Today is International Women's Day - a day observed since the early 1900's when expansion and new ideas in the industrialized world led to a massive change in the conversation about the rights of women. Here we are in 2016 and the need for a day like this lives on:

"Almost four in ten businesses in G7 countries have no women in senior management positions. Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women stands at 24%, up slightly from 22% in 2015. However, this minor uplift has coincided with an increase in the percentage of firms with no women in senior management, at 33% in 2016 compared to 32% last year."

- Dina Medland in Forbes

I have written in the past about the surprising facts surrounding gender inequality in my own field of marketing. In the study, though women predominantly report more marketing related skills than men, they are paid less to do the same job and disproportionately rise up the corporate ladder to leadership at a slower place than men. According to Bloomberg, even within an "equal playing field" of MBA graduates, women make less than men though they are exactly as qualified.

Until these numbers change, the international media and I will publish article after article exposing the situation and calling for change as part of International Women's Day. When they numbers DO change, maybe we can change the tone of today to include parades and glitter and mimosas. (Heck, let's make that part of IWD protocol. Cheers!)

Hindsight is 20/20:

This time last year I tapped into my network of marketing leaders who have adeptly navigated success in a business environment not always encouraging to women.

I asked each of them, "If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice in the world of business, what would you say? What advice would you give to young women today, especially in a marketing role?" 

Here is their excellent advice. They form 14 powerful rules for being a woman in business - it's good advice for any gender:

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Amy Bills, Marketing Director at Blackbaud

I wish I could tell my younger self (or any young woman) not to wait until you're 100% ready to try something. Whether it's going for a promotion, running a half marathon, starting a part-time business: You will never be totally ready for anything that stretches your boundaries.

This is a big difference between how men and women think. Men, in general, will go for it if they can check maybe 60% of the 'are you ready?' boxes. While women wait...and check every box.

Do. Not. Wait. If something seems appealing to you; if you can imagine yourself doing it, that is your mind telling you to **go.**

That's why Nike's slogan has lasted so long. It's a recipe for moving forward.


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Stephanie Tilton, Principal/Marketing Writing Consultant, Ten Ton Marketing

Take the mandate to be a data-driven marketer a step further and apply it to your own career journey. Understand your company's strategic objectives inside and out and how marketing will contribute, and then map out your specific role in it all. Wherever possible, associate metrics with your own responsibilities and goals, and tout your successes in the framework of the bigger picture.

Raise your hand at every opportunity to soak up new knowledge and develop yourself into a well-rounded marketer who can handle anything thrown her way. Develop your personal brand by creating the story of you and crafting your own perspective on today's marketing landscape -- then share that at marketing events and in the online social sphere at every turn.

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Maribeth Ross, Chief Content Officer and Managing Director at Aberdeen Group

Ladies, the best advice I can give you to “make it happen” in marketing really has nothing to do with marketing at all. Rather, the advice that comes from my experience surviving and thriving in the business world amid all the media coverage around women's rights and issues such as pay equality is simple: your gender does not matter. Yep, I said it.

Here are my Five Rules for Making it Happen, listed in no particular order.

  1. You can be anything you want to be.
  2. There is no substitute for hard work.
  3. Don’t take crap.
  4. Take your integrity seriously.
  5. Be you.

(Read more about these five rules on Maribeth's blog.)

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Melanie Berger, Owner/Designer at Mariwear

As for International Women's Day, I have to say that I am one who lives for and around karma. I'm all about having a passion or vision and going for it. I fully believe that if you don't ask, you don't get.

The quote I used that night has been used before my time but this is truly my belief: "Believe in your idea, trust your instincts and don't be afraid to fail". This has been used by Sara Blakely of Spanx and many others.

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Kim Donlan, CEO of RedSwan5

Ignore the titles, job descriptions and requirements you see today -- especially the ones that try to define you as a particular kind of marketer. Focus instead on talking - to everyone - about what you are curious about. This will transcend the conversation from your current skill set directly to your passion.

A fascinated marketer will quickly acquire whatever skill she needs to pursue her passion and begin shape her career around who she is rather than what she does.

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Samantha Stone, Founder & Senior Analyst, The Marketing Advisory Network 

As a young professional I was naturally driven, tripped my way into finding fantastic mentors and was known for solving problems and multi-tasking. I'm proud of what I accomplished but disappointed I didn't savor the journey. Instead of enjoying a sense of satisfaction I was alway anxious to move forward to the next challenge. While I worked with talented peers I never fully trusted anyone but myself.

I attended EVERY meeting just to make sure my team didn't miss anything important. When a team mate missed a deadline I jumped in and did it for them. When their writing was less than perfect I fixed it for them rather than provide guidance for them to address. I was exhausted and never paused. Youthful energy made it look on the outside like it was easy, but inside I was burning myself out. It took me many years to internalize that success is not a solo sport. No one can scale their impact without trusting peers - imperfections and all.

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Courtney Kay, VP, Field & Product Marketing at TechTarget

As a woman in business I wish someone had sat me down early and said “stop thinking of yourself as a woman in business.”  No man would ever define himself as  “a man in Business.”  Defining who you are by the amazing thing you do is the first piece of advice I would give to any woman… me, I’m a marketer, and I love it.

