Diversity and women in management, marketing and digital: where do we stand?

Catalyst Pyramid USA Women in Management

Recently we have seen many events promoting and celebrating diversity and women in management, marketing and digital. As great as this is, success will be when we do not require organisations doing this or articles like this: we just have diversity and we know it! However, we are a long way away from this.

UK historical perspective of women’s rights

Many of the recent ‘industry events’ that I mention have been focused on women as a minority in the upper echelons of management, marketing and digital in the UK. Although, the UK has a long history and championing of women’s rights, many people are surprised to know that it is still less than 100 years that women have had the right to vote and the right to be elected to Parliament. However, progress has been strong with 22.5% of women in the UK Parliament now. Or has it? The UK is ranked 58th equal in the world (out of 188 countries) for women in national parliament’s lower or single representative houses). So which countries are above the UK for female representation in parliament? Well a lot of countries are, including: China, Vietnam, Sudan, Iraq, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda, Ecuador, Mozambique, Senegal and Cuba. Top of the list is Rwanda with 56.3% women in parliament.

So yes, there is a lot to do, especially in our own ‘back yard’ to ensure the progress and representation of women. And so, it is good to see that organisations promoting and celebrating the achievement of women in management, marketing and digital have been busy recently.

Two months of celebratory events for women in management

In October, we saw the 7th Annual PRECIOUS awards which celebrate the achievements of inspirational and entrepreneurial women of colour who are running businesses in the UK and those making their mark in the workplace. I was also honoured to be asked to be an Ambassador for the PRECIOUS organisation and shortly after the awards wrote an article for them on women in management and possible ways to improve progress (click here to read the full article).

Then only a couple of weeks ago, we saw the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Women in Marketing awards at which Roisin Donnelly, Marketing Director P&G (who coincidently interviewed me and offered me my first brand management and marketing role at P&G) won the ‘Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Marketing – Client Side’; and also Karen Blackett, CEO MediaCom UK, won the ‘Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Marketing – Agency Side’ (with Karen being one of the most prominent and successful women in the marketing and media environment as well as a woman of colour inspiring all minorities).

On 25th October 2013 a group of 100 Women from around the world gathered in London for a day of debate and discussion at the BBC’s Broadcasting House. This was aimed at addressing many of the issues affecting women – and also included a great panel discussion on ‘the glass ceiling’ and what can be done about it. A general point that came out is that ‘quotas’ should not be the only solution. Personally, I do not believe in quotas; the solutions should be more about developing the pipeline of minority talent, having an open and transparent culture, promotion based on merit for all and ensuring a fair and supportive working environment.

Global progress is mixed

Progress is mixed across the world; for instance, many are shocked at which countries have the highest percentage of women in Parliament as mentioned earlier. Also, it is equally surprising to know that there are more female CEOs in India’s leading companies than in USA’s Fortune 500 or the UK’s FTSE 100. Catalyst (a non-profit membership body that aims to increase work opportunities for women) says that only about 11% of Indian CEOs are women. However, this compares favourably to the ‘only’ 4% of women CEOs in USA’s Fortune 500 and the ‘only’ 4% of women CEOs in the UK’s FTSE 100. The figure for the UK was helped by the recent announcement of Liv Garfield (who bought the BT network into the 21st century) being appointed as CEO, Severn Trent.

For most developed nations and in the bulk of major organisations, the picture is similar with the majority of the workforce being women at entry-levels and then the steep pyramid to the upper echelons. This is best illustrated in Catalyst’s pyramid of USA women in business (figure above) which shows over 51% of management, professional and other related occupations are women; whilst less than 4% of CEOs are women.

Is marketing bucking the trend?

There are certainly areas in marketing that are bucking the trend and showing improvement. In the UK, The Marketing Academy launched its Fellowship programme last month to address the problem of many UK marketers being ill-equipped to make the leap to general management and CEO level. The Fellowship programme aims to support the development of a leading group of Chief Marketing Officers to be able to make that leap to CEO. Of the 15 Fellows selected (on merit) to take part in the programme, 7 are women. Now that’s good to see!

