Inequality based on race, sexual orientation, and other factors stop them!
So let’s work together to help ourselves and other women to succeed.
Let’s talk about and shine a light on once taboo subjects like salary, job titles and descriptions, and promotions.
Further, regardless of where you are in your professional journey, you can still face setbacks.
To help you, these successful women in marketing have shared their work experiences. Examine what they say so you don’t feel alone.
Then use their advice to move your career forward for the win!
So put on your big girl pants and you go girl!
30+ Women In Marketing Share Their Career Challenges
One way to overcome your career challenges is to listen to what other women in marketing have faced.
So we asked:
As a woman in marketing, what challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
The women in this article come from different countries, races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and other attributes. While we tried to get diverse input for this article, we realize that we need to work harder. So as women, we can give other women a helping hand to improve their work skills, jobs and pay.
Olga Bedrina – Wave.video (@olga_bedrina)
As a marketing manager in IT, I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing and very supportive people. While technology remains mainly male, I find that this perspective shifting somewhat.
That said, I still had to overcome certain difficulties at the beginning of my career. I found it hard to get my work taken seriously. At the time, I attributed this to being a young girl in my mid-20s.
I had male managers at every job. At one position, I had to work really hard to prove myself. Even worse my boss yelled at me and, sometimes, humiliated me. I took his words personally and found it emotionally difficult even though he was the problem.
Jenny Brennan – AgoraPulse (@jennybrennanme)
My biggest career challenge:
Overcoming the little voice in my head always asking, “Who do you think you are that you can do this?”
To perform at a high level and achieve the best that I can in my career I practice personal development.
Leslie Carruthers – TheSearchGuru.com (@LeslieCarruther)
My biggest challenge: The lack of female mentors and sisterhood!
For much of my career being the only or one of a few women in a meeting, on a team and/or part of management, the men’s camaraderie wasn’t available to me.
But I lacked a sisterhood to replace the “boys club.”
Because, if other women were present, they were:
- Not at an executive level
- Unavailable for outside of work bonding due to their families, or
- Laser-focused on their management track with sharp edges from making their way in the male dominated environment.
As women, we didn’t have a translatable bonding experience (like golf) to bring us together. Further, the perfectionism that this created made the situation worse.
Actionable Women In Marketing Career Tip:
- Create cross-company activities to break down barriers among employees. Bear in mind that how your staff view your firm has an impact on how they talk about it! Further, marketing should support HR and how your business is perceived by prospective hires.
Heidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide (@HeidiCohen)
Despite my honors undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, I still got asked how fast I could type at every job I applied for.
But I didn’t let that stop me!
And you know what I learned in the process?“If you can’t get your career on track because you can’t get in the front door,” Heidi Cohen recommends, “Try the side door.”Click To Tweet
Pam Didner – Relentless Pursuit, LLC (@PamDidner)
The biggest challenge I faced was gender inequality.
As a result, I needed to fight harder to get projects with large scope. I found it important to proactively advocate for myself with management to get my due.
Gini Dietrich – Spin Sucks (@GiniDietrich)
Pretty much every challenge that every woman in business has faced has been mine to overcome. I’ve been sexually harassed, passed over for promotions, paid less, and all.
I once quit a job because a client came to my hotel room and wouldn’t stop banging on my door until I called security…and my boss asked me to stick it out because they were our largest client.
But since I started my own business, I’ve been very, very lucky until recently (the past 18 months or so).
Since I’m in PR and it’s a “girl” industry, men felt OK hiring us. After all, it’s what girls do.
But as we’ve shifted to helping agency owners grow more profitable businesses, we’ve seen a major shift in sexism.
Now they think: “A girl telling me how to run my business more profitably?” No way!
As a result, we constantly discuss how to handle this challenge internally as we try to navigate the waters.
Keri Engel – OptinMonster (@keri_engel)
For me, lack of confidence was a big challenge.
It took me way too long to be comfortable with the fact that I absolutely know what I’m doing and that I’m good at it!
Michelle Garrett – Garrett Public Relations (@PRisUs)
Working in the tech field for much of my career, I’m sometimes one of the only women on the team.
Fortunately, I don’t feel this hindered my career.
But, like many other fields, pay has sometimes been an issue.
Erika Heald – Erika Heald Consulting (@SFerika)
My first content marketing job was in a very traditional industry. I encountered a lot of sexist behavior that was considered just how it is.
