How women in marketing are shattering the glass ceiling

6 minutes

On Tuesday, 3rd of October 2023, 3Search Director, Liz Hopkins, held a landmark ev...

On Tuesday, 3rd of October 2023, 3Search Director, Liz Hopkins, held a landmark event for female Heads of Marketing or Marketing DirectorsThe aim of the event was to help women in marketing understand how they can overcome the barriers or challenges they’re facing to smash the glass ceiling and reach their career goals.  

Attendees heard from our panel of female marketing leaders who have smashed the glass ceiling themselves: 

  • Celia Pronto, Non-Executive Director at Hostmore plc, South East Water, Samworth Brothers and Moto Hospitality, Co-Founder of Impact Ventures Group and Founder of The Digital Advisor and formerly Managing Director of Love Home Swap 
  • Helen Normoyle, Non-Executive Director at Allied Irish Banks, Co-Founder at My Menopause Centre and formerly CMO at Boots 
  • Alison Orsi, Coach, Non-Executive Director at The Marketing Society, Board Trustee at AbilityNet and formerly General Manager at IBM 


Together, they shared their personal experiences and lessons learned during their careers, covering topics such as: 

  • Shaping your career path to Chief Marketing Officer or above 
  • Managing your work-life balance 
  • Being the only woman in the board room 

Keep reading to find out our key takeaways from this event. 

Why was this event important? 

Having worked in marketing recruitment for 20 years, Liz has seen a lot of changes in the marketing industry – one of them is definitely that more women are getting into senior rolesWhile this is great to see, many women, especially those without access to mentors, continue to feel that Director level is a glass ceiling.  

That’s why Liz wanted to create this safe space for women in marketing to come together, network and learn from each other. We're really pleased to see this event be such a success. The conversations seemed productive for all the women in the room. A big thank you to our speakers for sharing your stories and advice with everyone. It was a truly inspiring event.


The shape of your career path to CMO and beyond


Helen, Alison and Celia all started their careers in marketing, working their way through their career path to reach Chief Marketing Officer. They then went onto have successful board careers. Each have now gone on to become Non-Executive Directors and manage their own businesses. 

Kicking the conversation off, Liz asked our panellists to share their personal career journeys and how they reached CMO level and beyond. 

“Sometimes your career can zig zag, it doesn’t have to go in a straight line.” 

Unsurprisingly, each had very unique stories to tell. Helen Normoyle shared how your career doesn’t need to (and often won’t) follow a straight line. It's important to think about your career in a broader sense, envisioning your future beyond the next role. Helen decided to make a lateral move earlier in her career, from Director of Marketing at Motorola to Director of Marketing at Ofcom. This allowed her to move into an industry that she was extremely interested in and gain the right experience and knowledge to land her dream job at the BBC. 

Understanding yourself, your values, and what you want from your career can be an excellent guide to finding your next job. In fact, this was a key theme of the morning’s conversation. 


Build a strong support network 

Alison Orsi has had a very different career path, having spent 30 years at IBM she was internally headhunted for most of the moves she made within the business. Having started as a Marketing Manager at the business, she worked her way through the company to reach CMO and eventually General Manager. 

In order to feel confident in each of these moves, Alison focused on building strong relationships with sponsors and mentors who were able to support her through each transition. 

“My sponsors moved me through my career.” 

Alison found herself actively managing her sponsor and mentor relationships. It was important that they were people she enjoyed working with, inspired her and was able to learn from.  


The opportunity to learn 

It was incredibly important for each of our panellists to be able to learn and grow with each career move. They all achieved this through different means.  

“A big thing for me was filling the gaps, knowing where my skill gaps were and trying to fill those with the next role.” 

For Celia Pronto, this meant pivoting a number of times throughout her career. Having started her career as an Assistant Brand Manager at Unilever, she has worked for a number of different start-ups and corporates across a variety of industries to gain knowledge in areas that she was interested inAs Helen and Alison echoed, having optionality and a broad set of skills is very important as a woman in marketing. 


Managing your work-life balance 

As a woman, you’ll often have responsibilities to manage outside of the workplaceIt's widely known that women continue to shoulder the majority of unpaid, care work and this has an impact on their careers. That’s why it was important for Liz to ask our panellists about how they balance their work and life responsibilities as a female marketing leader. 

Helen shared how important it is to remember that everyone’s perception of work-life balance is different. Working 9 until 5 every Monday to Friday and leaving the weekends for your personal life simply doesn’t work for many people. 

What’s the life you want to live and where does your career fit in?” 

To create a schedule that works for you, you need to be clear on what is most important to you right now. The following steps were recommended: 

  1. Be honest with yourself around what work-life balance looks like for you 
  2. Consider the circumstances around your home life and who can support you 
  3. Think about the type of role and organisation that will allow you to achieve your goals 

Your values will change and it’s important to pick the job descriptions that match them when they do. For instance, if you can’t travel often, then avoid any roles that require you to spend too much time away from home. Always think about the life that you want to live first and then consider which career will allow you to live it. 


Being the only woman in the board room  

One reason why women shy away from leadership positions is because it’s challenging to be the only woman in the board room. Liz asked our panellists how they handle being in the minority. The panellists shared three things that they have had to do in order to gain respect in the board room: 

  1. Be prepared 
  2. Consider stereotypes 
  3. How are you presenting yourself? 


Being prepared 

Women need to be twice as prepared as men when going into the board room. The harsh reality is that women are judged to a different standard than men, so it has been important to ensure they know their numbers and facts when in the board room. This also boosts their self-confidence. Knowledge is power. 


Consider stereotypes 

Many stereotypes exist around women, behaviours and language. The panellists shared how they have had to ensure that they are not reinforcing these stereotypes. For instance, they have had to be conscious of the language they use, saying “I feel...” rather than “I think...”. 


How are you presenting yourself? 

Most people make a judgement of you within 7 seconds of meeting you. This means that it’s incredibly important to be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself. It’s important to look the part that people expect you to play. 

“What a joy to be a woman!” 

While we know that there is an unfair amount of pressure on women to look and dress a certain way, Celia shared how she sees this as an opportunity of self-expression and celebration. 

Missed out on this event?

If you missed out on this event, but would like to hear about future marketing events register your details below. 3Search Events are a great opportunity to grow, learn and network together.

For more support in your marketing career, get in touch.

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