Featured | March 8, 2021

What It Means To Be A Woman In The Digital Marketing Industry

Celebrating women on a global scale since 1909, International Women’s Day continues to highlight and work towards achieving gender equality, working to build an equal and inclusive future for all. And this year’s International Women’s Day 2021 has the added focus of life after COVID-19, as the world looks to regain some normality after a global pandemic.

This year, the widely marked day brings a particularly powerful slogan; #ChooseToChallenge with the message ‘with challenge comes change’. With that in mind, our blog explores the first women within the marketing industry to challenge and change the male-orientated business, how they achieved so much for future generations of women and what it means to be a woman in the digital marketing industry in 2021.

The First Women To Challenge For Change In Marketing

The first woman to be employed for her creativity and copywriting skills over 100 years ago in 1908, Helen Lansdowne Resor was employed by marketing agency J Walter Thompson as a copywriter. Helen unintentionally became a trailblazer for the industry, going on to be the first woman to plan and write for major advertising campaigns for huge companies such as P&G and The Red Cross. Helen Lansdowne became a trailblazer for women everywhere, helping to create an equal and balanced world where women had the exact same opportunities in the workplace. 

Helen’s actions inspired other women almost overnight to be a part of the previously male-run marketing industry and just four years later Christine and J. George Frederick founded the League of Advertising Women in 1912. The league was set up to encourage more women to pursue careers in advertising and marketing, providing the first alternative women had to the ‘men-only’ clubs agency offices had previously been. 

Being brave enough to challenge the status quo all those years ago meant Christine Frederick and Helen Lansdowne were paving the way for more women to do the same and challenge the ‘norm’ that would have previously been all-male businesses. In fact, these prominent women paved the way for the very first woman CEO to set up her own creative agency, named Wells Rich Greene in 1966, becoming the agency’s president and the first of its kind – a woman-run business. Thanks to her predecessors, copywriter and advertising manager Mary Wells Lawrence made the brave decision to become the first-ever CEO of a marketing agency and her efforts to amplify women’s voices didn’t stop there. In 2008, Mary was one of the five women founders who started up wowOwow; Women on the web, a website owned, created for and written by women for women.

If it hadn’t been for these truly inspiring and pioneering women choosing to challenge the ‘norm’ and press for change in their own working lives, the marketing industry in particular would be a very different place. Their plight for change helped set new expectations not just within marketing but within companies everywhere, simply by challenging what was previously just accepted. 

Are Women Still Underrepresented Within The Marketing Industry?

Whilst it’s fair to say the industry has come a long way since 1908, we do still have more challenges ahead to reach a balance, as Head of Digital Marketing and E-commerce Manager at Astutis, Sarah Fea notes “I‘ve been in countless meetings where I was the only woman at the table. I can say that the female workforce is particularly underrepresented in this sector, especially at more senior levels. I am yet to meet a female head of digital marketing!”.

And Sarah’s observation is echoed by a recent survey revealing just 1% of creative marketing agencies are solely founded by women, highlighting the issue of underrepresentation that is still going on across the industry. Women seem to hold back from taking on CEO roles or starting up their own agencies as there is still a gap in the industry when it comes to having strong female leaders.

Founder of PR agency, River and Bear, Caroline Archer was driven by this very notion of holding back; “As women, we are less likely to put ourselves forward for management or leadership roles, or less likely to see ourselves as ready for promotion. This can lead to an unnatural amount of pressure to perform in order to be considered for a role, which in reality is probably already achievable.”

It’s not all gloom for women in marketing, as a recent study by Hampton Alexander found that 36% of FSTE100 businesses had women on the board, and whilst this may not truly reflect the number of women in senior roles within these companies, it shows there has been real growth to reach equality within decision-making roles at board level. 

What it means to be a woman in digital marketing in 2021

As an industry, marketing has moved on from the early days portrayed by the popular show MadMen, but there are still steps to go. With the introduction of technology and the internet, there’s been a natural evolution within the industry with subsequent sub-sections emerging. With specialist areas developing such as SEO, search and social media marketing, it means there is more opportunity to challenge for change.

Division Director at Commemorative Coin & TRME, The Royal Mint, Clare Maclennan​ recognises “I’ve worked in marketing for over two decades and the marketing landscape has changed so much over this time…[sic] As a female and a consumer, I am always looking at new ways of targeting consumers from ‘living in my customer’s shoes’. It’s really important to have this ongoing insight into how consumers buying behaviours and changing and the influences that are expediting this behaviour.”

As an active part of a diverse and brilliant industry, here at Liberty Marketing, we recognise there have been significant changes throughout the years when it comes to achieving equality- but as always, there is still a way to go. Without challenge, nothing would change and we’re always happy to push boundaries and encourage our teams to do the same.

In the words of our very own super-talented SEO Specialist Beth Barnham, “having a diverse lineup shouldn’t be hard work, these people exist with amazing stories and insights into their niche’s right in front of your eyes.”

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