Ladies Who Lead: Inspiring Stories of Successful Women in Marketing

[Part 3 in a 3-part series on women in marketing]

There’s a lot to love about the award-winning show Mad Men – especially if you’re in the marketing, communication or advertising industries yourself. However, if you’re a woman and a believer in equal rights, much of the show can be hard to swallow. This is what makes Peggy Olson, as a character, so fascinating.

Peggy comes a long, long way from her humble beginnings as Don Draper’s nervous young secretary in the first season – eventually climbing her way to the highest ranks at her New York advertising company as a head copywriter. The industry is dominated entirely by men of course as the show is set in the late 1960s before the second or third waves of feminism hit corporate America. Peggy faces incredible sexism and discrimination, making her journey to the top as a young woman especially compelling.

While the sexism never completely disappears, Peggy’s skin thickens as the series progresses. In the final episode ofMad Men, she’s a whole new woman it seems – negotiating huge client deals, spearheading million dollar campaigns, and fearlessly drinking and smoking among the ‘old boys club’ after hours.

Peggy may have been a fictional character, but her struggle resonates being that workplace sexism is an unfortunate reality for countless women in marketing since the industry’s inception. As we’ve explored in the previous two blogs in this series, discrimination is still prevalent for many women in our field and still has a stubborn tendency to hinder our success.

That being said, there are an increasing number of women stepping up, breaking this infamous ‘glass ceiling’ and carving new paths for the women that follow. As women in marketing, we can certainly take solace in the great strides we’ve made since the era Mad Men took place in.

Today, more and more women are making their mark on the industry, we should both celebrate and expect that. Here are a few Canadian examples of marketing leadership:

Image credit: ismagilov/iStock

Sharon MacLeod – @SharonMacLeod

Vice-President of Marketing at Unilever Canada

When it comes to Canadian corporate marketing, Sharon MacLeod is a woman who stands out for more reasons than one. She’s tough, and refuses to stand for inequality.

Growing up on a farm with three older brothers, Sharon MacLeod was expected to “do everything the boys did.” There were no boys’ tasks or girls’ tasks, just work that needed to be done. Having been raised with these values, it was eye-opening when she walked into her first meeting as a director at Unilever to discover she was the only woman in the room. She recalls this moment as a defining one which motivated her to become a champion for women’s advancement at Unilever and beyond. Ms. MacLeod has been credited by many with being an “engine for change,” vigorously supporting the growth and promoting the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace.

As a member of the Unilever Canada leadership team, Sharon MacLeod has been a big part of programs such as the Dove Self-Esteem project, Becel’s healthy heart initiative and Hellmann’s Real Food Movement, as well as the opening of the first-ever Pleasure pop-up store with Magnum ice cream. Her marketing work with Unilever has been recognized by consumers and industry peers alike. Among her many accolades are two Grand Prix awards at the Cannes Advertising Awards and Brand of the Decade for Dove by Strategy. MacLeod is a founder of the renowned women’s leadership program, Chocolate Villa. She is a global diversity champion at Unilever and a great supporter of the company’s sustainable living plan.


Marie-Josée Lamothe – @MJLamothe

Managing Director of Branding and Director for Quebec at Google Canada

Marie-Josée Lamothe has the kind of skills and talent that get noticed – which is probably why she’s working in marketing for the one of the leading digital companies in the world.

A 20-year veteran of the beauty and luxury marketing worlds, Marie-Josée Lamothe has experienced numerous successes on an international level. In spearheading many innovative and award-winning projects, she has helped L’Oréal Canada become the country’s top digital beauty marketer. Lamothe has recognized as Strategy Canada’s Marketer of the Year and, under her direction, L’Oréal Canada earned a spot on the list of Top Marketing Companies by Marketing.

Lamothe sits on various industry boards, and she is an advocate of education. In 2014, Lamothe moved to Google Canada where she now sells marketers on how Google can play a bigger role in their communication with customers.



Michele McKenzie

Interim CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia Corporation

Michele McKenzie’s award-winning career has taken her across the country and back. When it comes to women in marketing, she is certainly worth paying attention to.

With some 30 years of experience working in Canada’s tourism sector, Michele McKenzie has become an internationally recognized expert in hospitality, tourism and marketing. Since being appointed to her current role with the Canadian Tourism Commission in 2004, she has helped it evolve into a respected and competitive brand marketing organization.