The second piece of advice (which an amazing mentor taught me) would be to not worry about being right but about getting what you want.  Women so often feel the need to prove themselves and be right.  It’s exhausting and frankly, a waste of time.  The best leaders are the leaders who never lose site of the end game, and do what it takes to get there, giving credit where credit’s due and attributing that to the team members who make it happen… this is particularly important in marketing where what we do is half art half science- there’s rarely a “right” answer, elevate the great ideas.

Which leads me to my third piece of advice: support other women!  Somehow we are far harder on our female peers and often look at everything they do with criticism first and appreciation second… reverse that, and make it constructive.  “A rising tide lifts all boats…” or something like that … and finally, stop apologizing.  Make the decisions you’re proud of, support the causes you believe in, and don’t apologize for either.


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Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs 

Never underestimate the value of poking your nose out.  I used to think if I was bright enough or hard-working enough or talented enough… success would find me organically. Or magically.

That’s not quite right, though: You still have to be bright and hard-working and talented… but you have to put yourself out there, too. You have to create your own opportunities. No one is going to invite you. There’s some luck involved (that’s the second thing we shouldn’t underestimate), but there’s no magic.

Also, never underestimate the value of relationships – personal and professional. Everything I’ve accomplished has been as much because of a key relationship or two as it was because of me.

And finally, never underestimate the value of good night’s sleep.

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Jenviev Azzolin, Founding Partner at pplconnect

Often times the hardest critic you'll face is yourself. Try to harness that energy into building your drive and momentum. Ignore the rules and the guidelines of what "you're supposed to do" and define your own. Follow your instincts, ignore naysayers and always be true to yourself.

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Maura Fitzgerald, Owner of Version 2.0 Communications

The best advice I ever got was given to me at the very beginning of my career and it is what I pass along to colleagues who seek out my counsel.

Listen to your gut.

When you do, you won't go wrong.  Ever.  And the wonderful thing is that the more you listen, the louder it gets and the easier it is to "hear."  Your instinct is the combination of your intelligence, your experience and the ephemeral signals you're picking up from your environment and those that populate it.  It is your biggest asset.  Learn to cultivate it and use it.  You will never regret a decision that you make that is based on your gut feeling.

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Jean Serra, Founder and Partner, Version 2.0 Communications

When I think about my career, I feel very lucky and appreciative.  First, to the women who've come before me and paved the way in the workplace.  I entered the agency world well after the Mad Men era where women had to fight for a voice and a seat at the table.  And, given my professional focus in PR, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by smart, successful role models at every stage of my career.  These women, both colleagues and clients alike, have taught me so much about the craft of communications and business, management and mentorship.  I'm also enormously grateful to my parents who always encouraged and supported me academically and professionally.  They helped me put my education first and served as my cheering section when I considered new jobs or professional endeavors, including the scary proposition of starting my own business.

So, if I had to look back and give my younger marketing self some advice, I'd say -- think big, take risks and don't worry so much!  Surround yourself with great people that you can learn from and don't be afraid to seek out mentors to ask for advice and help.  Oh, and remember to celebrate the successes (big and small) and enjoy the ride.

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Ann McGuire, Senior Product Manager, BuyerZone 

Coworkers. Mentors. Inspiration. Often in the beginning, I found myself wondering what I was really going to do with my career, how I could shape it, and who would give me the chance to shape it. This struggle was mine, and so I thought, mine alone. My research, though critical, could only get me so far.

If only my younger self knew that [most] coworkers love sharing what they do, their struggles, their passion and their goals. I started asking questions, walking around the office and meeting people I’d never spoken to or overlapped with before. Learning different aspects of the business soon connected me with one of my “forever mentors” and my inspiration and creativity grew from there. Don’t be afraid to explore within your current company and role to help shape and build your own foundation.

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Heather Meza, Founder & Principal Consultant, The Marketing Evolutionist

Rarely will your career follow a simple and projected path straight up. It’s more like a roller coaster ride than a ladder. My advice? Buckle in, raise your hands high, and don’t let fear make any decisions for you. Don’t wait for opportunities, make them! Take calculated risks. You’ll regret what you DON’T do more than the things you do. Experiment until you find what really moves you. And remember: there is no losing, only winning and learning—so enjoy the ride!


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Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions

You may be surprised. My younger self wasn’t a marketer. I was a general manager in the hospitality industry. Usually the only woman in the room at association meetings. It was unusual in the late 80s and early 90s for women to hold that position. I ran hotels and country clubs. Of course that included marketing, but that was only one role. I think it helped me immensely because I had the bigger view of the business and was responsible for the P&L, HR, F&B, etc. The whole thing. When I made the transition to GM of country clubs that included oversight of the golf course. I had to learn fast and be bold to keep my job. But that was probably the best training I could have had for becoming a marketer.

It wasn’t until I was running a startup marketing technology company in 2000 that I really dove head first into marketing while working with clients and discovering how bad things were with content. It’s likely that not coming up through the marketing ranks helped because I didn’t have many preconceived ideas or constraints about what was possible. Of course, having an English degree and being a die-hard writer also helped immensely.

My advice to younger marketers is to learn all you can and keep learning and to take risks. As they say, if you don’t try, you don’t get. It’s the chances I took that built my career. I still learn things every day. With change as the norm, it’s the only way forward.

And one other thing – customer first – always. The best skill you can have is to get out of your head and into your customer’s mindset. That was true in hospitality management and it’s true in marketing.


Related reading:


This advice originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Thank you to all who participated in this project. To learn more about International Women's Day, please visit their website.