To celebrate the launch of Wonder Women in the USA, Giles and I will be writing a series of blogs with excerpts from the stories of and interviews with some of our American heroes featured in the book, as well as women who have progressed their careers working across the Atlantic.
Today we’re featuring two of the American Heroes we interviewed:
Kathy’s marketing career started at Quaker, then Amoco, BP and Comcast. She is highly experienced in crisis management, having led BP’s US advertising and social media response during the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
When Kathy started her career at Quaker, they were really open to women in marketing, but it was a different story when she went to Amoco. They had revamped their marketing team (which had previously been all men) to include 20-30 year old women. A great move by the business, but it was nevertheless a challenging time for a woman:
“The owners of the retail gas stations we worked closely with were not pleased with the changes. Most of them were white males in their 50s and 60s so often I was the only women in a meeting of 10 to 15 people. I had to figure out how to get their agreement on the marketing programmes we wanted them to implement on their sites. I’m 5’1” and blonde, so I decided to play into the fact that I was their daughters’ age. I didn’t push back on being called ‘sugar’ or ‘honey’ – I just related to them as people and tried to get to know them. For me, sometimes a stealth approach is better than directly confronting sexism. Ultimately, I won them over. My husband calls me the velvet hammer!”
Kathy also believes that being a mother makes her a better leader and marketer:
“My son plays video games and is online all the time. Just by listening to him, I can figure out some of the things that are coming. For example, he was on Twitch, so I knew that was a channel to watch from an advertising perspective. The fact that he doesn’t watch TV told me that it’s not part of the mix if we want to reach younger people.”
Kathy shares more interesting perspectives on the importance of intuition, but the need for data to support your story, women being too modest and too ready to say sorry, and life being to short to stay in a role where you can’t be your best.
Kara started her marketing career young – dinner conversations with her parents were around brand and marketing in the fashion world, then at 18 she got a taste for advertising as an intern at Ammirati & Puris in New York, her curious spirit was cultivated at Sarah Lawrence College, a leading liberal arts college in New York, before honing in on her fascination with social analysis and forecasting.
“I did a lot of work for Unilever in those days, demonstrating how the world was changing around them from gender roles to attitudes towards cultural differences. Take detergent, for example, our focus was not just on the product or the target customers; we were thinking about how laundry fits into the broader scheme of what’s going on in the world.”
Kara talks about differences in attitudes and behaviour regarding women across the east and west coast, albeit 20 years ago:
“Interestingly, in New York, many of the ad agencies I worked with were run by women, and women were important people, so I didn’t feel a lot of gender bias. When I moved to Publicis Hal Riney in San Francisco 20 years ago, one of my clients was Saturn, so there were a lot of men focused on the automobile market. Without a doubt, there was a sense that women were ‘those pretty things.’ It was shocking to me.”
Her career really took off when she moved to Landor in San Francisco and into brand strategy and design.
“I love thinking about things in a creative way, trying to isolate what the real challenge is within a business culture and how to unlock the potential. That’s when I started to really thrive. It was taking the skills of being an ethnographer, the skills of someone who loves consumers and generational marketing and applying it to corporations.”
Kara talked about ‘a million and one small things’ that are unconscious gender bias that we need to overcome where-ever we work.
What I find interesting about what Kara says here is that you might see gender equality and women succeeding where you work and think the job is done – but it’s important we don’t allow ourselves to suffer from gender equality myopia. Gender bias is still likely to be present in the organisation that’s in the building across the street, in the next city, and certainly across the globe.