Under her leadership, the CTC earned the Marketer of the Year title from Marketing in 2009 and contributed to Canada’s No. 1 position on FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index. The recipient of several awards for management excellence, McKenzie recently accepted the 2013 Leading Management Change Award from Canadian Government Executive. Before joining the CTC, McKenzie was Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. She holds a designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors and an honorary degree from Humber College in Toronto.

Since stepping down as CEO of the CTC, McKenzie has moved into a temporary role as interim CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia Corporation.


More Women Equals Better Business

[Part 2 of a 3-part series on women in marketing. You can read the previous instalment in this series here]

Research proves that equal gender representation translates to a more lucrative and robust discourse in politics, government, media, and private sector business – including marketing. As UN Women indicates, empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies, achieving internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improving the quality of life for women, men, families and communities.

Despite this reality, women are still severely underrepresented. I would argue against any assumption that women aren’t trying to find work. By and large, women are better qualified, harder working, and inject a highly positive influence and alternative perspective in business. Of course, we go after the jobs we want (I know I do).

So why aren’t we getting hired? And just as importantly, why are so few of us being retained for longer periods in business?

Former Director of Policy Planning in the White House and Dean at Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter is a force to be reckoned with. Unlike some women, she’s managed to raise a family and foster an incredibly successful career as well. Most recently, she has also spoken out against the Western business culture that does not favour women’s success.

In Slaughter’s provocative 2012 piece for the Atlantic, which became the magazine’s most-read article ever, she dismantled the popular notion that women who fail to ‘have it all’ lack the ambition to do so. Instead, she argues that women are up against a very different, very complex array of systemic barriers that work against us.

Slaughter notes that she still strongly believes women can in fact have it all, but not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. Of her most poignant arguments is her conclusion: “If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.”

Clearly, motherhood can feel like a burden on any woman’s career (and vice versa) – particularly when women are far more statistically inclined to find themselves saddled with the majority of housework and childcare.

Then again, family life does not account for the discrepancy of dynamic, capable young women in the infancy of their careers, who’ve yet to start a family, or are perhaps are not planning to have one at all. Why are they still left out to dry in marketing industries and elsewhere?

As all women are different, and circumstances vary, there is no one answer to this question. It is reassuring to see a myriad of events and organizations working tirelessly to close the gap and foster a richer, more gender-inclusive business culture in Canada and beyond.

Here’s just a sample of some great organizations in the Ottawa region working to celebrate, mentor and support more women in marketing and business:

It’s Time to Close the Marketing Industry Gender Gap

[Part 1 of a 3-part series on women in marketing]

Professional women are often told that if there’s a will, there’s a way. If we seek to climb the corporate ladder, all that’s required of us is to “lean in,” as Sheryl Sandberg says.

Assuredly, there are many women seizing high-powered positions in marketing across government and industry sectors – which is fantastic. But as an increasing amount of evidence indicates, there is still a serious gender imbalance holding us back from an equal division of leadership in the field.

Unfortunately, there are no signs of improvement on the horizon.

Women make up over 80% of all household purchasing decisions, thusly holding the vast majority of purchasing power in the Western world. As a result, we make up the largest primary target audience for the world’s largest marketing campaigns.

Ironically, 91% of women say that they feel misunderstood by marketers. Seems rather counterintuitive then, that the gender pay gap in this industry is still widening rather than narrowing, when women are the ones this industry aims to speak loudest to.

Gender pay gap persistence

Here in Canada, the gender pay gap is still more than twice the global average.

Canadian working women are making about $8,000 less a year than their male counterparts in identical industries. Reportedly, the marketing industry is no exception to this widening gap.

Earlier this summer, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released their second annual report on The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2015, which provides a snapshot of gender inequality in a range of areas throughout Canada’s twenty largest metropolitan areas – one area being economic security including gender gaps in employment and pay.

Interestingly, the worst ranked region in the country was Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo; an area that has seen a remarkable economic tech boom for start-ups since the advent of Blackberry Inc.

According to the CCPA report (mentioned and linked above), Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge has one of the biggest wage gaps in the country. On average, women in the region earn $14,400 less than men, and it has one of the worst records for promoting women to senior management positions – with just 26% of these positions held by women.

A brick wall or a glass house

It’s been suggested that women marketing managers may experience a phenomenon even worse than the illusive “glass ceiling” in this industry. They actually experience more of a “glasshouse,” meaning that their hindrance to progress within an organization is horizontal and all-encompassing. Not a pretty picture.

It doesn’t help that according to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report (2014), Canada ranks 19th out of 142 countries for gender equality.

