Five marketing leaders on gender bias, #TimesUp and promoting equality

#TimesUp for marketers

From #MeToo to #TimesUp one thing is clear, although 2018 marks 100 years since women won the right to vote, the war on gender equality isn’t over yet.

At the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey dedicated her entire speech to highlighting gender inequality declaring passionately: ‘A new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.’

And it’s not just shaken the core of Hollywood, the #MeToo movement has had a ripple effect across every industry, with countless women speaking out against sexual assault and inequality.

So, in New York we came together to discuss gender bias in the marketing industry, providing a safe space for our members to have an open and honest conversation about how they feel their gender has impacted their career.

We interviewed some of our speakers (Annalie Killian, director human networks at Sparks & Honey, Katrina Klier, global managing director digital marketing at Accenture, Perry Hewitt, senior advisor engagement strategy at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Edward L. Dandridge, chief marketing & communications officer at Marsh & McLennan Companies and Maggie Chan Jones, founder & CEO of who shared their inspiring stories, offering guidance on how to learn from and combat the unconscious bias.

What’s one thing all marketers need to know about gender bias?

Annalie: It is systemic.

It is so woven into our mental models and cognitive mapping that there are biases we don't even dream of examining.

But, it is easier to start from where you are and make it right going forward than trying to correct the past. Just start. Set hard personal leadership targets and don’t compromise. Not even a bit. Slippage is the undoing of every transformation programme. 

Edward: As marketers, we should be proactive in acknowledging that gender bias exists and that to some degree, we all have it. Marketers, especially senior professionals advising corporate executives and clients, should move past denial/guilt and identify tangible and practical examples that can be addressed. In other words, emphasize corrective actions and solutions rather than dwelling on the finger-pointing.

Perry: Look to causes within the system as much as the individual.

Consider how to use our influence to change organizational cultural norms, like command-performance weekend golf outings or job description language ("work hard, play hard, you ROCKSTAR!") that may attract more male than female participation.


Gender bias affects everyone… in every market… in every facet of their business and personal lives.

 Being sensitive to this is particularly important for marketing professionals as our profession has a distinctly emotional component. 

Maggie: For the most part, gender bias is unconscious.

Think of today’s marketing and advertising campaigns, too often they portray women doing household chores, grocery shopping and caring for children.

As marketing leaders, we have the opportunity to drive change and shift mindsets by featuring women in powerful roles.

Is there a time you’ve ever felt your career was impacted by your gender?

Annalie: Yes, and I still experience it. But I don’t let it define me. That is other people’s stuff - I need to manage what I can control - and that is being authentic and accomplishing my own purpose and goals whilst paving a better world for others and being a catalyst for change.

Edward: There hasn’t been sufficient progress in opening up sustained opportunities for women in the C-suite.  As a result, there are certain executive positions that sometimes are more closely associated with a specific gender. Along with the CHRO role, the CMO role lies along that fault line many times.

 As a person of color, I’m keenly aware of the intersection between gender and race in “corporate America.” I am a fierce advocate of advancing opportunities for women –  and making sure these efforts include women of color.

Perry: I don't know that there's a time gender hasn't been a factor. I've been lucky enough to have had terrific male and female mentors and bosses throughout my career.

But from the hiring manager who asked 25-year-old me about my pregnancy plans to the glances around 50-year-old me to my junior, male colleague in a marketing technology discussion, it's been a factor.

Katrina: Yes. A few times in good ways and many times in not-so-good ways. The important thing is what one chooses to do when the impact realization hits – there isn’t one right or wrong way to deal with these incidents. Each one is a bit different.  

Maggie: Early in my career I struggled to feel like I belonged.

I was frequently the only woman, especially woman of color at the table and couldn’t relate to the side bar conversations (e.g. golf, football) happening around me.

Fortunately, many of the companies I worked for were invested in diversity and inclusion. The leadership development programs and female-focused initiatives accelerated my career and opened doors that may not have been there otherwise. 

What can our industry learn from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?

Annalie: There’s a lot of truth, pain and pent-up anger - and there is also tribalism, irrational behaviour. Be compassionate, be fair. Keep a cool head, don’t feed the trolls and do better. 

Edward: From a functional point of view, part of our role as marketers is to identify trends and opportunities. 

We need to widen our lens and expand our expertise to include monitoring socio-economic and cultural issues that could impact the economy, specific industries and ultimately, our brands. The speed at which movements scale has accelerated dramatically. That means we need to always be listening, learning and leading our organizations and clients on their journeys of understanding.

More fundamentally, we should be at the vanguard of critical efforts including pay equity, mandatory unconscious bias training and developing uniform measurement and reporting standards that help to create equal professional outcomes for women in our industry.

Perry: Bad behavior will out, particularly in an era of digital communication

Katrina: These movements have further demonstrated the ability of digital and IRL communities to form rapidly around topics of acute interest to people. These also demonstrate that people expect more accountability in the areas of bias, inequality and harassment.

How people and organizations respond to these movements will shed light on their authenticity – these are not topics you can simply “PR-language” your way through. 

Maggie: As Oprah said in her iconic Golden Globes speech, speaking your truth is the most powerful tool women have.

This is an important moment in our history and as marketers, it is our job to amplify the stories of so many women in our target audiences. 

How can marketing leaders help promote an equal workplace?

Annalie: Understand how decisions are made and the mental models in your corporate culture that guide those decisions. Then question if we need to unlearn some mental models and replace them with new ones.

“Equal workplaces” is a mental model. If you are going to apply this mental model - know why and be comfortable that it is the right decision for YOUR organisation. Maybe it needs to be unequal?

And you should absolutely know who is designing your algorithms and signing off on underlying assumptions, decisions and modifications. Abdicating that is abdicating leadership.

With flawed and biased algorithms in place at the outset, we risk creating even greater systemic discrimination and exclusion as layers and layers of processes are built over the basic assumptions. 

Edward: What happened around this year’s CES is a great example of taking action in the moment to correct bias – it was totally unacceptable not to have women on any of the keynote panels. Marketing leaders should follow up on incidents like this with tangible programmatic ideas that develop and syndicate best practices. 

For example, coming out of CES, why don’t we form an industry advisory committee to engage CES, Cannes and other organizations that produce conferences and conventions across our industry?  Beyond advising them on their content, we can use this platform to issue industry best practices and standards that could serve as benchmarks for agencies, vendors and clients.

Perry: Marketers understand the importance of messaging and incentives, and how to quantify results. Lend these skills to executive and HR leadership to make a difference in how your organization is run.

Katrina: Being open; listening; and checking our own biases often. We are all human and we all filter, process and internalize information differently so we need to be aware of our own tendencies.

We have a responsibility to lead by example by mixing empathy, kindness and strength to support our organizations in finding a good equilibrium. 

Maggie: It is so important to lead by example. Look into your own organization-what is the gender ratio across all levels, including senior leadership? Women comprise the majority of the audiences we are marketing to, so it is essential to have them represented in our leadership teams.

Support gender equality initiatives such as the ANA #seeher campaign to eliminate bias against women from ads and media or initiatives by UN Women dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Embracing these movements and implementing their best practices will make a positive impact across your organization and create the ripple effects that will be felt in your customer base as well. 

By Orianna Rosa Royle, digital assistant, The Marketing Society