How Gender Inequality Helped me Rediscover the Joy in my Career

Almost one year ago to the day, I applied to the Master of Design program at Swinburne University of Technology. At the time, my decision to head back to university felt more like me clutching at straws rather than a strategic career decision; I felt lost in my career, not even knowing where I was in the pipeline let alone where I wanted to be.

My anxiety made things worse. At times, my brain would be telling me to pull the emergency stop on my career and abandon ship while the other half was telling me to keep calm and carry on. It felt comparable to having five backseat drivers while I, the driver, just wanted to pull into the Maccas drive-through of life and veg out in the carpark. It wasn’t until my first semester back at university that I realised that it was the corporate landscape, rather than my anxiety, that was the catalyst for my career-panic.

I started my career working in manufacturing as a Marketing graduate, where, with the guidance from my boss, I was able to come into my own as a professional marketer. After two years with the company, I was offered a promotion; I was on the fast-track to the top. However, personal circumstance required that I move interstate and my career aspirations were put on hold.

Since then, my career has been in a holding pattern, with career-advancing opportunities knocking less frequently than before. I love my job and the people that I work with, but my fixed position had me asking the question “Is it me? Am I the problem”? It was at this point that my university coursework, serendipitously, provided the answer.

Every year, the Big Issue, a social enterprise that aims to provide work opportunities for the homeless, holds its Big Idea competition. The Big Idea is a national university competition where students are asked to submit a business plan for a new social enterprise that aims to support a disadvantaged community. For my business plan, I chose to look at women’s career progression and what I learned was interesting, yet troubling:

Women have been entering the workforce at the same rate as men for decades; however, women remain underrepresented in senior levels (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 474, Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2017, p.1). This lag in career progression for women, when compared to their male counterparts, has been found, in part, to be due to Second Generation Gender Bias.

Second Generation Gender Bias is the powerful yet often invisible barrier to women’s advancement which arises from cultural beliefs about gender as well as workplace structures that inadvertently favour men (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475). Most women are unaware of having been victim to this type of discrimination, but it is what makes it harder for women to transition into leadership roles (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475).

Transitioning into a leadership role is fundamentally a question about identity and not the position one holds within an organisation (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 765). Individuals will categorise both themselves and others based on stereotypes (Eysenck 2004, 657) making stereotypes directly linked to an individual’s identity which also applies when forming a leadership identity. “The social interactions in which people claim and grant leader identities…are shaped by culturally available ideologies about what it means to be a leader” (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p.476), and in most cases this meaning is masculine.

The lack of women in senior leadership positions emphasises this ideology. Furthermore, the social and recursive process in which one attempts to claim a leadership identity often favours men anyway, as they are more likely to receive affirmation of their behaviour due to organisational hierarchies that confirm the leadership stereotype as being masculine (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475).

Compounding this, role models play an essential role in the successful development of young aspiring managers (Singh, Cinnicombe & James cited in Michailidis, Morphitouu & Theophylatou 2011, p. 4234) and are also critical to young female employees (Swiss cited in Michailidis, Morphitouu & Theophylatou 2011, p. 4235). Men in senior positions are less likely to take on proteges and, when combined with the lack of women leaders, this creates a significant barrier for women’s professional development as a group, globally (Michailidis, Morphitouu & Theophylatou 2011, p. 4243).

So where does this leave women? For women to progress, they must actively seek out professional development opportunities, such as leadership programs. However, current leadership “practitioners and educators lack a coherent, theoretically based, and actionable framework for designing and delivery leadership programs for women” (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p.475) forcing them to adopt one of two approaches:

  1. “Add-women-and-stir” (Martin & Meyerson cited in Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475) which assumes that gender does not matter for leadership development; or
  2. “Fix the women” (Ely & Meyerson cited in Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475) which locates the problem with women.

Both of these approaches fail to address the male-favoured organisational hierarchies that women face in the workplace, nor do they provided women with the facility to develop leadership identities. Ely, Ibarra & Kolb (2011 pp.486-8) identified three fundamental principles for designing and delivering women’s leadership programs, and these are:

  1. Situate Topics and Tools in an Analysis of Second Generation Gender Bias
  2. Create a Holding Environment to Support Women’s Identity Work
  3. Anchor Participants on their Leadership Purpose.

