What do marketing leaders and teams need to know about gender equity in the workplace? Make it a priority to be a great communicator, highly effective, and flexible to drive change.
Today’s guest is Ashley McManus, Senior Director of Global Marketing at Smart Eye. She is a tech startup marketing leader with extensive expertise in inbound marketing. Her thoughtful branding and organized approach to execution resulted in acquiring the tech startup, Affectiva.
Ashley is able to break down challenges, come up with creative solutions, and drive results quickly within budget. She combines strategic thinking with tactical execution, analyzing problems, and identifying steps to results by being adaptive and resourceful.
Also, Ashley designs strategies for tech companies to position them as industry thought leaders. She does this by deliberately creating high-quality content that resonates with their target audience and is in line with their vision.
“Equality between men and women, it doesn’t mean that men and women have to become the same. But it’s just that their rights, responsibilities, opportunities, they don’t depend on whether they are born male or female.”
“Gender equity - that means fairness. Fairness of treatment for men and women according to their respective needs.”
“Equity really leads to equality.”
“Women are responsible for, I think, 70 to 80 percent of customer purchasing.”
What Marketers Need to Know About Gender Equity in the Workplace With @TheAshTree From @SmartEyeAB
Ben: Hey, Ashley. How's it going this afternoon?
Ashley: I'm well. How are you?
Ben: I can't complain. We were just chit-chatting a minute ago about Mondays. Definitely not feeling a physical, alcohol-driven hangover, but just a relaxation [...] to shake myself out of that mental wall a little bit.
Ashley: Yeah. Getting ready for the week.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. We're going to be talking about gender equity in the workplace. Specifically, what does it really mean in a marketing context?
The first question I'd like to open up with is sometimes, I hear people confuse the terms equality with equity. They're very similar terms, but they have very important distinctions that have pretty significant ramifications for how they're used, what they actually mean, and what they actually imply.
How can people best understand what each of those terms mean, for one? For two, why should the focus here really be on equity? Why is that portion of this important?
Ashley: The way that I like to think of it is gender equality—equality between men and women—doesn't mean that men and women have to become the same. It's just that their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities don't depend on whether they're born male or female. That's equality.
Then, when you look at gender equity, that means fairness of treatment for men and women according to their respective needs. This might include equal treatment or treatment that is slightly different but is considered equivalent in terms of right, benefits, and opportunities. Equity really leads to equality, if that makes sense.
For me, I think a critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women—focusing and identifying where these power imbalances exist, how can we empower women to make sure that they're making the best decisions possible, and how they can really be seen as equal partners because they have that equal access to opportunities, resources, and whatever it is that might look like.
Ben: Sure. That's a great explanation that is pretty easy to understand. The delineation is there and how one ultimately leads to the other on a long enough timeline.
The answer to this is obvious to most people, but I think it's something that's worth touching on regardless. Why should we be concerned about gender equity in the workplace? Why is it important to not just accept that that's a great thing in theory but to actually make that something that we concern ourselves with making a priority?
Ashley: There are a million different reasons, but I'll start with me and why this personally became such an interest of mine. The pandemic was incredibly devastating to women in the workplace. Prior to the pandemic, we were roughly equal in terms of the amount of men and women that were employed. Recently, I saw an article that said, today, we see the amount of women that are working is the same as it was in the 1980s.
As someone that was made in the '80s, I am slightly horrified as to that number. I just think of all the progress that we've lost, how we can make that, and then some. I think that the pandemic really brought to light that so much is put on women's shoulders.
I'm actually a working mom so I'm speaking for the working women that are also moms. It was the proverbial straw that broke our backs. We couldn't take it anymore, and there were so many people that just left. They're like, I got to just focus on kids. I need to take a break. My mental health is just going bananas. That's a context of why I really think it is a concern of everyone.
Another more obvious reason is diversity of views in the workplace. If you work in a place where everyone looks and thinks like you do, I think that the output of that is not super helpful. Especially in a marketing team where you have a diverse representation of perspectives, genders, ethnicities, and ages, you're putting an output. You get gut checks of things like does this sound like it's going to fly and it's going to be okay? Or it's just thinking creatively and trying things that we haven't seen or talked about before. That's also really critical as well.
Ben: Yeah, certainly. Both of those are of the multitude of reasons why this matters. We could spend much more time than what we have allotted for this conversation.
Ashley: The full episode of what are the benefits? What are the reasons?
