gender and marketing

At a recent workshop, one of the participants noticed a dynamic that had completely slipped past my attention.

Not surprisingly.

In activism and community organizing there is a principle called ‘representative leadership’. Meaning, the leadership should look like the participants. If you’re leading a workshop for a group of black youth – and all the leaders of the workshop are white – it is likely going to cause problems.


There are things that I won’t notice as a white person that could be triggering or offensive that a black person would.

And vice versa.

And it’s always comforting to know that one of ‘your people’ is in charge and can represent you.

So, it’s not surprising that I entirely missed this dynamic of how gender came into play with conversations about marketing . . .

One of the things I’d like to talk about at perhaps a different time is the gender component of this work.

I found the gender dynamics in the room quite unsettling, and left feeling quite depressed about the different conversations where women confessed they had difficulty setting their price, making a stance, feeling overwhelmed and they “know nothing”.

I heard so many self-defeating comments where women devalued their own knowledge, intuition, and experiences. I heard words like “I screwed up” “I know nothing about marketing”  (bullshit. We all know something about marketing). “I messed up.” “I’m a screw up“. “I feel overwhelmed, and don’t know where to begin“. “I have x, y, or z idea, but that’s probably stupid.”

I was pretty astounded.

Of course we all have self-esteem stuff to work on, but what if women had a chance to reflect back the negativity they express, and then to ask: “How does this kind of thinking hurt us in our business and in our marketing?

I heard a story once of a women, after 10 years of staying at home, trying to back into the finance management sector. After shooting off 100s of CV’s into the ether, she finally got an interview. The interviewer said that while she had had good experience, she was concerned about how her skills could have possibly beeen maintained during the 10 year stretch of homemaking.

The mother/interviewee said: “of course I have. I’ve raised 4 children on my own. I’ve set up complex budgets, managed multiple deadlines and timetables, and I do this for people who’s developmental capacities change day to day. I act as an advocate for these small people in various forums (schools, soccer leagues), and I mobilize neighbourhood services to try to make my community better place for my kids. I am an educator, cleaner, finance management, learner, advocate, driver. In order to do all of this really well, I also have had to learn how to carve out time for self-care and continue to educate myself to stay on top of my game. These are the skills I bring to this position”   etc. etc. etc.

You get the point.

And of course she was hired.

I suspect if this story were true, it’s not because that she was a single mom, but because if I were sitting on the other side of the table, I would hire someone in a heart beat who was THAT reflective of their own experience, expressed that much clarity about who she was and expressed such self-respect and self-worth. That’s the kind of person that inspires trust and confidence. Women are SO comfortable at care-taking, cheer-leading, nurturing, and man, was there ever a lot of that in the room. But the undercurrent that I sensed was so difficult to observe.

I spent a lot of time in the workshop trying to get at what “marketing for hippies” was…and some big ideas rang true for me. How to bring the values of community, fairness, equity, social responsibility to marketing, and how to avoid that “gross” feeling that transpires from marketing in a way that is not aligned with your values.

I loved that part of the workshop.

But man oh man, did it ever get me thinking about this gender piece, and how I would like to address this in some capacity, somehow. I don’t know, but I feel pretty passionately about it!

What do you think? What have your experiences been around this? I would love to hear any stories you have to share.


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About Tad

  • These women are showing you some of the ways they have been hurt by sexism. In this male-dominated world, females are treated as inferior to men in myriad ways. This is often unconscious and seemingly unintentional. It minimizes & trivializes the effects of sexism to chalk it up to ‘low self esteem’.

    I think it’s useful to point out to women that the ideas they have of themselves as being stupid, incapable, overwhelmed, etc. are simply old recordings that are total lies. Please be patient with us as we push the envelope and strive to take ourselves seriously. Even though men are the primary agents of sexism, men are also our best (and only) allies as females. Keep showing us what is possible and offering your delighted encouragement. We truly appreciate it.

    I was impressed with Marcus Buckingham’s latest book FIND YOUR STRONGEST LIFE: What the Happiest & Most Successful Women do Differently. He is a man who is doing a good job cheering women on and being an effective ally.

  • kerri! thank you so much for your words and your analysis. and the book recommendation!