When I saw that I was not going to be able to change that I left that position for one where women were treated with respect.
Since then, I’ve made a point of working for and with organizations that are committed to creating better workplace cultures where women can thrive.
Kristen Hicks – Austin Copywriter (@atxcopywriter)
I had to learn how to advocate for myself!
As a solopreneur, this had the biggest impact on my fees and learning to draw boundaries with clients. But, I’m getting better at it everyday even though it still takes work!
Carmen Hill – Chill Content (@CarmenHill)
I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career either working for myself or working in a woman-owned agency where women held most of the key leadership roles. While there were challenges, they weren’t related to being a woman.
That said, I definitely notice that other women still feel challenged to be taken seriously such as being included in the right meetings.
Anne Holland – Anne Holland Ventures Inc.
As an employer, I see a consistent gendered difference between applicants for marketing (and other) jobs.
Men toss their hats in the ring for stuff they are barely qualified for. Women wait until their qualifications check all the boxes before applying.
Also, men self-rate their skills on applications more highly than women do. They’ve been taught to be boastful and believe in themselves.
I’ve got enough experience to spot the discrepancies and account for them when evaluating candidates but I wonder if all employers do?
Only women in sales (versus marketing) sometimes swagger on their applications the way men do. It’s a learned skill. I don’t prefer the male style, but suspect it may help you get the job interview in some circumstances.
Zontee Hou – Media Volery (@ZonteeHou)
Especially as a woman of color, it can—at least on a subconscious level—make your career trajectory seem limited.
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to have women bosses, but they weren’t in the c-suite.
Instead I sought out role models across industries from whom to learn.
Among the women people who inspired me to push the boundaries of what a woman’s career can and should look like were:
- My mother who owned small business for most of my life,
- Cindy Gallop who was a pioneer of advertising and advocate,
- Ellen Pao who was a tech CEO, advocate and venture capitalist, and
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sharon Hurley Hall (@shurleyhall)
I had male clients who undervalued the contribution I made to their marketing.
In one case, the client assumed that creating blog content and managing their social media presence was easy and gave the job to a family member.
As a result, their content marketing stagnated and they learned the value of my work.
Six months later, they asked me to return without any push back about my rates.
Actionable Women In Marketing Career Tip:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more money. This includes increasing your prices or negotiating a higher salary.
Kathryn Kmiotek – Global Payments (@kcvkmiotek)
I’ve been stuck in what has been called the “broken rung”.
I’m stuck as a manager and not making the transition into a leadership role, especially in comparison to my males peers.
I’ve had to learn to ask and go for what I want and even then it seems like an uphill battle.
Lisa Marcyes – Oracle (@Lisa_Marcyes)
I had to convince the c-suite (and my family) that social media wasn’t a fad. Further I had to prove that it involved more than posting tweets.
They underestimated that social media marketing involved strategy, content, editing, photography, and graphic design to create a successful campaign!
As a result, I learned to communicate in a way that made sense each of the different stakeholders involved in every campaign.
To accomplish this, I had to understand the various lines of business so that I could speak in a language that resonated with them. This was pivotal to my ability to succeed.
Wendy Marx – Marx Communications (@wendymarx)
I’ve been fortunate in that the external challenges I’ve experienced haven’t been due to my gender.
In fact, early in my career, I had to contend with difficult female bosses, who didn’t empower women—or men for that matter. Most of my challenges have been self-induced.
As a baby boomer, I didn’t grow up with strong role models of women in the workplace.
I’ve struggled with imposter’s syndrome and not valuing my work enough to charge accordingly. Fortunately, time and experience are great teachers and healers.
Julia McCoy – Express Writers (@JuliaEMcCoy)
As a young female CEO in her 20s, I feel blessed that I haven’t encountered a lot of negativity from our clients or potential clients. Instead, the only emotion I seem to encounter there is respect!
However, my challenges come from the hiring and firing aspect of my business. To meet our clients’ needs, I run an agency of roughly 90 people. As an entrepreneur, I learned that not everyone works as hard as me. But leading a team of people, you need to be ready to deal with that.
As a woman—and in my 20s!—I hesitated to terminate people for gender or age reasons.
BUT–I discovered that my hesitation hurt the business!
Later I realized that if I had been firmer sooner, we wouldn’t be seriously behind on projects, or at risk of losing a client!