However, before marketing as a profession takes a bow, I was recently asked to comment on B2B Marketing magazine’s article about gender inequality in marketing management. Despite the vast majority of graduate and junior positions being occupied by women, the research shows that the gender and pay imbalance in marketing progression is worsening. Although much has been said about B2B being dominated by technology and constructions firms attracting more men, this is still no excuse.

Reaching the highest echelons of organisations

Of course, reaching the heights of corporate life is challenging when factors other than academic achievement, professional qualification and ‘direct merit’ may be considered. Success is not a direct result of a ‘running competition’ (think 100m or 5000m) or attaining the highest grades; cultural fit, personality, leadership traits, being liked and championed by senior management are crucial but these are hard to clearly define and measure.

This may infer that an individual, especially one from a minority, has to change her/his natural behaviour to progress to the upper echelons of an organisation. I do not believe that this should be or is the case. I have been fortunate to work for some inspiring leaders in a range of organisations during my career to date – one who stands out from my last corporate role is Bridget McIntyre who at the time was the CEO of The RSA Insurance Group (UK) and one of only 16 female executive directors in the FTSE100 in the UK. She speaks inspiringly about authenticity and the importance of not pretending to be someone that you are not; her view is “if you don’t want me as I am, that’s fine. I will find someone who does.”

The allure of digital and entrepreneurship

On the digital side, at the end of September, The Drum released their ‘30 women under 30 in 2013’ list – which profiled and celebrated the best of the next generation of digital leaders, as voted for by its readers. Indeed, diversity of gender, ethnicity and age is poorly represented in the upper echelons of most (if not all) industries even the more modern ones such as digital and social media.

Many minorities and women are turning to entrepreneurship and using the Internet/digital for their business research and models. In the UK, from the recent IoD’s Women as Leaders conference, the number of female entrepreneurs has risen by 10% and around of 40% start-up loans are being made to women.

For me, the Internet and digital media are having a great enabling effect on ‘access to opportunity’, diversity and entrepreneurship. Having a computer and internet connection are no longer ‘ceilings’ – even in the developing world mobile devices and affordable mobile connectivity is driving opportunity for segments of the population who have for too long been excluded.

However, it appears that female entrepreneurs are still at a disadvantage when it comes to funding their ventures. In USA, 16% of ventures seeking finance were owned by women and only 24% of those received angel investment funds. Digital crowdfunding is a welcome relief for many entrepreneurs from the minorities. We are seeing specialist sites such as Plum Alley, a site for businesswomen and female entrepreneurs, launch crowdfunding exclusively featuring projects run by women.

On the other side of the funding desk, the number of female angels is still low, making up just 18% of investors and minority angels accounted for just 4.5% of the angel population. The issue is that there are not enough minority entrepreneurs and angel investors. Such low figures are not too surprising considering the wider state of the technology industry – where in USA only a quarter of all computing employees are female. Minority women are the least represented – with just 1% of the technology workforce comprised of Hispanic women, 3% African American women and 4% Asian women.

[Update added on 10 December 2013: Of the 1,941 national leaders during the 20th century – only 27 were women (that is only 1.4%). Let’s hope that the 21st century sees this rise significantly – as does the impact of diversity in all other fields.]

And so, there you have it – a lot of great organisations and events promoting and celebrating diversity and women in management. But as I said, success is when we don’t need articles on diversity like this or organisations promoting diversity and women in management: we just have it and we know it!

Written By Dowshan Humzah

Dowshan Humzah has delivered profitable business growth via product development, brand innovation and digital channel expansion for blue-chip companies across Financial Services, Internet, Telecoms, Media and FMCG as well as business start-ups. He shows how organisations can benefit from applying a ‘digital and social media lens’ across their core organisational objectives and then answer the ‘so what’ question in order to generate customer and financial value from digital tools. You can find him on LinkedIn and Google+


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