Nationwide’s CMO: Workplace equality can help stem marketing’s looming recruitment crisis

Marketing has the opportunity to be a forerunner in promoting equal rights for women in the workplace, and by doing so can encourage the next generation to consider a career in the industry, according to Sara Bennison.

change directionWhile many things have changed in the industry over the past 20 years thanks to the advent of the internet, Nationwide CMO Sara Bennison says we should actually be addressing what hasn’t changed – namely the fact women are still being penalised at work for having children and bearing the brunt of childcare.

“Twenty years ago, I was on maternity leave with my first child. Has anything fundamentally changed for female marketers in their careers since then around equal parenting, that would give you a better chance of seeing your career get to the top level? No,” she said this morning (6 March), speaking on a panel at Marketing Week Live.

To illustrate how little attention the issue has been given over the past two decades, Bennison highlighted how prior to the introduction of the internet she used to have to run up and down stairs to photocopy faxes from clients before the ink faded.

“[The internet] has obviously changed that and in some ways it’s had a massive impact but in other ways we’re doing exactly the same job we were before,” she said.

“It’s far more worrying that we have changed the world so that graduate trainees no longer have to run up and down eight flights of stairs but we haven’t fundamentally changed the way we work in an industry where the intake is more female than male. That is far more shocking and relevant for careers than going ‘there’s a new channel, I need to embrace it’.”

While this is by no means an issue limited to marketing, Bennison believes the industry is in a prime position to help drive change given it is relatively evenly balanced when it comes to gender. She suggests the answer is to promote equal parenting, which will help more women get to the level they deserve.

“Because we are in a sector where there is a more natural gender balance than others, we do have an opportunity to do something about it,” she said.

READ MORE: Marketing Week Meets…Nationwide CMO, Sara Bennison

Likewise, Phillipa Neath, communications manager at Marshall Amplification and winner of the Rising Star award at the Marketing Week Masters last year, believes this isn’t something women should be left to challenge on their own.

“Men [have the option to] take shared parental leave, but it’s not being taken up. We’ve got men in our industry that have a child and take two weeks off and then don’t do any more. It’s more about equality across the industry rather than it just being a female or male issue.”

Neath said she’s just about to get married so she’s “bang on that age” where settling down and having children is the next step.

“I’m lucky that I’ve got a very supportive network at my company, they are quite forward thinking and push for women within the workplace, maternity leave, to help support me personally. But from previous experience I’ve seen some people try to come back part time after maternity leave and the company has said no so they’ve had to leave,” she said.

“There’s a lot of hype and people are talking about it but it seems to be a lot of words and not a lot of [action].”

Changing perceptions

Making marketing a more equal, forward-thinking place to work will also set it up as a desirable career option for future talent, according to Bennison. This is something the industry is in dire need of addressing given just 3% of young people think marketing offers the best career opportunities, according to Marketing Week research.

READ MORE: Why the industry must work harder to attract the next generation

“When I mentor people I ask them what they want their life to look like and therefore what type of career they want to fit in with that. If we can make a really good story about how marketing does that and they can see different people from all backgrounds make it through and find fulfilling and satisfying careers, that could be a really powerful part of our story,” she said.

“[It would put us] at the leading edge of something that is hugely important. That way we get the best talent wanting to come and work with us because we are an industry where you can make a career and a life.”

Bennison pointed out that it’s not just young people that marketers have to win over when it comes to recruiting the next generation, it’s also their parents.

“The irony is if you can actually get to the children and talk to them about what you do there’s a percentage of them that find it really interesting, especially for people who love telling stories, love data, whatever angle it might be,” she explained.

“The real problem I have is getting past the parents because they don’t think it’s a proper job. That’s an interesting one. There are two audiences we’re dealing with here; it isn’t just about the end consumer, it’s the parents’ gateway [that needs to be addressed] too.”

Bennison said another issue is the fact children are pigeon-holed at an early stage, which prevents them from considering a job in marketing.

“People go, ‘you’re good at maths, be an accountant; you’re good at writing, be a journalist’, it’s very subject based. What’s more interesting is talking about the personal characteristics that make for a successful marketer and the personal motivations young people have.”

Marketing Week will be publishing an in-depth feature looking at why parental leave is not just a women-only problem on Friday.