Today, gender and age don’t stop me.
Instead, I hold everyone accountable. And, more importantly, it doesn’t matter what my age or gender is or theirs.
Mandy McEwen – Mod Girl Marketing (@mandymodgirl)
When I started working in 2007, getting people to take me seriously as a young female marketing entrepreneur proved to be a major challenge.
However, this wound up being a blessing in disguise because it required me to push the boundaries of what I was capable of.
There was a constant need to overcome preconceived barriers and prove my worth as both a woman and a marketing professional. Because of this constant need to “prove myself,” I started blogging.
And I’m so grateful I did, as blogging solidified by personal brand and was the catalyst for the creation of my agency, Mod Girl®. So if it weren’t for the, “What the heck does this chick know about SEO?” naysayers, who knows where I’d be today.
Susan Moeller – BuzzSumo (@SusanCMoeller)
Having started my career in journalism, I transferred my creative skills to marketing.
But I’ve had to develop my business knowledge and vocabulary.
Camila Naranjo – Microsoft (@thecaminaranjo)
The career challenges I faced included:
- Leading former peers,
- Learning new disciplines as I move into different roles or functions,
- Getting passed over for promotion,
- Having nightmare bosses,
- Getting passed for leadership roles more than once,
- Harassment, and
- Lower pay.
Deb Olsen – Atlantic Diagnostic Laboratories LLC (@adllabs)
Personally I haven’t found being a woman caused me career challenges.
Instead, I focus on my tasks in a ‘non-gender’ way. And, I’ve discovered that if you don’t focus on it, you won’t see it.
Further if a prospect focuses on gender differences, they were never a good fit for your business! Simply move on.
Diane Osgood – Osgood Consulting (@dianeosgood)
I faced the challenge of having insufficient training to be a director and not promoting my own ideas and work sufficiently well.
Actionable Women In Marketing Career Tip:
- Find outside support or coaching to become a better manager. While many business schools teach the basics of business skills, they don’t help you to manage people. And neither do most bosses or HR departments.
Dayna Rothman (@Dayroth)
As I moved up the ladder into an executive role, the challenges I’ve faced as a woman in business have become more pronounced.
While marketing tends to have a higher number of women in leadership roles, in technology specifically, the number of women in leadership roles remains very small.
As a result, I’m typically surrounded by all male executive teams. So a woman in a leadership role, I have to work extra hard to be heard. While frustrating, it remains a hard reality you have to deal with.
I had to:
- Force my way into a “boys club” environment,
- Make the case to be at board meetings, and
- Proactively persuade my male counterparts to view me as an equal leader.
Equality in business continues to be a hard battle. Further discrimination in today’s work environment often remains subtle. As a result, I often see more junior women shy away from leadership roles.
BJ Sung – Pinnacle Social Impact Consultancy (@pinnacle)
Women must position themselves to stand out in a business environment.
Ivana Taylor – DIYMarketers.com (@DIYMarketers)
In my corporate career, my biggest challenge involved dealing with industrial companies that didn’t understanding marketing.
While engineering and manufacturing departments got approval for $500,000+ machines with little effort, I had to justify exponentially smaller expenditures.
Beth Temple – bethtemple4u llc (@bethtemple4u)
Early in my career I was the marketing person in tech companies. At that time men (who were engineers) were usually the heads of marketing.
While I always talked about the customer versus the product, I didn’t always get my way.
But I persevered by talking in terms that could be considered a middle way and advocated for myself with data or testing that would be more neutral and rooted in numbers versus ego.
Like most women there were moments of #metoo and I’m quite sure I was under-paid. It really never occurred to me.
But when I did realize it, I changed the way negotiated.
The last ah-ha came from younger women.
In 1999, I was the Director of Product at a still running financial site. Again, it didn’t dawn on me that I could make changes for others. The younger women advocated to me to get the Vice President title (and I got it).
Always remember that we all have to ‘keep it going’ – there is much still a lot of work to be done.
Jess Tyson – Don’t Panic Management (@jessostroff)
I’m sure many of us will have a similar answer here about proving our worth and our experience to our male colleagues.
However I have a little bit of a twist:
I was surprised to find that I often faced more challenges and pushback from my female colleagues than male colleagues, especially those that were older than me.
I started out in a relatively high role at a young age—my first marketing job was director of a department—but I was shocked to see women purposely putting road blocks in my way as if my success would somehow hinder theirs. Over the years, this has happened again and again.