  • Barbara

    Great piece Tad. As a single mother I can say it is a challenge to overcome the unspoken stereotype that comes with choosing a life dedicated to my children. In this materialistic world there is very little value placed on the caregivers of our next generation or the wisdom of our elders. However, I have faith that by allowing my children to watch me grow & evolve into a stronger more self confident woman and still provide all the loving comforts of a productive upbringing my next generation will be that much wizer.

  • Conscious entrepreneurs need to be conscious – and that is irrespective of gender.

    When a “hippie” is putting herself down and then trying to get people to give her money for her services from that attitude, it doesn’t matter that men have put her down or she got bullied at a certain age or any other external factor. It matters that she’s shitting on herself and that isn’t attractive to any potential client. It’s gross.

    We live in a society that has been based, for thousands of years, on some people being rich and powerful while the rest of the people take care of them and take less for themselves… from the belief that we are not as worthy… that they are our “betters” and therefore they have a right to decadence, luxury, extreme surplus, etc. and we, of course, should be honoured to supply that to them.

    This is where the error is.

    But it is also wrong to say “I have been oppressed by those people and that’s why I haven’t succeeded.” The oppression may have planted the idea that you’re less worthy, but there are a few more steps on the way to being a real loser.

    When women are having a hard time marketing their services, it is not because men have oppressed them, it’s because they have believed that they should be oppressed. To prove something that they already believe.

    My advice, in your workshops, it to let everyone, especially women, know that they need to get a spine if they want to get respect from their customers. The central (and very important) thing I learned in your 101 workshop was that *I* should choose who *I* want to work with, what problem *I* want to help solve, and how *I* want to go about doing so. Until I do that, all of my efforts are just attempts to seek external validation… and that’s not what this game is about.

    great question, Tad

  • We need more than encouragement, although, that helps. Boosting up a woman’s self-esteem might trigger more self-loathing and “I’m worthless. See, I need a man to boost me up”. What is a woman really needing? This may be a male-dominated world; but, women and men support stigma. I’m afraid encouragement doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

    I agree that if we take the stories “I screwed up” “I feel overwhelmed, and don’t know where to begin“. “I have x, y, or z idea, but that’s probably stupid.” for real, we don’t get very far. Hearing the meaning under these thoughts is key for change.

    We’ve been taught that self-deprication somehow motivates learning and growth. That’s bullshit and I appreciate patience as we all unlearn that. In addition to that, women, children, and people of different cultures or abilities experience stigma. Sheesh!

    So, under all those thoughts, I hear puzzlement and overwhelm. I hear desperate pleas for support and understanding. I also hear cries to be heard about the impact of stigma and gentle compassion for the times we’ve (I include myself here) have supported stigma. I hear how desperate we are to matter and to be seen as valuable. When people are heard about how our thoughts point to what matters to us most, I have more hope for change.

    This is far too much to include in a workshop on marketing…but important considerations for how to address risks in this industry. Tad, perhaps there’s a story about this in you? I’d recommend talking to a woman who can tell you just how challenging it is to juggle self-care, care for others, while growing a business…while living in a world where women routinely coach each other on safety. The thoughts shared aloud are just the tip of an iceberg. Marketing triggers needs “to matter” and “value”. No wonder these thoughts would surface in your workshops.

  • Ellie Richmond

    Hi Tad! Ohh …thats a very complex subject. I am in a male dominated industry. I have hours of experience and stories I could share but not in a few words on your blog. I have lost many business opportunities because of gender influences or preconceived ideas and notions but I persevere…one just happened this afternoon so reading the above your timing was impeccable. Enjoy the day!

  • I’d like to add to the great feedback already, that sometimes women want to jump on the bandwagon so to speak. If there is more than one woman having trouble (aka whining) it is easy for the others to agree with her… even when that might not be the case all the time. Some find it easier to fall back into believing something they grew up with or have been told in the past instead of working through it, gathering guts and strength to move past old belief systems. Acknowledge their feelings, but draw the line and move forward. You need to maintain a positive, can-do environment to help everyone in the workshop.

    Thanks for all that you do!

