As a business with 80% of the board executives and 50% of the directors being female, there has been quite a lot of buzz on the subject of gender diversity around the Brand Learning office in the last few weeks, provoked by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Slightly late to the party, I watched her extremely engaging 2010 TED talk Why we have too few women leaders (below), and shared it with my colleagues on our social collaboration network, Yammer. 26 comments later, it was clear this topic of gender equality and leadership was on the top of many people's minds.

Since then, a group of us at Brand Learning, along with thousands of others, have explored and dissected her philosophy in greater detail. We wanted to know – why is this topic important for organisations in general and for marketing in particular?

In the TED talk and her book Lean In, Sandberg articulates the issue - "men still run the world". She provides some very compelling statistics to support this:

  • Women hold just 20% of seats in parliaments globally (1)
  • Women hold only 17% of board seats in the US (2) and 14% across Europe (3)
  • In the UK women working full time are still paid an average 15% less per hour than men (4)
But why does any of this matter for organisations?

There is clear evidence that companies with more women at the top have better financial returns compared to companies with no women at the top (5). This difference in financial performance is attributed in the study to the diversity of leadership behaviours or values that women tend to bring to the decision-making table.


From experience and intuition, many of us are aware that women and men do tend to work differently, bringing different styles and diverse but very valuable perspectives and qualities to an organisation; now, the authors of The Athena doctrine claim to have distinguished these typically 'masculine' or 'feminine' qualities. They conducted research with 64,000 men and women across 13 countries and found that, for example, resilience, confidence and decisiveness are seen globally as typically 'masculine' traits; collaboration, flexibility and empathy are seen globally as typically 'feminine' traits.

Critically, in their research 81% of people say "you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today's world". I like this definition of diversity being not only in terms of the numbers of women in leadership roles, but in terms of the influence of 'feminine' values running deeply through an organisation. Obviously women can be as assertive and decisive as men and men can be as caring and empathetic as women - these values do not 'belong' to one gender or another.

Why is this relevant for Marketing?

At Brand Learning we believe that the Marketing function can and should play a unique role in leaning in and engaging everyone in the organisation in creating value for customers. This can only be achieved by connecting with customers, with a spirit of collaboration across functions and geographies, and with a large measure of courage. Pioneered by the millennial generation, this is a new way of working, discarding any sense of a macho 'command and control' culture in favour of a new way bringing together the best of 'feminine' and 'masculine' qualities. We believe this approach will deliver marketing edge and tangible business results.

Ask yourself what you can do to lean in and embrace this new approach. How can you enable your team to connect and collaborate with customers as well as each other?

Follow me to discuss further @SarahW_BL


  1. Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in National Parliaments 2012
  2. Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners 2012
  3. European Commission, National Factsheet: Gender balance in Boards 2012
  4. The Fawcett Society, Equal Pay: Where Next? 2010
  5. McKinsey Women Matter research
This post is by Sarah Williamson, Marketing Capability Director at Brand Learning.