It was this third and final point that truly resonated with me and, through personal brand work, I was able to solidify my personal brand values. It was from here that I was able to identify my career purpose which is ultimately to learn and create.

What I truly love about working in marketing, regardless of the industry, is testing hypotheses; taking customer data and working out what type of content resonates with customers and what doesn’t. It is from here that I realised that, as long as I am learning and making those dataful connections, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning and not the position I hold within an organisation. Although, Marketing Manager does have a nice ring to it.

Learn more about gender equality


  • Australian Government & Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2017, Australia’s gender equality scorecard: Key findings from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2016-2017 reporting data, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, viewed 16 August 2018, <;.
  • Ely, R.J, Ibarra, H & Kolb, D.m 2011, ‘Taking Gender into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Programs’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 474-493.
  • Eysenck, M. W 2004. Psychology: An international Perspective. New York: Psychology Press Ltd.\
  • Michalidis, M.P, Morphitou, R.N & Theophylatou, I 2012 ‘ Women at workequality versus inequality: barriers for advancing in the workplace’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 23, no. 20 pp. 4231-4252.

For the Love of Marketing

If you’re like me and work as a Marketing advisor, you will know that half the job is educating the client.

Here is a list of the top 5 marketing misconceptions that I have come across during my career:

Marketing is about making people want things

While this could be considered true in some light, I personally don’t believe this. For me, marketing at its core is about 2 things: brand awareness and nurturing potential customers.

The key for many of the successful campaigns that I have run (trust me there have been just as many bad ones) is nurturing the customer, not necessarily with the intent of selling them something, but by giving them just the right amount of content when and where they want it.

A crude example of this in action would be a vendor of hats providing information about sun safety to one segment of its target audience while also supplying fashion information or information about hat-making workshops to another segment (I told you it was a crude example). Try developing campaigns while keeping the bigger picture in mind; it’s not always about instant gratification.

You have to be willing to spend money

I am a self-confessed spend-thrift. If I can find a way to achieve something without having to spend money then I will find it. That being said – and this is the exception – there are times when spending the money and investing in something is the more sensible option. Websites are the big one here. Not sure what I mean? Check out Web Pages That Suck and you’ll see where the dollar really could have come in handy here.

Digital Marketing is all Social Media

With Google ever improving their search algorithms, yes, Social Media should play an integral part of your online strategy. However, Social Media is only one strand in the Digital Marketing web. Further to this, your digital strategy should help support your offline activities and vice-versa.

Success is in the Likes

What is the point of 500 likes while you have only had 2 conversions. While this may seem to go directly against my first point “Marketing is about making people want things”, keep in mind that you are marketing a business that has the intent of making money. To quote a famous tagline “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”.

You Can’t Measure It

This may have been true in the good ol’ days, but with all the digital resources that we have available today, this is now a thing of the past. You just need to take the time to set up proper tracking and landing pages when developing campaigns.

Commissioning VS Coordination: Is the Customer Always Right?

The saying goes that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Well, what about too much publicity? Is flooding the market with the same message a good strategy? Or, as I mentioned in my previous post (Why I have my Marketing Knickers in a Twist), is it more akin to propaganda? In my internet travels this morning, I discovered the Bridgestone Select Campaign, which forced me to revisit the issue of oversaturation. But since writing my previous post, I have had several experiences which has taught me that situations such as these are not always within our control.

It is an unfortunate truth that marketing today is still perceived as an un-accountable resource. As a marketer myself, I do admit that there are times when correlations between Expenditure and ROI are not as apparent as perhaps finance would wish them, but with the ever-increasing list of tools available at our disposal one has to ask oneself “why is this still an issue”?

The only answer that I can see, and it may be simplistic, is ignorance. Not by those responsible for coordinating these campaigns, but by those commissioning them. Not sure what I mean? I think that The Oatmeal’s “How a Web Design Goes Straight To Hell” sums it up perfectly.

