To celebrate International Women’s Day – and this year’s theme of Embrace Equity – we invited three amazing female leaders to a LinkedIn Live discussion on the topic of promoting equity and inclusiveness, both in your business and your marketing outputs. We also just wanted to recognise and celebrate the power of women in marketing and leadership!
Joining our founder Katie Street were:
Amy Williams, Founder and CEO of Fem Foundry
Perla Bloom, Global Strategy Manager at Electronic Arts (EA)
Tracey Shirtcliff, Founder and CEO of The Virtu Group
Katie opened the conversation by saying, “As employees and employers, and in the marketing world, we can start to have a better approach to being more inclusive and enabling women—enabling everyone—to do their best work.”
Women in tech
Among other things in her role at EA Games, Perla Bloom does the marketing strategy for Battlefield, which is an immersive war game. And while she admitted this isn’t exactly the most female-centric game, there are quite a few women working on it.
She is also part of the Women’s Ultimate Team, which is essentially the women’s organisation at EA that aims to “improve the quality of the experience for women at EA Games in any way we can on a global scale.”
Perla said that from both the product and marketing side, having women involved has broadened perspectives and inspired new ideas. “Just having women in the room is very important.”
Tracey Shirtcliff—who was brought up on a farm on New Zealand’s South Island and has undergraduate degrees in geology and zoology—sold her first tech business, and has now just founded her second in the form of The Virtu Group.
While she concurred that tech is a very male-dominated space, she was also quick to point out that she often encounters men who express great compassion towards women’s challenges.
“Today I was at lunch with the CIO of a major global advertising brand, and when I told him I was going on this webinar for International Women’s Day he said, ‘I remember a period in my lifetime when women couldn’t even have a bank account; they weren’t allowed to have one without being married.’”
Tracy continued: “I find that men can be brilliant at encouraging women if they’re shown how to. I feel grateful to work within the advertising and media space, because I think we’ve been quite lucky as women; I know there’s still a lot of change to go but we’ve been lucky in that space—more and more women are coming through and breaking what we call the glass ceiling.”
Why can’t women be alpha?
While it’s true that the chest-beating, aggressive and domineering trope of the alpha male business leader is slowly being replaced by something less uncompromising, there still exists a kind of ‘who do you think you are?’ reaction to women displaying strong leadership and assertiveness.
“I hate to say this,” Katie said, “but sometimes you’ve got to stand up to be noticed and be a bit alpha. I’ve been accused of being a bit alpha, which shouldn’t be a bad thing. Why can’t I be a bit alpha? I’ve also been called bossy. My brother doesn’t get called bossy so why do I? There are so many terms out there that just need to be squashed.”
Amy Williams pointed out that all humans have both feminine and masculine traits, and that this needs to be more openly recognised and embraced in order to keep driving the shift towards equality. For while women might be called out for being ‘alpha’, men can just as easily be shamed for being too feminine.
Amy said: “I think a lot of men struggle with their feminine traits. It’s seen as something they’re not allowed to have, like having a softer side makes you weak. I think it’s up to us, particularly in what we’re putting out there in our marketing, not to use words like ‘alpha, ‘feminine’, ‘dominating’, ‘aggressive’, etc., so we can help change that narrative.”
Championing female finance
Amy’s company, Fem Foundry, promotes conversation, learning, connection and debate across what she considers four fundamental pillars of health—financial, physical, mental and spiritual.
Fem Foundry was inspired by Amy’s own experience of seeing all four of those pillars “come crashing down all at once” and not having access to the resources and support she needed.
“I passionately believe everyone has the right to upskill, to get out of bad relationships and financial abuse,” she said. “Every human has the right to financial independence, and we really want to help facilitate that.”
This opened a lively discussion about why women are often not taught about finance at an early age, and what can be done to correct this.
“I’m being very general here,” Amy said, “but the only reason boys are taught finance is because it’s passed down from generation to generation. It tends to be a male thing to pass that down to the other male in the family. Fortunately, I was taught about finance because my dad was a self-made entrepreneur. But it’s something that one hundred percent needs to be taught in schools—why are we not taught how to pay bills, how to get a house? All these basic things that we all need to do to live; it just blows my mind.”
Tracey added that we should be taking opportunities like International Women’s Day to change tendencies such as this one.
“We should be seeing how we can help women change at every level from all ages,” she said.
Leading the change
To round up the webinar, Katie asked the guests what they are doing to make the workplace fairer, more equitable for everyone.
Perla said part of this process is teaching men to be good allies. She believes that a lot of the time, her male colleagues want to be more encouraging but they’re not sure how to go about this without coming across as condescending or sexist.
“It’s about speaking your experiences into existence,” she said. “Like when things happen to you that you feel wouldn’t have happened to a male counterpart, you educate them or sometimes just downright ask them to support you. By shedding a light on those things, they will hopefully start to call them out. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have men call things out that were misogynistic that I didn’t even clock.”
Amy related a similar experience. Fem Foundy is an all-female team except for one guy. She said he quite often points out things that might be seen as inappropriate or misogynistic.
“You really have to have this balance,” she said. “I want to get around this vernacular of ‘male’ and ‘female’ employees and instead be employing good humans, decent and creative people, and have that balance of mind. Apart from gender, what makes a good team to me is also diversity of age and thought.”
Tracey concluded that she believes fairness and equity are thing that simply come naturally to a female founder.
“I find women are good at dealing with clients and challenges and when things are not going well. They’re also very responsive and good at multi-tasking. We talk about the negatives of being called ‘aggressive’ or ‘masculine’ or whatever, but there are so many positives that women can contribute.
“Mixed teams make such a huge difference. And while, for instance, a women’s attention to detail can be better than a man’s, I think it takes a village to run a business. As a leader, you need to find people’s strengths and play to them. The converse of that is to identify people’s weaknesses and get others to plug those gaps.”