How Mai Fenton overcame barriers and progressed her marketing career

Leading Chief Marketing Officer and Non-Executive Director, Mai Fenton, shares the three core barriers she has faced throughout her career and the s...

Leading Chief Marketing Officer and Non-Executive Director, Mai Fenton, shares the three core barriers she has faced throughout her career and the steps she took to overcome them. This interview took place at our event exploring how women in financial services marketing can shatter the glass ceiling.


For me, it was really about identifying what was stopping me from getting to that next level. What were those key barriers and then coming up with a plan to overcome these. I identified three key barriers.

The first one is the invisible minority stereotype. Maybe because of my Vietnamese heritage I felt like I was subject to this stereotype and my solution was to actively make myself visible and that came in various forms. This practice being present, really developing this relationship internally, making myself heard. It came, to be very honest, it came with a lot of preparation and practice as well, so anything from my posture, my voice - 'What am I going to say in this meeting that is meaningful, that is going to be heard and remembered?' So, a lot of preparation - almost like a checklist that I kind of every day had to get up and I needed to live by every day and that really really helped me stand out. 

The second barrier identified is being a woman in an industry that is known to be male, pale and stale - insurance. 

So for here, my solution to overcome that was to seek internal male allies. But before I did that, I needed to be clear on what I stood for - what would they be advocating for, these male allies. So, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what is my unique value proposition? What do I have to bring at the board table from an experience point of view, capabilities, perspectives point of view? 

Once I was clear on that, that was really something that I would weave into you know this relationships development with those male allies at all levels of the organisation. I have to say, you know, it's not just peers, it's not just more senior people than me. It's at all levels and they became the kind of sponsors that would advocate for me and champion me internally.

The third barrier was, I have worked for organisations that perhaps were trying to guide my career for me because it suited them in terms of the needs that they had within the business. 

When you're a bit early on in your career, you can be a bit malleable. You might just go for the first opportunity presented to you. I did not want that. So, for me, the main focus was actually to take control of my career, be very clear about where I want to be from a values point of view, the ultimate goal, and then choose the right opportunities that get me closer to that angle. It's kind of 'what is the roadmap?'

What that meant is, I had to decline certain opportunities because they were going to take me in the wrong direction even if there was a business need there - they were not right for me. That also meant getting out of my comfort zone, take more risks and embrace a project that I didn't really feel 100% qualified for. Or, ask for for an opportunity that was quite scary, that could potentially expose me. But, ultimately, it paid off because that journey I've have been on is what I planned for.

I think a lot of planning and preparation to tackle the three barriers really worked out well for me in terms of shattering that glass ceiling, ultimately.

About Mai

Mai Fenton is a Chief Marketing Officer and Non-Executive Director with over 20 years' experinece of building brands and driving profitable customer and revenue growth in established and scaling organisations. Ma is a true marketing leader, having built her career in a variety of exciting brands across FMCG, D2C/ecommerce, fashion/lifestyle, digital marketplace, insurance and technology. As a result of her vision, energy and passion, she was named a 2023 Revenue Marketing Ones to Watch, and a 2022 CMO to Watch.

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