International Women’s Day: Passion’s Women in Leadership Positions

Passion Digital Passion Digital 08/03/2022 10 minutes

Happy International Women’s Day! Today we celebrate women across the world in an effort to #BreakTheBias and strive for a more equal world. Because it’s IWD, we’re taking this opportunity at Passion to hear the stories and successes of some of our female leaders.

Chily, Rosie and Suzannah are all part of our Management team and share their experiences of being women in power. They’ve also passed on some words of wisdom for any woman looking to make it to the top. Read on for some truly inspirational content.

Chily, Co-Managing Director – New Business and Marketing

My name is Chily and I’m currently joint MD at Passion Digital. My background is SEO and I started my organic marketing career at an Executive level primarily doing link building for a car rental company in Manchester. I then moved to London and joined one of the big network agencies where I refined my SEO and client management skills.

My move to Passion was big, and fueled by the desire to join an agency where I could have a say and make a difference. In hindsight, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life!

What challenges have you faced as a female leader?

I’ve been lucky enough to always feel very supported and valued throughout my professional career. My direct managers, now and in the past, have trusted me and seen my potential – not all of them, but I tend to forget the bad stuff so I don’t even remember their names and they weren’t an important part of my life. Onwards and upwards, as they say! 

In that sense, I don’t feel like I’ve had to overcome a lot of specific ‘women-only’ challenges – although I’m aware that I’m one of the lucky ones. I do think that my biggest challenge as a female leader nowadays is somehow linked to some personality traits that, for whatever reason, happen to be more common among women than men – although I’m also aware that this is a generalisation.

These include:

  • Not asking for promotions or salary increases
  • Leaving others to take more credit for work
  • Avoiding confrontation wherever possible
  • Not being particularly outspoken about ideas or opinions for fear of them not being good enough

Being a mum of two has been a little bit of a challenge for me, but also a blessing. Before motherhood, I used to work really long hours, most days. My perfectionist nature made it difficult for me to delegate tasks and, because I was always trying to prove myself to others and not disappoint anyone, I worked long hours to deliver work on time – or ahead of time – to perfection and always exceeded expectations on my delivery.

But being a mum means that I need to finish work so I can be with my family – and I love that. It has pushed me to learn how to delegate and trust the people around me, manage my time better and shift my priorities. Yes, balancing motherhood and work is a challenge but it has forced me to implement boundaries between my work and personal life which every person – man or woman – should have. Family first. Work is still important, but comes after.

Why do you think having female voices at the top is important?

Women are underrepresented in leadership positions globally, yet the global gender ratio is pretty evenly split. We need to increase representation so we have different visions and approaches to any given problem or situation at the top level. This (should) result in better outcomes which appropriately reflect our world.  

What advice would you give to a woman starting out in their digital marketing career?

You can be assertive without sounding arrogant and you can inspire and lead others without being “bossy”. You can be proud without making everything about yourself and you can ask for a promotion or a salary increase without feeling like a moneygrabber. 

All these things will become easier with time and experience, but it’s pivotal that you surround yourself with people that inspire you, coach you and help you build that confidence. If you are in a place where you don’t feel supported, respected or are learning, the best thing you can do is leave.

“If you are in a place of work where you don’t feel supported, respected or are learning, the best thing you can do is leave.”

Rosie, Managing Partner – Insight and Strategy

Hello! I’m Rosie, Managing Partner for Insight and Strategy here at Passion Digital. 

When I was younger, I never foresaw a career in digital marketing – to be honest, I didn’t even know it existed! My background is pretty academic; I did an undergraduate degree in Classics and English at the University of Oxford and postgraduate research in Medieval Studies at the University of Bristol. Although I left academia behind, my current role satiates the same yearning that drew me to research – an innate curiosity, a love of tracing narrative threads and a talent for constructing arguments.

After five years of study, I planned to get a job in archives or museums to further indulge my love of medieval manuscripts, but I was rejected from all the roles I applied for. Facing the threat of imminent unemployment made me reassess what I wanted from a career. At the time, I was volunteering weekly at Worcester Cathedral Library, where I was in charge of running the blog and social media channels. I spent many happy hours writing blog posts and photographing books or objects in the library’s incredible collection (fun fact: I have touched King John’s thumb bone and the flayed skin of a Dane that was nailed to Worcester Cathedral’s door in the tenth century!). It hadn’t ever occurred to me that I could actually get paid for doing such a thing.

I got my first job as an SEO copywriter and editor in a small agency that specialised in the travel industry. You can find my words all over the internet – I’ve ghostwritten for dozens of brands. It was a natural step from copywriting to content management, and I still consider content my first love, even though I’ve been lucky enough to branch out into multiple other channels since.

What challenges have you faced as a female leader? 

On a personal level, being in a male-dominated environment doesn’t particularly intimidate me – as a child I had a habit of picking interests that were male dominated, so I lost the fear of being the only female in a room long ago.

Rosie is a Second Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do, pictured here kicking it at a University-level competition

I think I have more anxiety over being the youngest/least experienced person around the management table, even though I’ve never been made to feel that way by any of my colleagues. I think women in leadership roles are more predisposed to Imposter Syndrome than their male counterparts, which has definitely affected me. 

