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Women & Marketing: Rising above middle management

Posted by Jill Schmieg

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” ― Sheryl Sandberg

Why aren't more women in marketing (or other business functions, for that matter) breaking out of middle management and making it to senior executive levels?  

I've long been a fan of Sheryl Sandberg and her ground-breaking book "LeanIn," sharing it regularly with my network of other women and marketing professionals.  But despite LeanIn and decades of research and movements around women breaking through the glass ceiling, I am dismayed that the numbers remain stagnant year after year.    

In fact, I observe the trend firsthand in most of the clients I work with.  They have very capable, smart women at the helm in middle management; great executors working hard every day, delivering exceptional results and managing dynamic, high-performing teams.  But, they just keep staying in their roles or safely tucked away within their same function.  I've speculated that perhaps it's because climbing further up requires sacrifices to their existing relationships, personal time, family lives and so on, that they aren't able to make.  Or because they haven't yet mastered the politics that are (unfortunately) often required to pave the way for the next promotion.  Or, even because their organizations see them as so valuable in their current roles that they hesitate to elevate them away from what they're so good at.   

Today, I learned that it may be for a reason very different from any of those things.  The reason is this:  Women have been traditionally coached and given advice on how to leverage their own greatness, and engage others in their organizations to bring out their greatness.  But, they haven't been advised in the importance of relating their extraordinary work outcomes to the business, strategy or financial goals the company has.  Really?  Could it be that easy?  When I watched this TEDtalk video on YouTube, I thought that perhaps in women's quest to master all of the intangibles – networking, team-building, relationships, empathy, leadership and so on – they've overlooked the tangible aspect of tying business strategy and financial goals to their team's work.  

For women in marketing roles, often well-versed in areas like developing marketing plans, strategic messaging to target audiences, and segmentation, strategy probably isn't the missing piece.  But perhaps developing a deep understanding of the nature of the business could be missing.  How enlightening would it be to really get your hands dirty in your business?  Consider working the cash register at a retail location for your company, or packing a box in the warehouse. If those are the basics of your business, it can't hurt to get to know them better.  In fact, your ability to understand the inner workings of the business may be the very differentiator that gets you the next promotion.

Finally, let's talk about the financial aspect for a moment.  I once worked for a CMO who didn't want to publish a marketing scorecard for fear of having to achieve the measurements contained in it.  The CMO was female.  When I posed the same idea to the CSO, he was all over it.  In fact, he couldn't wait to see how marketing was making a positive contribution to the sales pipeline – and as regularly as possible.  Amazing, isn't it?   I happen to be of the belief that every marketer – not just the folks sitting in marketing operations roles – better have a good understanding of how their work helps deliver on the company's financial goals.  If you don't understand this and actively measure it in your organization, marketing will always be relegated to being a hefty cost center.  

At Sol, we believe that when it comes to marketing, everything can be measured – and we help our clients put that into practice.  How are you telling the story of marketing's impact to financial goals in your company?   Share your ideas and break through the glass ceiling!


Jill Schmieg is founder and chief strategist at Sol de Naples Marketing, a marketing services firm specializing in branding, communications, campaign development, marketing automation, marketing effectiveness and ROI.  For more than 10 years, she has worked with B2B marketing professionals (women and men!) helping them find brighter ways to reach their markets.

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