By Susanna Parry-Hoey, Chief Marketing Officer at SoftwareOne
It’s a well-known fact that the tech industry is male dominated. McKinsey reports that just 22% of tech roles in Europe are occupied by women and 37% of people who work in European tech and tech-adjacent companies are women. Contrast that to the gender divide of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs); unlike other C-suite positions, female CMOs actually outnumber male CMOs, 51% to 49%, according to a study from Spencer Stuart.
But what’s it like being a female CMO in a male-dominated industry?
Before my current role, I used to work for a very well-known international tech company with a senior female leader. Whilst on an overseas work trip, we attended an important meeting and had to present to a room full of tech professionals. I looked around the room and counted on my fingers how many women there were. It was a game I played regularly, and the result never totalled more than the fingers on both hands. It can be intimidating to feel in the minority; you start to question whether you should be there and imposter syndrome creeps in. But that day, I noticed my female boss doing the exact same finger counting exercise. It gave me comfort to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling outnumbered.
Certain parts of the tech industry have got a ‘bro culture’, making it harder for women to enter the old – or often in the age of tech start-ups – young, boys clubs. But there are things women can take control of to ensure they succeed.
- Focus on your unique perspective and voice
I try to focus on the attributes I can bring to a male-dominated room, namely, a unique and diverse voice. To have a perspective that very few people in the industry have, simply through my own lived personal experience as a woman, is a positive. It is important for women in the industry to not forget that their unique perspective on life and rare way of thinking in comparison to those typically in the industry is a positive and not a negative. Our customers are made up of men and women. Having a woman’s perspective on how to reach all audiences isn’t a nice to have. It’s critical.
- Know your craft and know the industry
It can be easy to feel out of your depth when deeply technical conversations are taking place if that isn’t your core skill. But you can fix this by learning about the industry, particularly the trends and the way customers consume that technology, rather than the nuts and bolts of the technology itself. More importantly, as a CMO, you aren’t in the room because you’re an expert on tech. You’re an expert on marketing. And critically, you need to be an expert in business too. It wasn’t until I went back and obtained my MBA that I realised it is imperative to understand how you can drive a business forward. I learned that I couldn’t become a CMO of a technology company without understanding business strategy.
How you go about gaining a better understanding of the industry that you’ve decided to venture into will differ from person to person. For me obtaining a double major in Marketing and Information Systems as part of an evening programme at Stern, really helped me improve my knowledge of the business technology sector. The double major enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of technology, and the role that marketing has on a business.
- Go for it and trust your gut
Women often don’t apply for jobs unless they feel they can fulfil all the criteria required. Even once they’re in a job, when it comes to making big decisions, the weight of the possibility that it doesn’t go to plan can cause indecision. Obviously both men and women can feel indecision about the big calls, but when you’re in the minority, you feel even more pressure to make the right call. The best advice I ever received was ‘just go for it.’ You will never know what will happen until you take that leap. You will regret not taking that leap far more than taking it and the result not being perfect.
Deciding to rebrand SoftwareOne for example, was always going to be a big job and therefore a decision I could have waivered on, but I knew that it was the right thing for the company. I also firmly believe that you must know what you want to achieve and listen to your gut instinct. You can take plenty of advice, but ultimately, it’s your call. The biggest career decisions I’ve made have always been ones I’ve made on my own.
- Be yourself
Becoming an effective leader requires you to bring your whole self to the table. This involves being open about your strengths and your weaknesses. Exposing your vulnerabilities, and encouraging an environment where others feel comfortable doing the same, creates a work-life built around authenticity. The best leaders are always the ones who are completely authentic in all parts of their job, rather than the ones mimicking role models or trying to be someone they’re not.
People often overlook empathy as a necessary quality in the working world, particularly in a very male-dominated environment. But I look at it as crucial to any healthy and well-functioning team. Empathy requires a leader to respect their employees as a whole person, which means accepting everything that they may have on their plate at that moment in time. From there, an empathetic leader supports their employees by providing them with the necessary training or assistance to help them develop.
For over two decades, Susanna has driven significant growth in technology and services businesses ranging from Fortune 500 to start-ups. She is currently Chief Marketing Officer at SoftwareOne, a global software and cloud solutions provider. She has held the position since 2021 and in her two years with the company, has orchestrated and overseen the rebrand of the organisation in 90 markets around the world, while building out a new marketing organisation with a focus on data and analytics. Previously, she served as CMO for Cognizant, a multi-billion-dollar digital business. Susanna has also held marketing leadership roles at Accenture, Deloitte and Presidio. Before embarking on her career, Susanna got her Bachelor degree at Yale and an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business.