  • wow! well…where to start?
    I can resonate with almost every one of the sentiments the person who sent in her feedback heard in the workshop. I heard them too in my workshop and many (probably all) of them could be my thoughts and feelings. still.
    That’s WHY I went to the workshop.
    And I’m astounded that those seem to be reasonable and common thoughts for me and I wasn’t jarred to hear them. That makes me sad.
    Are we still under the cloud of “things need to be a certain way and it’s not my way” – specifically as women?
    It’s an interesting concept to ponder. and interesting to imagine what that conversation might look like if you blew these thoughts and feelings out of the water in a workshop.
    It could be very powerful. And if a woman led it, it would be a completely different (and differently powerful) conversation.
    thanks for the food for thought.

  • Hi Tad.

    This is one of my favorite topics.

    Self-deprecation is part of our socialization as little girls. It’s an excellent, learned survival skill that kept us safe and needs to be acknowledged, appreciated, and respected… Our vulnerability invites support.

    In a female society a woman can say, “I feel fat! I’m an idiot!” and her sisters will flock to her and say, “You’re beautiful! You’re brilliant!”

    That dynamic doesn’t work so well in business.

    And we women get these groovy hormones that make us collaborative, cuddly, and insecure. (Hello estrogen!)

    This is why I frequently tell clients that how we vote on our value changes day to day, if not minute to minute. It’s useful information but not reliable or particularly trustworthy…

    This is why an outside perspective is so essential for women. Goddess role models. Coaches. Friends. Empowering classes. We soak it up. Women love to solve problems. And then we love to bring our friends along in the solution.

    The trick is working with confidence in a feminine way that is congruent with the individual.

    I accidentally found my solution with my imaginary “Money Honey” personification. (Imagining money as a cute guy motivates me as a woman.) When I devalue myself it breaks his heart. He doesn’t know how to be with that. It’s a sneaky way to channel my superhuman girlie powers of co-dependency into a vehicle for self-respect.

    Real or imaginary, the community we keep is essential. I’m wondering if the woman in the story you told had a friend or a coach to practice with before she took that job interview, someone to help her recognize the value of her experiences.

  • I once held a women entrepreneur round table. It was so powerful. It really surprised me. With no men in the room, it really changed everything! I have participated in tons of networking, training and discussions, but this was really something unique. A few people took the lead by being surprisingly open about their spirituality (it related to their business) and that set us all off to be very open about how we felt. One woman was struggling with her business and despite the kind advice and suggestions the others gave to her, she could only see the obstacles. A lot of them because she was a woman and how others perceived her. But, I could see that her attitude wasn’t going to change and that what was truly holding her back. You can’t make some people into entrepreneurs because they are too hung up on other things. They don’t have the attitude for it. They can try, but they won’t last long. So some of these people in your workshop may be the same.

    You may want to team up with a woman leader, to do some women only portions of the workshop.

  • Did these women say “I’m not good enough because I’m a woman” specifically? I have climbed corporate ladders successfully. My employers didn’t seem to be affected by my gender or that I am a mother – they just cared that I was good at my …job. In the companies there were also people who specialized in areas such as accounting, marketing, business development… Now that I am an entrepreneur, I have to wear all hats of my business, and some are more comfortable than others. However I don’t feel that this is a gender issue – I am sure many male entrepreneurs face the same problem.

  • Laura Botsford

    I confess that gender is an issue that has never struck me as relevant to my life, even though people along the way have tried to assure me that I was a victim of gender discrimination. I’ve followed the arguments about “no female role models in children’s books” and thought about my own experiences as a child, happily imagining myself in the lead role regardless of the gender portrayed. As a single parent, working in a (then) male dominated university department, I was pretty clear about the choices *I* was making, and why. I chose a job that was part-time, and “subservient” so that I could be home for my children as much as possible. And my husband. It meant less money, but I have always found that time and money are choices: more personal time means less money; more money means less personal time.

    That said, I have also always understood that my experiences have not been the norm. Many women do not grow up with strong female models, as I did. Many women do not have parents willing to support unusual choices, as I did. Many single parents (make and female) do not have the amount of family support that I did. I have been lucky. And yet….

    I have watched women attach gender discrimination to comments or actions, when a meaning of “rude” or “insensitive” would have served just as well. I have seen women claim gender discrimination rather than admit that their work, whether brilliant or abysmal, did not fit the requirements set out. Men who are dismissive of women, tend to be dismissive of many people in their lives — some male, some female.