Ben: Probably multiples, but I think those are two great points to really hone in on. That speaks to why this matters in the workplace broadly speaking, cutting across industries, disciplines, and so forth.
What are some specific reasons why marketing teams should really make this a point of emphasis within their own ranks?
There are a couple reasons why I asked this question. One is because this is a marketing show so that got to be the context for everything. Secondly, sometimes, if this is really a problem within an organization, one team, one person, or one department might not be able to really move the needle on that, maybe not right now. Long-term, sure, but not immediately.
There are probably things that you can do that are closer to your sphere of influence within that company. Maybe you could do something within your department, your team—however your org chart breaks down.
Just to make this manageable within what a marketer or what a marketing team could do at least within their own department—maybe that does become a catalyst for change more broadly—what are some reasons why they should care as far as this conversation applies to their team?
Ashley: I think this is an interesting question for me too as someone in marketing, so I look at it in two different ways. The first would be customer targeting—how you address the people that you're trying to market your product or your service to. That's one piece of it.
Then, the other piece is just general company representation and reputation. Marketing is often charged with that.
To start with the targeting, I believe that women are responsible for 70%–80% of customer purchasing. Yet despite this, in a typical workplace, women may not be involved in making top-level decisions about product development and marketing.
Why wait until you launch a product to figure out if it's going to work for your key demographics? We touched on that a little earlier. If you have a very diverse marketing team and you happen to be marketing to a woman, shouldn't you have a marketing woman on your team? It seems obvious, but when you're talking about customer profiles, wouldn't it be handy if you had a customer profile on your team that could help you write copy, gut check taglines, or whatever? That is an obvious thing when I think about marketing and diversity.
Then, the second piece is really your company reputation. I think that branding and marketing so often really coincide. Often, marketing teams are the ones that are putting out all of our social media and are trying to—especially in today's world—be representative of this is our company's core mission. These are our values. This is what we stand for.
If you're the department that's churning this out, in theory, you need to be backing it up, especially today where people are pointing things out and saying, okay, you say [...] for this, but you're really doing this. They're calling companies out, and you got to be held accountable.
We're saying all this stuff, and we have this stuff on our website. What are we doing today to really represent that and back that up? Maybe we should have more than one woman on the C-suite because we have all of these white male pictures on our About Us page, and it's not flying anymore. That's just an example.
That also bleeds down to hiring too. I'll talk about that a little bit later. Sometimes, the marketing machine is applied to hiring and recruiting talent so you can paint a company reputation and a picture of we're a place to work that is inclusive of everyone. You're going to be comfortable here because there are people also here that are like you. We welcome everyone, we're living our best lives over here, and you want to be here.
Those are the two ways that marketing can be a really critical role in leading gender equity in the workplace.
Ben: Those are all fantastic points as well. I myself had never even thought about the role that marketing often does play in talent acquisition or positioning a company as being a desirable employer.
The next question was maybe partially answered by the previous one, but let's go a little bit more in-depth on the potential negative effects that an organization and the marketing team might experience if they don't take this into consideration and if they just coast along thinking that this is something that either somehow does not apply to them or for whatever reason, they don't see the reality of this being an issue.
What could the negative effects be? How deep could those negative effects run?
Ashley: The first, I did start to answer it, but I would say the poor company reputation. People talk. There's Glassdoor. Also, among employee networks, I've known people ask, I'm looking at your company, do you like it there? People say, no, don't. Just stay away. You're a friend of mine. I don't want to subject you to this place.
Imagine how damaging that is. If you're a company that's innovative, trying to hire people that are good, and you've got this reputation that you're not known for supporting your people and being inclusive, that's not great. You'll have a little bit of an uphill battle on your hands. That's one.
This speaks more generally to what your culture is and looks like, but if people feel excluded—if women feel excluded—they aren't going to stick around. Churn is incredibly expensive to companies, not to mention the cost of finding, hiring someone, and training them to replace that person. You lose valuable, legacy company knowledge when that person walks out the door.
We've seen The Great Resignation—as I'm sure you've heard—of people who have said, why am I here? Why am I doing this? I'm killing myself. I'm not being recognized. I don't see a lot of people that look at me that are here, that are understanding and empathizing with the struggles that I have. I'm out. I'm done.
I think the churn is a definite concern that people should have. Beyond that, lack of morale. When things are equal, the workplace is happier. It's really frustrating—and I've experienced this as a woman—seeing opportunities pass you by when you feel like you're doing the same work and that guy got promoted. What is going on?
