Tomorrow is March 8th, International Women’s Day. I grew up in the former USSR where IWD has been celebrated “religiously” for many decades. Its original meaning has been somewhat diluted however: instead of female solidarity and plight for equality my former countrymen firmly associate this day with office parties, yellow mimosas, chocolates and lots of flattering and appreciative proclamations.
Up until a couple of years ago, very few of my American colleagues and friends knew about or celebrated IWD. It’s so exciting to see that today, this holiday is gaining awareness and adoption across the Western world!
The topic of female representation always fascinated me. This week, I wanted to get a read on what it’s like to be a woman in CPG marketing these days. Are we moving in the right direction? Are younger generations of women feeling more optimistic about their prospects? So, I reached out to several clients and friends in the industry:
Vanessa Bueno, Senior Director of marketing, Shopper & Brand at LALA US
Laura Pall, Shopper Marketing Manager at Smithfield Foods
René Robers, Customer Marketing Manager at HEINEKEN USA
Shari King, Brand Manager at Rana Meal Solutions
If you are a marketing leader in the CPG space, listen up!
Is being a woman an asset in your job?
VANESSA: I feel these days, being a woman in our industry is becoming a definite asset. A recent study by the Network of Executive Women uncovered that CPG & Retail female leadership is facing some tough challenges. Because of that, HR departments all over the industry are taking action to recruit, retain and promote more women.
SHARI: In some ways, being a woman is an asset, but I do have to tread carefully sometimes. I believe the emotional intelligence that I have, versus many men I've worked with, has served me well. I've been able to create relationships with people that helped me get things done faster, achieve better results, or operate with less stress. These relationships have also helped me even after my time at a company ended. There have been instances in my career, however, where my desire to cultivate relationships and lead collaboratively, leveraging my emotional intelligence, has been attributed to my gender and viewed as a hindrance versus an asset (by a male leader).
RENÉ: I can see that women are the majority, rather than the minority, in our industry, and specifically in shopper marketing. I think female strengths are invaluable assets in this job. For instance, our ability to plan well, be organized and manage multiple projects and priorities are special characteristics women possess and help them excel in comparison to our male counterparts. We are also naturally more patient, empathetic and good at mediating, which helps to build a strong team culture.
LAURA: I believe being a woman in any job is an asset. In regards to my current role, I believe that being a woman is helpful in a number of ways. My role involves dealing with people across many functions in my company (Sales, Trade, Brand Management, Business Management, Agencies, etc.) and I believe that women are naturally stronger at managing many relationships at the same time as well as multitasking in general. I think women have the ability to relate to people in different roles or from different backgrounds better than men.
What challenges do women face in our industry?
LAURA: While I believe women are in a position of strength in the Marketing domain, in the CPG world as a whole, it seems like women continue to pay the “baby tax”. It seems to be widely assumed that women who have babies are either not coming back to work after maternity leave or will be less ambitious and dedicated to their jobs after they come back. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but hearing these sort of conversations gives me pause and makes me wonder how I will be viewed if I were to become a mom. In addition, I believe women in our industry continue to make less money than men in the same positions. And, finally, the lack of role models in C-suite is quite disheartening.
SHARI: In CPG, at the very top, leadership is still male-dominated, so many of the common challenges are still at play: the glass ceiling, work-life balance as a mom, etc. There's also a unique challenge that comes from being a woman in the marketing field though. In addition to having to do more to prove our value simply because we are women, we as marketers are often faced with the task of proving the value of our marketing strategies to the company. Marketing can often be viewed as the "nice to have" investment, or the first place to cut funding when needed. I often wonder if the task of proving the value of marketing to my organization would’ve been easier if I were a man.
RENÉ: I have found there is a unique challenge for women in shopper marketing to connect, relate and earn respect from seasoned salesmen. Partially because many women in shopper marketing (still a newer function for many organizations) are “digital natives”, and it’s a language many salespeople we support are either unfamiliar with, or digging into it makes them uncomfortable. We have to prove the value of our ideas, help them appreciate the investment and educate them to share this with our customers, especially when we cannot be there to sell the plan together. This is especially challenging as many of our tactics do not have black and white data that tells a success story as clearly as category insights can.
VANESSA: CPG industry is not for everyone. It’s intellectually challenging, fast paced and can be very demanding due to frequent travel and long hours. Only the toughest survive :-) This is especially true in highly competitive, large CPG companies where women are expected to make a tough choice between focusing on a career and being there for her family. Both I and my current female CEO had our fair share of sacrifice in the past due to frequent travel. Her young kids, for example, at some point thought their mom lived in an airport. For me, the decision to quit my large CPG job was obvious when I realized that my then 3 y.o. daughter really missed me because I was gone too much.
What has your company done well to help women succeed?