    I worked for 7 years (helped to start) a school for girls run by a man. There were many feminists who heaped scorn on the idea that a man could successfully run a school for girls. None of these feminists, however, were willing to step up to the plate themselves. Did this man understand women well? Not when he started out — he understood a *lot* more at the end, because he was willing to learn and grow. And in the time the school was in operation, many lives were changed for the better.

    In the end, I tend to see gender issues as a straw man (woman?). Male and female, we are people; coloured and white, we are people; powerful and weak, we are people; short and tall, we are people; wise and ignorant, we are people….

    As a last comment in the diatribe, and with no bias whatsoever (honest! okay, maybe a little) I would attend a workshop run by a man like Tad before I would attend a workshop run by a woman that professed to deal with “women’s issues.” Talk to me like a person, and let the gender fall where it may.

  • Lori Klassen

    I am one of those women.

    I am mercurial when it comes to belief in myself and confidence in what I do. It feels so closely tied with who I am, that I don’t always feel like I can express myself with boldness and clarity. It feels sometimes, like I’m required to fake it, because it is what is expected. Be bold, be confident. Its sexy. But the reality is, I’m sometimes bold, and sometimes confident, and sometimes I question myself.

    While I’m not sure that insecurity is, in fact, a gender issue, I think there needs to be some space to ask why we feel these things. Sometimes things are in fledgling stages, and we are looking for feedback as to what rings true with other people. “hey…here I am on this road, and I feel alone…does anyone out there feel the same thing?”

    Thanks for the post, Tad. Its inspired much reflection.

  • Selena Flood

    Growing up I was primarily raised by my father, and often find it easier to relate to men more than women. I see a lot of women jump to “because of men I am oppressed” or “because you are a man you don’t understand” but at the same time I also see a great deal of how women oppress men by putting them in boxes where it’s believed they don’t have these feelings. Why isn’t that ever talked about?

    To say that feelings of self-defeat or self-doubt are a “woman issue” is confusing to me. I talk to lots of men who struggle with these things too. Except how it’s communicated is often different. For a man to be open about these feelings is much less socially acceptable than for a woman. Where women will connect with other women to discuss and work through these feelings, men are often isolated and left to manage these things “like a man” – showing or expressing no weakness or fear to anyone.

    Might be interesting to see you do a “men only” workshop and hear about what kind of feelings would get brought up if men were able to express themselves from an open place.

  • Amy

    This speaks to something you can implement as necessary, Tad. The space to explore and work through this question as it arises: “What if women had a chance to reflect back the negativity they express, and then to ask: “How does this kind of thinking hurt us in our business and in our marketing?”

    We all have moments where we feel like we messed up, screwed up, or did something stupid. Male or female. Yes, women are held down in many ways, but we all have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from such patterns. Just being aware of this potentiality creates the space for women to move through any of their own B.S. in the context of marketing.

    From what I can tell, you’re up for it :)

  • Great post. It really makes me sad. I think it’s a deep seated belief that has formed from living in a Patriarchal culture. To be honest, I didn’t even realize the ways in which I had disowned part of my feminine instinctual nature until I hit my 40’s. I think also, the business world was invented by men, and women are only now figuring out that we can change it to be more in line with who we are (e.g. intuitive, spiritual, co-creative and passionate hearts). Having said that, I agree with one of the previous comments that we have to own how we let ourselves get here, and take responsibility for our own power going forward. We have inner work to get past those beliefs that we cannot do it right or don’t know how to do it. I believe it is a subconscious programming that needs to change, and I have found that incredibly powerful for me. So much so, I now help others work on their limiting beliefs using the Belief Closet Process™.

    Another very interesting idea that goes hand-in-hand with beliefs is that we all have an Inner Patriarch inside us that is an internalized voice telling women that they are less than. Dr. Sidra Stone, the co-founder of Voice Dialogue wrote a book about it called The Shadow King. By dialoging with that Inner Patriarch one becomes conscious of when it is operating in your life and can make different conscious decisions, rather than accepting what it says as “gospel”. I’d be interested if others have any experience with these tools.