The world has changed a lot in the past 20 years; in most workplaces (including Passion) women don’t have to fight to be respected or heard over their male colleagues as they would have had to in the past. Thankfully, that’s not something I have ever experienced in my career. It would be doing a massive disservice to our male colleagues to make out like there is still explicit sexism in our workplace, because there isn’t – but as a woman in a position of power in the company, I feel the responsibility to make sure that my female colleagues aren’t marginalised through any inadvertent sexism.

We have an incredible team of women at Passion who go above and beyond for their clients and for the agency. One of the things I noticed recently is that the women in the company tend to take on a lot of the emotional labour associated with the workplace – e.g. volunteering to organise leaving presents, plan work socials, etc. – and put themselves forward more often to help with internal initiatives, e.g. running Passion’s social media or training advisory board. I raised it with the women and also with the Management team, and across the board we recognised that this was a completely unconscious gender issue. It’s no one’s “fault” that the women at Passion tend to volunteer themselves to help out with non-client work more than the men, but it was causing a disparity that needed to be addressed. Since this issue was raised, we’ve put together a more formal process for volunteering and will make sure that this work is shared equally among men and women – not only for the sake of fairness, but also to make sure that diverse points of view are represented.

Why do you think having female voices at the top is important?

We need women in leadership roles for the same reason we need people of different ethnicities, social backgrounds and sexualities in leadership roles – for a plurality of perspectives. I think this is especially important in marketing, as it’s our job to communicate with people using a message that chimes with them. Those audiences are diverse, so we need to encourage an environment of open mindedness, tolerance and lack of prejudice among the people who craft that messaging. If we all look the same and think the same and have the same experiences, it’s much harder to consider an alternative viewpoint.

What advice would you give to a woman starting out in their digital marketing career?

If you don’t ask, sometimes you don’t get. There’s a tendency for women to underestimate themselves, but I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunities.

I was about a year into my job as a Content Marketing Manager at Passion when I realised that the clients I was most interested in were those who needed more than just a content calendar. I loved working with startups that required a launch strategy tailored to their budget, and I (sort of accidentally) built myself a portfolio of clients who needed cross-channel strategic guidance with me at the helm. My line manager didn’t baulk at all when I told her at my annual review that I could see myself building my own brand new department at Passion – and thus the Insight and Strategy proposition was born!

When I look back on it now, I recognise that that was quite a ballsy suggestion from an employee in low-level management, but I can honestly say that every person at Passion encouraged my ambition and believed in my ability to create and lead a new team. It just so happened that, unbeknownst to me, the conversation was already taking place in senior management to add a level of cross-channel strategy to our services, so I put my hand up at exactly the right time.

“If you don’t ask, sometimes you don’t get. There’s a tendency for women to underestimate themselves, but I’m a big believer in creating your own opportunities.”

Suzannah, SEO Team Lead

Hi, I’m Suze, the new SEO Team Lead for the Organic Marketing team. I’ve been at Passion for just under a year now, starting last April as an SEO Account Manager, dealing with some of the agency’s biggest accounts.

I started my career in SEO more than five years ago after just coming back from travelling. I wanted a career change, something to really get stuck into, and just sort of fell into SEO – I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know what it stood for before I started!

I really enjoy the challenge of continuously learning and keeping up to date with the latest organic marketing trends, so I knew I’d found the perfect career for my inquisitive brain. I also love providing great client service and support to my team which has been recognised in my recent promotion to a leadership role.

What challenges have you faced as a female leader?

t was clear from my early days at Passion how much we really promote D&I (Diversity and Inclusion), as my new team was made up of mostly women from different backgrounds. We also had Chily as our Marketing and New Business Director which was a welcome change from previous jobs where there weren’t any women in senior management. 

Things are moving in the right direction, but it’s still going to be an ongoing struggle for women to carve out a place for ourselves in leadership roles. I think self-doubt is a real challenge that women, in particular, have to deal with. In my experience, women have missed out on opportunities as we’ve been too cautious to ask for what we deserve.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Self-doubt – women tend to underestimate their value and we need to change this rhetoric – our opinions are just as valid as the next person’s
  • Respect –  in many workplaces, I’ve noticed women’s ideas being either ignored completely or regurgitated as a male counterpart’s own. We need to instil a culture that respects women’s contributions in the workplace
  • Being heard –  often, I’ve witnessed men cut off women mid-sentence in meetings which should never be the case, everyone should have a right to be heard

Why do you think having female voices at the top is important?

It’s so important to have women at the top and for us to be more visible in a world dominated by men. We’re still living in times where women can’t go out and feel safe, where women feel like they can’t – and don’t deserve to – take up any space. Seeing a woman in a position of power is so inspiring for young girls to know they can be anything they put their minds to and don’t have to make themselves as small as possible.

What advice would you give to a woman starting out in their digital marketing career?

Get stuck straight in! Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions, read all the information available and put your hand up. Performance marketing is such an interesting career for anyone. There’s so much opportunity to learn new skills and engage with people and/or data, depending on which way you’re inclined. 

Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions, read all the information available and put your hand up.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling truly inspired after reading this blog post this International Women’s Day. Today we celebrate the successes and stories of amazing women we all have around us to #BreakTheBias – a cause close to our hearts. Having a diverse and empowered workforce is extremely important at Passion Digital and one of our values is respect. Respect for those we work with, respect for the opinions of everyone and respect for causes that matter, such as gender equality. Keep an eye out on our blog this month for more content that reflects our values.