I think women sometimes hold on to their own experiences of being put down, of not being heard, or of having to “prove” themselves. They project those feelings and experiences onto their newer, younger female colleagues, like it’s a rite of passage. It’s not right, but it’s understandable.
I’m glad to see more attention being drawn to issues that women in the workplace face because it’s not just the men who are treating women differently, it’s women too.
We all need to lift each other up, men and women together, because when one of us does well, everyone benefits.
Magdalena Urbaniak – Brand24 (@Meg_Urbaniak)
At the beginning of my professional career I had to convince people about my skills without using words. Nobody directly said that they perceived me as a less of a professional because I was female. So I couldn’t say out loud that they were wrong. It was challenging, subliminal communication so I had to act.
A few years ago, I worked in a PR agency. While there I received negative notes because I was a woman. (And I wasn’t the only one!)
Obviously, the men got extra points from the start.
So I had to work hard, and every mistake was severely punished. My family saw me so stressed and miserable, they advised me to leave. And I did so once I proved my skills and determination to everyone.
It is a pity that women have to work way harder to prove their professionalism than their colleagues on the same or similar position.
Then and now, I see how women who express reactions such as anger, stress, pride, joy, and disappointment are explained as excessive emotionality regardless of the cause!
I’m all for equality and that is why I fight for more women on bigger and smaller conference scenes both as a speaker and a host. The number of invitations today shows that it’s working. But it’s still a long, long process.
Cindy Valladares – Cisco (@cindyv)
No career has a linear, exponential growth curve.
Early in my career I lacked assertiveness, which I have learned to develop through the years.
At times when my career stagnated, I found mentors and sponsors who provided honest feedback/advice and opened doors for me to tackle on new projects to round up my experiences.
Actionable Women In Marketing Career Tip:
- Get a mentor or coach to help you. But realize that you must earn this special relationship since it takes time and effort. Also, in terms of coaching you may have to pay for it yourself.
Pamela Wilson – BIG Brand System (@PamelaIWilson)
My career challenges have been really juicy ones, and fun to tackle!
The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been the changing face of marketing over the decades that I’ve been in the field. This is a gender-neutral issue — everyone who started when I did has had to navigate the change from print to digital.
Since I have an aversion to boredom, learning and adapting over the decades has made my career interesting.
Consumer buying patterns have changed dramatically since when I started more than 30 years ago. I’ve truly enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to engage with today’s empowered consumer!
Actionable Women In Marketing Career Tip:
- Continue to keep your job skills up-to-date. Use online educational options, conferences or universities.
Ashley Zeckman – TopRank Marketing (@AZeckman)
I don’t know that I would say I have faced specific challenges in my career because I am woman.
If anything, most of the challenges I experienced were because I was young, new to marketing and was convinced I knew everything (still working on that one).
There are also some situations where I may have felt intimidated or my imposter complex reared it’s ugly head. But I always try to use those experiences as an opportunity to be better, learn more and emulate the marketers that I admire (both women and men).
Women In Marketing Share Their Career Challenges Conclusion
While you shouldn’t accept these challenges or put up with them these women provide proof that these situations did and still do exist.
Before complaining on social media or taking these issues to your management, understand that these actions may hurt your career and/or your job tenure.
Give yourself time to cool off before you decide what to do. It’s difficult to think straight in the heat of the moment.
Further, depending on the level of the challenge, you may decide to wait before taking action as several of these women did.
Or, like Gini Dietrich, the problem may be too big to avoid!
But, at a minimum, understand that you’re not alone as a woman in marketing when it comes to facing career challenges based on sex.
Whatever you choose, have faith in yourself and your ability to succeed in the long run!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 7, 2019. It has been significant enhanced and updated. Also, contributions were edited for grammar.
Get Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide by email:
Want to check it out before you subscribe? Visit the AMG Newsletter Archive.
Transform Your Marketing.
Marketing has become a bad word. Audiences are tired of the endless spam and the onslaught of digital ads. They’re looking for authentically human experiences. And it’s time for us, as marketers, to deliver.
Learn the tools and techniques to transform your marketing efforts and deliver digital experiences that audiences demand
Photos of Heidi Cohen – ©2019, Heidi Cohen – Permission to use them is granted on the condition that you link to this article.
Photos of contributors are sourced from Twitter profiles