woman with a megaphone shouting to get her voice heard, female leader

Article provided by Julie Cumberland, Head of Global Marketing, SmartLabs

One particular incident, many years ago, has coloured my career.

I was just getting started, working at a large data services business, which was part owned by one of the biggest names in IT, when the sales director marched in and called for his ‘fluffy bunny marketeers’. I hadn’t long left university, but even then, I inherently knew that was wrong.

Of course, things have changed, and although there is still some way to go, women are no longer merely ‘accepted’ as we once were. We are taking the lead and expecting to be able to, in both marketing and technology, and I’m seeing a lot of youngsters grasping the opportunities technology presents. There is no ‘fluff’ about the current generation of technology marketeers unless it’s evident in their choice of apparel!

This change isn’t unique to tech, marketing, or even the two combined. There is a broader understanding that treating people based on gender rather than their skills and aptitude simply isn’t acceptable. But at the same time, women have realised how many opportunities are open to them – if they only choose to reach out and take them.

It helps to have allies, of course, and sadly, not all women are as helpful as they could be. One of the earliest blocks to my progress wasn’t the sales chief looking for his bunnies, but a female director. All testosterone and shoulder pads, she had co-opted masculinity’s most unattractive attributes, believing that was the only way she could get ahead. Looking back, I have some sympathy for her: it was the 1980s, after all, so maybe she felt she had no choice in order to compete in a male dominated field.

But then I compare her to my first ever manager in comms and PR. He was a man who encouraged every member of his team, male and female, to take risks, challenge assumptions – challenge him, even – and push at any boundary or limit that presented itself. He introduced me to a management style which today is known as ‘Servant Leadership’. Not to be confused with being a servant, the approach is to enable your team on the path to success with the guidance and support they need, rather than berating them for taking a wrong turn and waiting for them to fail. It is a philosophy I have adhered to ever since and one that has paid dividends in terms of my management style, optimising individual and team performance in the different organisations in which I have worked.

Perhaps that female director would have seen his approach as too feminine. What a lot of women didn’t realise back then was that feminine traits can be just as powerful as masculine ones. Women have strengths that men don’t – and should play to them while collaborating wholeheartedly with other team members. It is a more honest way of being, more comfortable and energising, and good for business, too. That is particularly true in marketing.

Women’s instinct is to nurture, to care for others and to build relationships. What could be more important than that? Relationships sit at the heart of the human experience – and should sit at the heart of business, too, as its only true purpose is to support our existence as humans. Work pays for the food we eat, the houses we live in and the families we raise. So, male or female, we are all in business to nurture and sustain the human race. If that is the aspect of daily life at which women traditionally excel, it is only logical that they do the same in its business equivalent: marketing. Business communication is all about developing relationships, some of which might last for a few days or weeks, while others span whole careers.  Ignoring the human need to connect is something technology and business do at their peril. Many customers are lost due to lack of attention and a poor engagement experience. Driving home that the myriad of software tools available to us today are simply that…. tools of the trade and not a replacement for a desired experience by the customer, is key to placing your business at the top of the league.

This is as true in marketing technology as it is in any other field – and, although technology still has some way to go, the tech companies for which I have worked, have at least been on the right path and championed change across the board and in the boardroom.

SmartLabs is particularly strong on promoting women in engineering roles, with a high number of female employees fulfilling senior technical roles. They are educated, experienced experts in their field and we actively want to see this continue as the norm, not simply a trend. How we encourage the broader business community to follow our lead is open to question. I don’t necessarily believe in positive discrimination in recruitment, as you risk bypassing some excellent candidates, but I do think we need to be asking how we can lift everyone up, together. And, if we have got a gap in the female sector, that is something to be worked on project-by-project, by consulting the women who are on the team, and acting on what they say.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities in technology marketing, but I have also been true to myself, known what I have wanted and worked out how to get it. I have never felt held back, but I credit that as much to my personality and style as I do to planning and strategy. If you keep head-butting a brick wall, you won’t necessarily break through – but search for an open door and you can walk straight through. That is the way I have always approached it, and that would be my advice to the next generation of female technology marketing executives.

At the same time, I would urge them to look out for and support their community. Be a champion of change, find other people within your organisation who can help you make that change happen, keep an open mind, question everything and, if there is an opportunity you want, push for it.

JFK spoke of asking “not what our country could do for us but what we could do for our country.” He was right, but only if you believe – as I do – that your country is more than just the lump of land you live on. It is the people you work with and your gender, too, your global village!

Julie CumberlandAbout the author

Julie has worked in the technology marketing sector for most of her career, beginning with IBM and Amdahl mainframe services and disaster recovery in the City, followed by high-performance computing working with customers in the academic sector, such as Stephen Hawking’s group at the University of Cambridge and with a leading mobile payments business, enabling the unbanked to make money work for them to improve living standards.

She is a huge fan of mentoring and has always coached teams to achieve more than they expected. On a personal level, she has worked with hundreds of individuals as a counsellor to empower them to deal with loss, addiction and to lead better lives.

Julie is also passionate about film making so the connection with SmartLabs means every day is a fresh challenge for delivering great content to viewers.

SmartLabs provides multi-screen, multi-networks video streaming solutions to more than 40 leading interactive TV solutions vendors and suppliers including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and LG. It is also a strategic partner with Google on its Widevine CAS/DRM solution enabling it to certify other 3rd party devices. In a market that is set to grow exponentially (the Video on Demand Market size was around USD 55 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow at 15% CAGR from 2020 to 2026), SmartLabs is growing, breaking into new markets and new geo territories.