Also, it's very demotivating. It reduces productivity, which again goes back to the costs. It costs companies when employees are unproductive.
I hate to be the person that just puts out negative stuff, but I'm also thinking of solutions to these two things especially when women feel stuck. They're just sitting there, and they don't really know what to do. Maybe I should just leave.
As tempting as that is and often, it most likely will happen—I will talk about this a little bit later—but what can you do to get yourself unstuck? Who can you talk to? Who can you create visibility around your work? Maybe people don't know that you want to be promoted. Maybe your boss doesn't know that you did this project.
There's a lot of stuff there where women can empower themselves and take the initiative to do whatever they can possible to try to make it to that next level, to continue to want to be there, and to know there's a reason that you were hired. You're probably amazing. You feel stuck. What can we do to get you unstuck?
Those are some potential negatives, but hopefully leaving you with some actionable ways where you can hopefully work around on.
Ben: Basic human empathy and decency really should be enough for gender equity to be made a priority in business, but if you do encounter any pushback or even just simple confusion or skepticism as to why it's something that is worthwhile to focus on, pointing to the cause of not taking action might help you move that conversation forward.
Ashley pointed out several reasons why this is the case. It's just absolutely true that if there is a lack of equity and diversity in the room when decisions get made, then outcomes are likely going to suffer as a result just from the lack of this perspective being incorporated that really needs to be there in order for the business to make the best decisions for itself and for its customers.
Now, back to Ashley.
If a CMO, a marketing leader, or someone with actual decision-making power on a marketing team is concerned about gender equity on their team within their company or maybe within their industry—it could keep going up and up from there—at whatever level, how would you recommend that they begin to address the situation? What's the first thing that you do here?
Ashley: For me, the first thing would be starting at the ground up—creating inclusive hiring practices and simplifying job requirements. It sounds very silly, but men apply to a job when they feel like they have 60% of the requirements. Women won't apply unless they feel they have 100%.
I encourage you, if you're a woman, you're listening, you're looking at a job, and you're like, I haven't done everything, just apply to the thing. It'll be great. Simplifying job requirements.
I also would say don't ask for a salary history. It actually unfairly penalizes women who are already affected by the gender pay gap. If you have a position that you're hiring for, you're generally going to have a range. You already know you're going to pay. Let's not do the terrible thing where you see how low we can get the employee for. That's another piece of it.
Then, a diverse interview panel. I know that sometimes, it's harder to do in smaller companies, but have the candidate meet with a couple of different types of people. Maybe it's you. Maybe it's someone of a different gender, a different ethnicity, or a different age. Get different perspectives on this candidate so you get a full scope of what this person is and could do.
Focusing on that and really applying it to every one of your hires—I know we're talking marketing, but really across the board, I think it could be applied—is a definite great first step. There's that.
Then after that, I would say build an enabling environment where the HR department will really shine. Definitely start there and see what you can do to help support your people.
The pandemic really forced this but allowed flexible hours, working from home, and working remotely. When you let go a little bit of control as to where people do their work, trust that you hired a great team, and that they're going to get the work done, you will still hold them accountable for it, but just giving them that autonomy would be really huge especially for women workers.
Then, the third piece is really critical as a leader. Focusing on the results that your team is doing and making sure especially the women on your team are getting the visibility for what they've done.
For example, if a woman on your team has executed (flawlessly) an amazing project, make sure the company knows about it. We have a company Slack, so every time I knock something out, I'm like, hi, channel. Just so you know, we published this blog article with this company. This is great because it does this and this.
Every time you do that, you're like, hey, I'm here. I'm doing these great things. You're getting that visibility. A lot of women are uncomfortable doing that, so I will encourage you to—as their leader—encourage them. My boss did it for me, and I didn't even think about this until she told me to do it.
Encourage them to do it. Maybe offer to do it once or twice and be like, listen, I'll share at the company update meeting that you did this great job. It's also getting your name out there for when it's promotion time and raise time. She clearly is knocking it out of the park with all these things. I want to keep her. She's doing a great job. Let's talk about promotions. Also, it's really good personally if you want to get promoted or if you're working towards that next level.
No one can read your mind. If you're like, oh, I want to be a director and I want to be a manager but no one knows it, it's not going to happen. Especially to your manager. I know I'm speaking below the CMO here, but you share that I really want to be a VP. I want to get to that next level. How do I do this? Just so you know, this is what I'm working for. Just making sure that they know that.
