Women Are Stuck in Mid-Level Roles. Here’s How Corporate America Can Support Them

After months of Covid-related challenges at work and home, one in four women is thinking about downshifting her career or leaving the workforce entirely. That’s according to a recent study on women in the workplace from the nonprofit advocacy group LeanIn.org and consulting firm McKinsey.

As a result, the report advised corporate America to ask itself whether cementing a more flexible and equitable work environment is worth it to retain and champion women.

At Adweek’s Women Trailblazers summit this week, executive editor Stephanie Paterik sat down with two marketing leaders to discuss how this issue impacts women in their industry in particular, as well as how women can advance beyond mid-level positions—and how the pandemic will impact how women work moving forward.

Tech-enabled marketing

At a time when marketing jobs increasingly require expertise in data and technology, fewer women are graduating in related fields, making it even harder for women to become leaders in the space, said Marta Cyhan-Bowles, chief marketing officer of media company Catalina.

Part of the problem is the tech industry remains dominated by men such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “I think that in some ways women don’t see … [the tech industry] could be a profession that can be for them,” she added.

However, Jennifer Remling, global chief people officer at media investment company GroupM, noted a bright spot in that media and advertising is a good place for women to start their careers and get on-the-job exposure to data and technology even if their backgrounds aren’t specifically in STEM.

“We’re hiring people from media and advertising backgrounds, but we’ve become much more tech-focused and that’s just going to continue to increase,” she said. “So I think it’s a good place to come in … and see where you can play a role in it because … women can see themselves in it more so than maybe an engineering or a tech company.”

And, as coding becomes integrated into primary education, younger generations—female and male—will be better prepared for careers in tech-enabled marketing.

“But in some ways, there’s a huge gap over the next 10 years [where] we need to create that focus so that we have people to fill the jobs,” Cyhan-Bowles added.

Finding an ally in the office

For women already in the field—or just starting out—finding a way to work with company leaders is one way to proactively create paths to growth, Cyhan-Bowles said.

Doing just that enabled her to be more “provocative or adventurous, or try different things or bring innovation forward” in her own career, she added.

Then, as women grow in the workplace, it’s about building relationships and “making sure your team is following you and management buys what you’re into,” Cyhan-Bowles said. “Because in meetings, sometimes you need somebody who’s going to support your point of view and really endorse that versus [being] the lone wolf creating and trying to voice change.”

Career advocacy programs

Managers, on the other hand, should focus on career advocacy—and companies should formalize their advocacy programs.

“What’s happened historically is there’s all these informal networks, and most of them are men because [they’re] in most of those senior roles. And they go off together or they go to the bar or what have you, and a lot of the women and underrepresented groups are left out of that more natural organic relationship that happens where you build trust and bonds,” Remling said.

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