Women in marketing: 5 Google leaders share their career stories and advice

Kim Mok / March 2020 / Trends & Insights

On March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. It’s an appropriate time for a societal gut check: Just how well are we doing at achieving gender equality?

When it comes to career growth, women in the workplace still face a greater uphill battle than their male colleagues. Studies show that less than 1/3 of senior roles globally are held by women. And, according to the World Economic Forum, women are paid just 63% of what men earn. Then there’s the matter of self-promotion. On average, men apply for a job or promotion when they meet just 60% of the qualifications, but women only apply if they meet 100% of them. On the other hand, more recent research shows that if a woman exhibits too much confidence, she’ll face a backlash effect.

I spoke with Google Marketing leaders from around the world about this topic, and asked them to share their career stories, challenges, and advice for women — or anyone — developing their careers.

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Keep learning at every point in your life

Sapna Chadha always knew she wanted to work globally. She credits her move from the U.S. to Asia as one of the most pivotal moments in her career. However, she says, “That wasn’t something I strategized. It was because my husband needed to move to Asia for work.” In retrospect, Chadha wonders, “As women, are we as vocal around some of our desires as we could be?”

Chadha advises others to actively “influence how your journey is, and not just wait to be asked for the next thing. If you’re not clear on what opportunities you want, you’ll just spend your time looking at everything.” She adds, “I’ve now realized that I should have a shortlist of jobs that I am most keen to pursue in the next few years. And, most importantly, I should go for jobs that I don’t meet all the requirements for.”

Chadha also posits that “to succeed in marketing in the next 10 years, you have to understand everything is becoming more technical.” While brand marketing is important, performance, growth, and digital marketing are vital. But, she says, “I think women believe somehow that they’re not good at technical components, so they don’t jump in. Well, you can learn anything at any point in your life. If women hold themselves back from the science of marketing, it’s not going to get them to their full potential.”

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Choose the right people to work with and the right environment to work in

Kristell Rivaille credits a toilet with helping her choose her first marketing job. More specifically, a sign above a toilet. While interviewing at a company, she noticed the usual request in the restroom telling people not to throw paper towels in the toilet. But this particular sign explained why: Unlike toilet paper, hand towels don’t dissolve when wet. “I don’t like when people just tell me what to do,” Rivaille says. “I like when people explain to me why we need to do it and get my buy in.” The job hadn’t been her first choice originally, but that restroom sign made her feel the company would respect their employees’ intelligence and encourage open communication.

“The rational approach to choosing a career move is important,” Rivaille says, “But paying attention to the emotional aspect is when you get the best results. You’ll be doing what you love and bringing passion, energy, and creativity to your job.” She recommends looking beyond what brand or product excites you and “choosing the right people to work with and the right environment to work in.”

Rivaille also stresses the importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. By understanding who you are and how you come across to others, you can “learn how to flex yourself depending on the situation and the people you’re working with. Being assertive can be much-needed in a situation, but in other moments I might need to just shut up and listen.”

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Find opportunities to learn and move out of your comfort zone

Susana Ayarza believes women should be vocal about what they deserve at work. However, she also wonders if people focus too much on titles and levels rather than on personal growth. “Obviously promotions are important because they’re part of being recognized in your career, but just as important is finding opportunities to learn and move out of your comfort zone.”

Ayarza mentions a time when she agreed to lead a global team while still working in Brazil. It wasn’t technically a promotion, but she considered it to be one. “It was a totally new experience and I had the chance to learn from different cultures. That’s real growth. I’m a different executive now because I had that opportunity.”

Part of Ayarza’s growth includes reevaluating her career goals. A few years ago, she wanted to become a top executive in marketing. Now her focus has shifted to leaving a lasting legacy and fulfilling a higher purpose. She tells others, “When you’re older, you're not going to remember the numbers, the projects, the initiatives you did that were good for business. You’re going to remember the impact you made on society and the people around you.”

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Do your best imperfectly

Michelle Bryan-Low once stepped away from her career for seven years, moved to France, and ran a wild boar hunting lodge. “It gave me this massively different life experience than if I had just stayed in corporate businesses through my entire career.” As valuable as these years were, however, Bryan-Low was nervous when she decided to leave rural France and return to the workforce. “I lost a lot of confidence in my own abilities and my own potential.”

While Bryan-Low feels fortunate that a former company rehired her in a familiar role and that she could spend time rebuilding her confidence, she understands how hard it is for women to come back from maternity leave or a sabbatical and juggle career and home life. “You always feel like you’re compromising somewhere. You feel guilty about being away from your children, and you feel guilty about loving your work.”

Bryan-Low believes it’s important to realize that “there is no superwoman. We set such unrealistic bars for ourselves.” She advises women on her team to “be kind to yourself. It’s fine that things aren’t perfect. Don’t try and have it all. Just do your best imperfectly.”

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Be responsible for your own decisions and choices

Earlier in her career, Kazuha Okuda had a job that she felt diminished her. “I was always assigned to a supporting role, never as the main lead even though I was capable of it.” The longer she stayed in the situation, Okuda says, the easier it became to internalize it. “Once you get used to it, you don’t really see the problem. You default to the box they put you in.”

Finally, she spoke with male colleagues and discovered they were being given much more substantial projects. “I was shocked. What had I been doing? So I made a plan to get out of that team, start over in a leading role, and set expectations differently. Proactively changing my environment and the dynamic is what it took to change my career.”

Now Okuda stays on track with a personal mission statement: Make the world a better place. “Having an ambitious goal in the back of my head helps me steer my career. I’m selective in what projects I take on and who I work with.” She advises others, “It’s OK to be picky because you have to navigate yourself through your career and be responsible for your own decisions and choices.

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