And asking your employees where do you want to go in your career? Being that coach for them when they need it. Those are the three areas I would really recommend that CMOs focus on.
Ben: That's all really excellent advice. It's really important to say it out loud. It's okay to advocate for yourself.
Ashley: Yes, please do.
Ben: Even though it can be uncomfortable for people—definitely for women especially—for a wide number of reasons.
To focus on that point a little bit more, if someone is feeling uncomfortable—let's say that maybe that discomfort is coming from not wanting to sound arrogant or not wanting to sound full of yourself. Some people just don't express themselves that way with regard to their own achievements. It could even come down to being humble to a fault potentially as well.
How do you get over that? How do you talk yourself up and be comfortable talking yourself up without really having that fear in the back of a person's mind about being overly concerned with how that comes off?
Ashley: This is definitely something I know a lot of people struggle with. The concern is real, it's validated, it's there, and I understand it, but I also think that what you're communicating and how you're communicating it, there's a difference there. Yes, it's one thing to be like, I did this thing. I'm amazing. Aren't I so great?
That's not what I'm saying you do. I'm saying you put in a lot of work on this project, you did a good job, you saw great results—whatever it is that was great. Your boss said, great job. This is not an imposter syndrome thing.
This is like, you did a good job on this—this is the marketing side of me—let's create some visibility around your honestly well-done good work. You're allowed to take up space to share that story.
Again, this will get easier with practice. I would start with hi, team. I just wanted to share that I dropped a new podcast on this topic with this company. They're a valued customer of ours. We talked about X, Y, and Z. This is a great relationship-building tool. I'm really pleased to see that we've gotten X amount of downloads, and I can't wait to continue to do more projects like this in the future.
To me, that does not sound arrogant. It sounds more like this is a fact of something that was done. I did it, and it did a really good job. I think changing your perspective a little bit will help you get there. Just practice. Just keep doing it as uncomfortable and as weird as it feels.
Also, it's a lot easier to do it on Slack versus standing up at a company meeting in front of 100 people saying, look how great I am. Compose a message via text and just share it. Hopefully, that was a little bit of a helpful tip as to how to do that or take a step to do that.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. That's great. People probably get this, but I think it's also worth clarifying. This does not mean stand on your desk and start shouting about how great you are.
One other side of that too that I wonder if we could spend a little bit more time on is certainly, there are things that marketing leaders can do to create space where people talk each other up. That might be another way. It's important that people learn to do some of this for themselves.
I wonder if for some people, it might actually be more comfortable for them to talk someone else up. And as long as you're creating this culture where people think about it a little more proactively to recognize the good work that other people are doing, maybe some of that benefit comes back around yourself. But you have to really proactively nurture that type of a culture, which in some companies might be really difficult if they happen to be competitive where you've got two people who are angling for that same promotion. We don't need to go too deep into that dynamic.
If you are somebody with decision-making power, your department is even big enough to where you individually actually don't see everything that people do, you don't see all the creative outputs, you don't see all the data, or you don't see every little minute thing that might look small to you but actually was really impactful or just really meant a lot within the context of a given person's role or achievements, how do you create a more supportive atmosphere where you really do have a collaborative environment where people openly share one another's wins?
Ashley: I don't know if I totally have how to create that atmosphere, but for a personal example, I had a really good friend of mine that I worked with. She was in a different department, but we were both very similar. We're really driven. We're trying to get to our next level career-wise. We're friends, obviously. We just made a decision one day. How can we go out of our way to support each other?
Whenever one of us does something, the other person would share it. I would share something like, okay, this is the thing I did. My friend would say, great job, Ashley. You're such a valuable asset to this company.
It's so simple. Again, this mostly applies to women too, but if you're as kind to yourself as you are to your friends, think of the amazing things that you could do and say. I think she's amazing, and I'm going to say it because why not? Hopefully, that confidence gets built up where she's advocating for herself. Creating cross-functional support for this might eliminate a little of that competitiveness.
I also believe that it's great to have a great marketing team, to be really close, and to support each other, but I also am a firm believer in building a rapport with the whole organization.
She was in HR. We don't work together every single day, but she was just a cool person and I liked her, so who was to say I can't meet a similar engineer or someone in sales? We can all build each other up. This is also super valuable for going down a hole. Like marketing projects, I find it really inspiring when I have an engineer. I have them for coffee and we talk about the content ideas. You just did that awesome project, that's awesome. Can I share it? Can we do something to create more visibility around it?