Just this past week, an internal report emerged from Status of Women Canada indicating that when it comes to the salary gap between the sexes, women have “hit a brick wall.” Evidently, though we are entering the work force (including the marketing industry) better educated and in greater numbers, men are still paid 20 percent more.

All that said, despite what we can certainly agree to identify as a lost list of hurdles, there is no denying that women have made tremendous strides over time in marketing.

An encouraging study of women in marketing by Brandweek in 2009 found that women are experiencing more success in the field than ever before. According to Brand Innovators, even in some of the most traditionally male-dominated services franchise like automotive advertising, there are more women than ever working in brand marketing.

Surely, we can solve this

Moreover, there is a definite appetite for change. An increasing number of corporations are sponsoring annual events to celebrate women in marketing and encourage their participation. Many profiles are also being conducted of high-powered women in the industry to showcase their success story and learn what broke them to where they are today.

A growing number of activists are speaking out about the need to mentor young women, form groups and partnerships, and find more concrete real-world solutions to this gender disparity.

As half of the world’s population and 51% of the Canadian population, it is indisputable that women deserve a seat at the marketing table. As the holders of the majority of purchasing power in a competitive globalized economy, it only makes sense to ensure women have an equal say in corporate decision making — including major marketing campaigns and strategies.

Women are the most sought after target for marketing – they should be leading the conversation. Just consider what a more robust industry we could build if this sector were proportionally representative of the diverse population we market to.

For an industry that has been credited with such innovation over the years, surely, we can solve this. What are your thoughts?

Hiring an Inbound Marketer? Here Are 3 Important Things to Consider

It can be tough to find the perfect person for a job. When it comes to inbound marketing, the process is even tougher. Our industry is so new, fluid, and fast-paced that many are scrambling to keep up – let alone establish concrete hiring practices. Consequently, it’s no surprise that few agencies have a go-to strategy when it comes to seeking out and nailing down a killer inbound marketing consultant.

Overhead view of businessman and businesswoman shaking hands
credit: getty images/ Tom Merton

I’ve talked to a few company managers who have completely stopped checking resumes or cover letters; possibly based on their limited time to do so, possibly because they’re basing their hiring practises on portfolio work. LinkedIn also provides some good insight when surveying candidates for some positions – but at times can be misleading, especially when we’re hiring for something like inbound marketing.

If you’re looking to hire any type of marketer, you have to face the reality: marketing has changed. Rather than staying specialized in one specific area, a successful inbound marketer today needs to wear multiple hats and acquire various skills. This isn’t due to any one change in particular, like technology. Yes, that has contributed, however the primary reason is the changing face of consumers.

HubSpot indicates that agencies must be holistic in their hiring approaches. Keep in mind, although you might not feel entirely confident seeking out the perfect employee, the employee getting interviewed is just as unsure as to what you might be looking for. The fresh, consumer-centric mentality is new both for seasoned marketers and young inbound strategists who might be new to the game.


There are an increasing number of things to take into consideration when hiring an inbound marketing consultant or strategist for your business, but here are three that you simply can’t afford to overlook as compiled by Matt Sullivan at HubSpot:

1.    Define your business goals and let the candidate explain how his/her techniques will get you there. Be specific (e.g. 6X as many leads in 6 months, 10% increase of revenue from Internet leads, etc.). Without a good definition of success, it will be difficult for you to hold your consultants or employees to your standards. Because you have the destination picked, a good expert will be able to put together a roadmap for you.

2.    Ask to see behind the curtain. If a candidate won’t allow you or your staff to participate in any of their inbound marketing efforts, you need to be suspicious. The worst thing that can happen to you is that your expert is using black-hat techniques to artificially accelerate the results. The long-term side-effect can be devastating to your efforts. Your expert should also be giving you an education. Moreover, you should set up a weekly or semi-weekly agenda of meetings with this candidate to survey their progress; keep the lines of communication open.

3.    Get references and case studies. This is your opportunity to find out what they’ve done in the past. Even if the candidate is your cousin or neighbor’s son and has no previous experience, you need to make sure that your resource has legs to stand-on. Don’t simply rely on their pretty website or number of Twitter followers. That said, what you can do (if your schedule permits) is do a quick survey of their personality online. Are they quick to respond to issues with their following?

The hiring process isn’t easy for any job, particularly for inbound marketing where the field is so new and few marketers even fully grasp the methodology. That said, hiring an inbound marketing consultant is not a waste of money, it’s an investment. Considering the number of daily tasks and challenges, possible mistakes in every campaign, and the pace of this industry, you don’t have much of a choice. Just be sure to approach the process with attention to detail.