People Say the Darndest Things…The Women’s History Month Edition
When I asked some Advisory Board members for “colorful” stories to mark Women’s History Month, I got some real gems: (I’ve anonymized all to protect the advice-givers who could probably be tracked down by a review of LinkedIn profiles.)
“I can’t speak for you as a woman, but I assume you would prefer one of your male colleagues manage all of the spreadsheets and the numbers part of this meeting?”
“Just wear something a little sexy and you will have a good meeting!”
“When a woman is assertive, she is really just seen as being aggressive.”
“Why would you choose to start a family when your career has just taken off.”
“You are far too pretty to be taken seriously.”
“Instead of trying to take over a meeting with your ideas, maybe just smile more. You don’t want people to think you are a man-hating b!tch do you?”
“Women will always be better team managers than men because you are so motherly. This is why men focus on business and women focus on feelings. It is a balance!”
“Take a moment to think before you speak at the board meeting…you aren’t just being judged as a person, but as a representative of all the other admins in the building.” (As a side note…at the time…the woman receiving this advice was a Vice President and out-ranked the advice-giver.)
Women’s history month is certainly a month to educate in order to celebrate. In an age of #MeToo and global empowerment, some of these seem just otherworldly…from a bygone era that simply cannot exist in today’s world. The only way to truly ensure that these are moments from the past is to commit to passing along much better, far more meaningful advice to the generations of marketing leaders to come.
To that end, I wanted to use this month’s message to celebrate some names from the past and to pass along some wisdom for the future.
Mary Wells Lawrence: I was mortified to recently hear a young marketer wonder if the character of Peggy from Mad Men could have ever really been real. When I asked if she had ever heard of Mary Wells Lawrence, the blank expression said it all. It is hard to talk about the world of advertising and NOT talk about Lawrence. Not only was she one of the legendary “Tinker’s Thinkers,” she was behind a campaign for Braniff Airways that set the bar for creativity, relevance and, most importantly, business impact as the “End of the Plain Plane” campaign was widely touted as being the linchpin to the turnaround and success of the airline in a time when success was hard won. Her campaigns aren’t just memorable…they are iconic: “I Love NYC,” “Trust the Midas Touch,” “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” and of course, “Raise Your Hand if You’re Sure.” Arguably, Lawrence was also a first as a marketer who became a CEO, becoming the first female CEO of a NYSE-listed company.
Ada Lovelace: While she is often called the “Founder of Scientific Computing,” I’ve started thinking of her as the first lady of Modern Marketing, albeit some 180 years early. Lovelace called herself an “Analyst & Metaphysician.” At her core she was the ultimate problem-solver, mathematician and wordsmith, looking at Charles Babbage’s computational and analytical engine and translating into understandable and accessible descriptors. The concept was complex, to say the least. Few even understood Babbage’s vision, let alone how to make it work. But Lovelace saw through the complexity and chaos, translating the impossible, distilling the hyper-technical into a promise that we know as a general-purpose computer. She even took the next step and wrote the first algorithm for the machine. She’s the OG of computer programmers. So why do I call her the first modern marketer…easy…she bridged the gap between content and computing, able to translate complexity and apply data to make it all work. If that isn’t the picture of the modern marketer, what is?
Muriel Siebert: Seibert was best known as the “first woman of finance,” being the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and the first woman to head one of the NYSE’s member firms. At the time that she joined the exchange in 1967 there were 1,365 men… and Muriel. While she has left an indelible mark on finance, she was also an outspoken advocate for women and minorities in business. She was quoted as stating that “Men at the top of industry and government should be more willing to risk sharing leadership with women and minority members who are not merely clones of their white male buddies. In these fast-changing times we need the different viewpoints and experiences, we need the enlarged talent bank. The real risk lies in continuing to do things the way they've always been done.” Leaders lead. Muriel was a leader.
Three women. Three trailblazers. Three inspirational lessons for Women’s History Month. All three of these women have inspired and intrigued me at various points of my career. But one gave me a specific piece of advice I will pass along. One night I met my “bestie” (as the kids call em) for dinner in Manhattan. We were sitting in at a small table being loud, laughing hysterically and recounting stories of stupid things that were going on at work. An older woman was eating by herself at the table next to us and asked if we minded if she joined our conversation… we wholeheartedly welcomed her. She told us we reminded her of her own friends, of the nights after work, hysterically laughing to the point of crying.
All night long, through steaks, wine and lots of laughs, we listened to this new friend share stories of all the ridiculous tales of stupidity run amok in the workplace. At the end of the night, as she was leaving us for the night, she turned and said, “Ladies, forget almost everything you think you have learned and remember that your success will come back to the friends you keep… the people that no matter what happens in a day, will be there at night to have a glass of wine and laugh until you can’t laugh any more. That is how you measure success.”
With that she left. Our waiter walked up and asked us if we knew who our new friend was. Neither of us knew outside of our brief conversation. “THAT is Muriel Siebert, the first woman on the stock exchange! If she gave you advice, I recommend you tattoo it on your arm and never forget. She can pick em!”
To follow Muriel’s lead, here are some additional words of wisdom from some pretty incredible women of the CMO Council… trailblazers… icons… inspirations… and each and every one amazing.
“Ensure you are very clear on how your strategic marketing contributes to the bottom-line of the business and that you can articulate it. That’s the only way to get a voice at the right table of influence.” Jacquie Muhati, Head of CSR, Sponsorships & Events, Kenya Airways
“Never stop upskilling on Business acumen and People skills (both the ability to lead cross-functionally and the ability to gain deep understanding of constantly-changing customer needs.” Camille Baumann, Executive CMO & Digital Customer Solutions Lead, Growth Markets | APJ & Latin America, Avanade
“Follow your instinct and build your professional network as early on as you can. Seek out a mentor who can help you get started.” Jeanniey Mullen, CMO, Mercer
“Listen to what everyone is saying, learn what matters to your boss and to your colleagues and keep that in mind as you go through your day-to-day activities. But always make sure you have your voice heard in meetings as your new ideas and creativity is what the business needs and why they hired you in the first place… And never stop learning!” Helena Verellen, SVP, Global Strategic Partnerships & Business Development, Audible Inc, An Amazon Company
"Careers are rarely a straight path, so try to be as open as you can to what unexpected projects or roles can bring you in terms of experience and growth. There are a lot of different dimensions to marketing and it's worth exploring a variety of areas to help you find your niche." Heidi Arkinstall, CMO Global Brands, Logitech International
So, to the women of marketing, as we close out Women’s History month, I say ONWARD! We’ve come so far thanks to all the women that came before us. Now, it’s our turn to lead… to teach… to explore… to fail but fail forward… to experiment… to discover… and to laugh long into the night with really great friends.
Until Next Month!
Tell me what you think or add your advice by hitting me up @lizkmiller on Twitter!