Some of the best content pieces or general company awareness type of things have spurged from those kinds of relationships. I know it's kind of taking it on yourself a little bit, but there are opportunities to build that framework of a support system.
Also, this might go without saying, but if you are a boss, where can you increase visibility for your team? If they do a great job on something, give them five minutes at a company meeting or a larger executive meeting to present their work. It sounds a little, but it'll be huge for them.
Ben: It does sound like such a small thing, but the impact that it makes is pretty immense. Because it does seem such a small thing, maybe it also makes it really easy to overlook, ignore, or undervalue. That's an excellent answer.
The last question I'll throw your way. We talk in terms of marketing teams and marketing departments. Hopefully, this is something that applies broadly to an organization because HR has to have a pretty big role in this, the C-suite, just whoever has oversight, decision-making power, and control over strategic direction. Maybe it does make more sense to talk about this organization-wide.
Let's say that at the very least (bare minimum) a marketing leader has established gender equity as a priority on their team. Once they've moved past the basics—they probably do have HR on this—how can they ensure that they sustain a culture and an environment where internal policies that support gender equity can actually be sustainable for the long-term? How can they ensure that that doesn't become a one-off type of initiative that they did one time and now they think the problem's "fixed?" How do you make this an ongoing priority that you don't lose sight of?
Ashley: Some of my answers are again more broad. They're not so much for multi-marketing specifically. First off, definitely work with HR. I have also noticed recently a trend popping up—a head of people, people operations, or VP of people jobs. That's showing us that there's a trend heading towards giving your people a voice at the table, finding out what they need, and maybe working with HR to recommend that your company bring someone on who really owns these initiatives and keeps you and your company accountable for it. I think that would omit the, okay, we did this, check, moving on, to make sure that we can continue to make progress here. That's one thing.
Podcasts like these are so great because we're having this conversation. Where can you make a difference in your day-to-day meetings? I would encourage women especially in meetings. Often, they're talked over. We get interrupted. Maybe at the end, just circle back and say, listen, I noticed that you were trying to say something earlier. Did you have a thought or an opinion before we move on?
Especially if she's largely silent. Usually, she's got something and she's waiting. Especially at Zoom, it's super tricky to know when to jump in and when you can. As a leader, if you can, just be more observant of this type of thing where you can maybe take an active role in promoting this.
Also, if you are a leader, I'm a big fan of what I call service leadership—understanding what your team needs in order to succeed whether it's education and training. Maybe ask them where do you want to go? What's your next career level goal? If you want to be a manager, what kind of training do we need to get you so you can get there? What kind of education are you trying to get—certificates and something—maybe the company can pay for it. Something like that.
Sometimes, it's simple. Everybody wants a raise and a promotion, but at the end of the day, I think that stuff is also recognition. Your team is doing great work, recognize them. If you can't afford a raise or a promotion, again, it's a callout at that company meeting or an email to everyone saying, Ashley killed it on this project. I just want to take a minute to showcase that.
Then, it's more basic stuff. I know we talked about working from home and more flexible hours. If they need a little extra PTO to deal with family or their situation, just be flexible where you can accommodate, especially since women typically have a lot more household stuff going on typically. This could really help them out as well.
The last thing I would leave you with is coaching and mentoring them. Men and women can mentor anyone early in their career. Chances are someone took the time to coach and mentor you, so I would just look around and see where you can reach down and lift someone up.
It usually doesn't cost anything to just have a coffee with someone and talk through what you are looking to do. Usually, they're trying to get where you are, so share advice on this is how I got here, this is a template you can use, this is who you should talk to, make those connections—anything you can do.
These are all actionable things. It's not just a one-time thing. It's always trying to keep at the back of your mind, how can I keep this momentum going? Those are some ways that you can do it.
Ben: Sure. That's awesome stuff. Hopefully, this didn't feel like staring into the abyss a little bit too much in the middle of the conversation. You really did an excellent job of leaving our listeners with lots of things that they can actually do. What's especially important is you shared a lot of really good practical advice that you don't have to lean on somebody else for. These are all things that an individual can either start thinking about or can start implementing without any delay.
Ashley, thanks so much for taking the time to come on the show and share your insight. I really think that everybody who listens to this—if they are really listening carefully—should be able to take plenty away from this conversation that's really valuable.
Ashley: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure talking about this stuff with you.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.