RENÉ : HEINEKEN USA has an internal Women’s Leadership Forum, which started in 2007. Our mission is to inspire and support the advancement of women to accelerate HEINEKEN USA’s performance. WLF provides resources and events for women in the male dominated beer industry to connect and grow in their careers. I am proud to share that as of 2018, 42% of HUSA’s employees were women and 52% of our senior leadership team is female; and we have the only female CEO in the beer business! Through WLF I have had the opportunity to learn from leaders, impact family benefit policies and work with two strong mentors to help guide by development, in the two years I have been with HEINEKEN USA.
LAURA: I started my career at a company that was historically male-dominated (tobacco) and I currently work at a company that has a history of being very male-dominated (meat industry). However, my current company acknowledges this disparity and seems to be actively making strides to address it by hiring & promoting more women, joining Women’s Networking Organizations (NEW), and fostering a community of fairness and inclusiveness.
VANESSA: Here at LALA they recognize the importance of work-life balance for everyone, but especially for women, who in our society are still expected to be main family caregivers. For instance, they have recently announced that anyone can work from home 3 days a month. It allows me to flexibly blend personal and work hours. I can now take care of personal errands and appointments that would only take 1 hr and won’t require me to take a full day off due to my long office commute. Our glass ceiling is a lot thinner these days. We have an excellent role model: a woman, and a marketer, Shaun Nichols, our CEO.
SHARI: My current company doesn't have any formal or explicit efforts to help women succeed, however we do have women in leadership. To me, that serve as evidence of our leadership's openness to women rising to the top of the organization.
Who among women in our industry do you admire?
SHARI: I'm drawn to women in our industry that seem to have progressed without compromising their individuality. Whether that means they dress in a way that shows their personality, or choose to communicate or speak in a way that is authentic for them. I'm inspired by women that have found that sweet spot in asserting their identity (and even femininity) in a way that is still approachable and instills trust. Bozoma Saint John comes to mind, as well as my former Vice President in a previous job, Dr. Angela Joyner.
LAURA: I definitely admire Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s Senior VP of Corporate Affairs. She has risen in the ranks and is part of the Executive team – all while having a family and a social life. I also admire Indra Nooyi (CEO of Pepsico) and all women who are CEO’s of Fortune 500 Companies.
VANESSA: A couple of women friends at my old company who achieved a lot are my inspiration. One of them is a VP of Sales and Marketing. Both she and I have supportive spouses who are stay at home dads. This support at home, by the way, seems to be one of the major factors of female career success and is a great topic for another conversation. Another person I am a big fan of is Rachel Hollis - best selling author and influencer who writes about female empowerment and being a working mom. Her recent book “Girl, Stop Apologizing” is amazing, we are reading it together with my colleagues at work and planning to gift it to the team in celebration of International Women’s Day.
What advice do you have to young women who are just starting or considering a career in CPG Marketing?
LAURA: CPG It’s a great place to start your career… and continue your career. Our industry is constantly evolving to stay relevant, and there will always be opportunities to move up or into different fields within the CPG space. Also, through trial and error, I have learned that people are not mind readers, and no one will give you what you want unless you ask for it. You need to take control of your own career. Women tend to doubt their talents and their skills. They undervalue themselves and tend to be too careful. For instance, I never considered myself having a strong analytical acumen until I had a chance to work on an analytics project. Turns out I was good at it and really enjoyed it! Women can absolutely master technically challenging subjects, they just need to give themselves permission to try. Imagine the potential we can unleash if we were to combine our EQ/intuition and the “hard” skills that are traditionally thought of as male-dominated?
SHARI: My advice would be to never shy away from sharing your opinion - just focus on honing the way you share your opinion to different audiences. We have so much to offer in this space, so don't waste a moment in an organization that doesn't value your contribution of new thinking. Definitely take feedback and practice the how, but operate with full confidence that you add value and deserve a voice.
RENÉ: Find a mentor. While this is not unique advice, I would like to suggest how to do it, as young professionals often aren’t sure where to start. Ask your manager (or HR) to connect you with a woman in your organization in the same function at a higher level than you, or a woman at a higher level that you work with cross-functionally. Schedule 30-60 minutes with them each month, and come prepared with two questions: first, a scenario they could provide guidance on, and second, something about their work or experience. Share ideas, special projects and ask for their support to share their experience with your manager from your growing relationship. Leverage them to help build or review your annual goals or work through feedback from your annual review.
VANESSA: Don’t let other people define for you what success looks like. Know what you want and be willing to create your own path. Many people told me I can’t do this or that because it's not how it's done; or that I can’t do it because I don’t have an Ivy League education. If I listened to everyone who said “no” and let them define me, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I grew up in the 70s in a small town in New Mexico with no corporate women role models whatsoever. When people tell you “no”, let that be an inspiration for you to prove them wrong!
Are you a woman working in CPG Marketing? Is your experience similar to these stories? Do you have anything to add? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.
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