So, how do you tell a customer that they aren’t always right? When all other routes fail, and you are left with no other option but to appease those commissioning your services; how do you cast your knowledge and experience aside with blatant disregard? The answer: with great difficulty.

Until there is a willingness to learn and to engage, marketers will always have this problem. Until this taboo over marketing and marketers dissipates, there will still be decisions made that go against good practice and better judgment.

Until more people are willing to join the forum, us marketers can only preserve and endeavour to make a change one small victory at a time.

Be strong my brethren and solider on.

Is an iTunes/Spotify Merger Looming?

Apple has made some pretty radical changes to its music player, iTunes, over the last few months, with new updates including new widgets and syncing options. The popular media player has also axed its popular promotions such as “Song of the Week” and “12 Days of Gifts” replacing them with its “Free on iTunes” section (not yet available in Australia).

It’s obvious that these changes come in the wake of Spotify’s rapid growing success; in a period of five years Spotify has gone from having approximately 10 million users, including 2.5 million users with paid subscriptions, in 2010 to 60 million users, 15 million of whom have paid subscriptions, at the beginning of this year. So, with iTunes struggling to play catchup, I am left wondering “Is there a Storm A-Brewin'”?

I initially suspected that Apple would axe iTunes altogether and replace it with something similar to Spotify, but considering the company’s reputation for innovation, wouldn’t this be a step backwards in terms of business development? After some more ponderings, I realised that if Apple were to come out on top, it would require the same type of innovation that the iPod brought to the industry all those years ago. Considering Apple’s recent performance in terms of product development (iPhone 5 & 6), I doubt that they are currently capable of this.

This leads me to beg the question “Is there a possibility of an iTunes/Spotify merger in the future”? And if so, would Spotify, in light of their booming success, even consider it? If so, this would revolutionise the way in which we consume media, something that only Steve Jobs could pull off.

Who knows, I may be utterly and completely wrong. Be, either way, prepare for something BIG!

Why I have my Marketing Knickers in a Twist

I love to travel; whether it’s for work or recreation. In fact, I have travelled more in these past few years than I have the rest of my life. So, when I saw that Trivago had finally stepped up its marketing strategy with TV advertisements, I was delighted; I had used the website for years and could not believe that more people had not heard about it. But, what is saddening, is that this feeling of  “Way to Go! Put your stuff out there!” quickly turned to “Oh god not this again”.

If you watch television at all, even if it is only for the shortest amount of time, I can guarantee that you have seen this ad. You know the one. The “I want to go to Berlin” ad. Now, when this advertisement first aired on television, I was impressed by its use of class, elegance, and romance to position what is essential and hotel comparison website. But, that was only the first ten times that I saw it. I kid you not, in one ad break it aired, in its entirety, three times. I ended up turning off the television even though I was halfway through the Friday night movie; did Jack ever get on that floating door?

Now, what I am about to type, maybe in part to my anger and frustration at the number of times I have seen this ad, but this whole campaign has the air of Soviet Russian propaganda techniques: repetition, repetition, repetition. Now, when you hear the word Propaganda, what do you think? Chances are you immediately think of jingoism from the 1940s. But is this the case? Can current advertising campaigns use techniques associated with these propagandist strategies and still be called advertising?

The good news is that, as I become older, I am more inclined to do something about it. After funnelling my way around the ACMA, Free TV Australia, and the Advertising Standards Board websites, I finally gave up and went straight to the source to complain. But what surprised me was that Trivago were extremely obliging and even referred my complaint to their Marketing Division. Now, to me anyway, it seems that this ad is still on a hell of a lot, but less than before.

While this is a step in the right direction for Trivago making amends for what they have done to their consumers, I feel that they need to go above and beyond with their next marketing campaign by completely detaching themselves from this one. MacDonalds did it with their “McCafe Complainers” campaign, so why can’t Trivago? I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I honestly feel that the longer that this ad airs the more people like me they will have to deal with. Some of whom are less forgiving.