man

Many more women enter the marketing profession now than in the past. It would be easy to imagine that, in 2015, the glass ceiling has melted away, with women just as likely as men to reach the top. Yet among the most senior roles, male executives continue to outnumber women by a long way.

It can be difficult for women in junior roles to imagine themselves as senior executives if there are hardly any women in director level roles

The only way is up...or is it?

Top marketing jobs are more than three times more likely to be held by a man than a woman, and women in marketing continue to earn less than men. The more senior a woman becomes in the profession, the wider the gender pay gap between herself and an equivalent man will be. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) calculates that over a lifetime’s career, women executives earn about £400,000 less than their male counterparts.

It seems, then, that the glass ceiling remains firmly in place.

Reasons for women’s lack of career progress in marketing vary. According to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the marketing industry itself shares responsibility for an inability to take seriously women in business and marketing. Sandberg has criticised campaigns that emphasise women as ‘domestic goddesses’ (whether in the home or in a business suit).

She argues that we need to change the stereotypes of women as consumers of household and beauty products while men earn income, and calls for marketing campaigns and campaigners to present businesswomen as intelligent, decisive and an equal part of the workforce.

Breaking the mold

More women at the top of the marketing profession would go a long way to help change these stereotypes (and might also enhance sales among women who respond to ‘down-to-earth’ and everyday female role models, such as those presented in campaigns for the Dove skincare range).

Confidence about the future for women in marketing also offers potential to narrow the gender pay gap

In addition, the more women who make it to the top of the marketing tree, the more exemplars become available for women early in their careers. It can be difficult for women in junior roles to imagine themselves as senior executives if there are hardly any women in director level roles. However, if early career women in the marketing industry can envision a future for themselves as successful marketers, this will give them confidence to advance their careers (and more female executives means greater capacity for mentoring up-coming female colleagues).

Confidence about the future for women in marketing also offers potential to narrow the gender pay gap, as women develop skills in negotiating better terms and conditions.

The importance of promoting women and retaining female talent within the profession is reflected within present campaigns by the CIM to encourage better integration and promotion of women in the profession. The body provides a forum for senior female marketers to speak out about what matters to them – such as family-friendly working, equality of pay and the need to develop confidence among women marketing professionals to celebrate success. The CIM annual Women in Marketing awards are already raising the profile of women in senior roles.

Perhaps more research is needed in the discipline to develop new and creative ways to encourage women to drive forward their marketing careers, so we see equal numbers of women and men (and equal pay) at the top of the profession in future.



Caroline Gatrell is professor of management studies at Lancaster University Management School

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).

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