MarketView: The Female Point of View

As long as most shoppers remain female, it's essential to get more women in marketing and leadership positions.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

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In our food marketing program at Saint Joseph's University, about 60 percent of the students are female. Based on my experience, a higher percentage of the best students are female. Many are food marketing majors because they want to be a part of the food industry, which is so pervasive in all of our lives.

At the same time most of the shoppers for food (consumers!) are female. And yes, I know more men are shopping, but women are still the main audience (and men often buy exactly what they are told to buy). What a perfect career choice for females.

Yet, I still see mostly men at conferences and conventions. It is my opinion that we, the food industry, are not taking enough advantage of women in key leadership positions. There is no question that we have made progress over the past years. Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Co. is an example of food marketing leadership, as is Irene Rosenfeld of Mondelez (formerly Kraft). But there are thousands of other examples where there is minimum female input into key food marketing decisions.

However, in a study that I recently conducted of senior marketing officers at the top 100 U.S. food processors, only 30 percent were female. For the top 100 global food companies, about 28 percent of the senior marketing officers were women. (see Side Note) The global food companies may have a lower percentage of females in marketing leadership than U.S. companies because some countries like Japan have virtually 100 percent male marketing leaders.

I am making my point about marketing and not companies as a whole, and certainly not singling out any one company. Marketing is in the unique position that it must represent the interests of all consumers to the corporation. Please don't give me the argument that the consumer is important to all functions of the company. This is as unrealistic as the mission statements we see in the lobbies of the corporate offices.

Production is generally concerned with costs, finance is concerned with meeting bank requirements and managing money (and making sure marketing doesn't spend too much), HR spends most of its time making sure the company doesn't get sued by employees and finding new employees. Marketing is the spokesperson for the consumer at the corporate table.

Those who know me know that I am not a politically correct person. I am not advocating women in top management of food companies to be "fair." I am advocating we do more to get female input into our decisions because it makes good business sense. It is my opinion that women often bring a slightly different point of view to the table. I know this is a generalization, but my experience leads me to this position.

I sit on the boards of directors of a number of food companies and I see firsthand a slightly different line of questioning in meetings from female board members. I am not suggesting it is better or worse than others, but it is different and insightful. To effectively make decisions about present and future consumers, we all need to consider a variety of views and ideas.

I also saw results when Gordon McGovern, past CEO of Campbell Soup Co., requested that his top executives do some of their family food shopping -- go where the Campbell Soup consumers are. Since many of the executives lived nearby me, I watched them walk through the supermarket as if they were in a strange, hostile land. They didn't have their minions with them telling them everything they wanted to hear, and they weren’t able to view perfectly stocked shelves with nary a can out of place. It was like they were generals of an army who had no idea what the battlefield was like.

I am not suggesting that the ideas and thoughts of the female executives walking through a supermarket are better than a male’s. But I bet they would be different!

I am biased. I like listening to the marketing opinions of females. I’m usually surprised at how we often see the exact same situation from different perspectives. I like that many of them see food, shopping and cooking very differently from me. I like that many have different cooking experiences than I.

Now, to head off any controversy, I know that not all females employees conform to my opinion. I know there are a lot of males that are more keenly aware of the consumers and their issues and problems than some females. Equally important I am not saying females are more often right.

What I am saying is that if marketing’s role is to understand the consumer, we need as many different points of view brought to the discussion to provide the widest range of ideas. Leadership will provide the framework for those ideas.

To me diversity is about ideas. Having a diverse marketing team with diverse leadership is good for the food company.

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