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7 min read

Why we need more women at the top of product marketing

Leadership

So, who makes a better leader? Men or women?

Sorry to break it to you, but neither one is better. Talented leaders, male or female, can deliver tremendous value to the businesses and organizations they serve. The problem is mostly the sliding scale of men vs women leaders. We just need more women at the top, plain and simple. That is not a new problem.

In this article, I'll be stating a little of the obvious, backed by stats, but I'll also be exploring the differing leaderships styles (possessed by men or women) and how they can positively impact a business. Product marketers also have leadership built into their DNA, so they can definitely help fill some gaps while working in cross-functional teams and their department leaders. (Side note: You don't have to manage people to be a leader.)

Working alongside sales, customer service/success, product, finance, and marketing can help show a product marketer's natural leadership chops and that they too should have a shot at the top. Often, potential leaders are right under our noses, and so often we as executive leaders fail to recognize them and nurture and mentor them to more senior levels. Unfortunately, those "potentials" are often our soft-spoken, unassuming women who don't want to make a fuss with their accomplishments and achievements.

Potential soft-spoken leaders, this article is also for you too. It's time to get out of your shell and show people what you're made of and that you have a lot to contribute as a product marketing leader.

First things first, we have to find out what type of leader you are! Finding out your leadership style can help you tap into more of those skills that will improve your teams and your role as a product marketing leader. And amidst it all, you will learn the value of having equal representation of both men and women at the senior leadership table.

Statistics of women in leadership roles

Right now, the numbers aren't pretty, but hopefully, in this golden age of heightened desire for equality, things will change. According to Harvard Business Review, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and just over 5% executives in the same instance are women. "It’s obvious that more women need to have a seat at the table–not just a physical presence but an active role in leading the company and making key business decisions" (HBR).

The different talents and skills brought by both male and female leadership styles can broaden a company’s pool of creativity and innovation. When both men and women are promoted to high-level positions, success at any company is dramatically enhanced.

So what is it going to take? Before change happens there has to be awareness. Let’s first dive into the different leadership styles and those commonly held by men or women. You can also see which one or ones you most identify with. Remember, you don’t have to manage people to be a leader.

What are the most common leadership styles?

Autocratic Leadership

This type of leader makes all the decisions and controls everything. Their followers have little or no say in how things are done. Some studies have linked this to more male than female leaders.

When Most effective: In situations where decisions need to be made quickly, and there is little time for discussion.

Democratic leadership

This leader encourages participation in decision-making. Employees or team followers can share their ideas on how things should be done. Their opinions are taken seriously and weighed heavily when making decisions. This style is seen more in female leaders. However, this style was a big part of our culture at my last job, and we had a predominantly male executive team. I particularly like it because it opens the door to valuable and insightful feedback from employees or cross-functional teams.

When Most effective: This style is most effective in situations where group input is needed to make informed decisions. This one can be hard if you lead a team of introverts like I did. But, I didn't give up because I knew they were smart people and had a lot to contribute. Eventually the pressure to share kicked in and their ideas became a treasure trove of valuable insights and information. I also believe this style can help identify natural leaders who can work within a cross-functional team setting.

Laissez-faire leadership

This leader takes a hands-off approach and lets the followers make decisions and solve problems. They provide guidance and resources but doesn't not get involved in the day-to-day operations. This style has been seen in both male and female leaders and is often dependent on a person or situation as shown below.

When Most Effective: This style is most effective in situations where the followers are highly skilled and motivated.

Transformational leadership

This type of leader is more my style and also used by many female leaders. This leader inspires and motivates their teams to achieve their full potential. The leader sets high expectations and challenges the followers to think outside the box and be best in their class. My favorite thing about this style of leadership is its heavy reliance on mentorship--spotting talents in others and helping them grow.

Empirical research shows that transformational is fast becoming recognized as the most effective leadership style (Garfinkle Executive Coaching). Women who are transformational leaders tend to exhibit different behaviors that many of their employees have found motivating, validating, and inspirational.

When Most Effective: This style is most effective in situations where creativity and innovation are required. I would also argue that this style is another must have for product marketers who have to work with multiple teams to get things done.

Transactional leadership

This style of leadership leans more to the male side. This leader uses rewards to motivate their followers. They are rewarded for good performance and disciplined for poor performance. You see this a lot on sales teams where they are heavily incentivized to hit their numbers.

When Most Effective: This style is most effective in situations where the goals are clear, and the followers know what is expected of them.

What are the behaviors of great leaders?

How you behave also indicates good leadership.. Not everyone is going to be excellent in each one of these. You could consider them your superpowers as well. Feel free to read through the list and identify your top 3.

Side note: When asking fellow men and women product marketing leaders which attributes they most related to, all of the women added 2 and 3 in their list of 3. The men had at least 1 or 10. There’s no right or wrong answer here, just food for thought.

Mine are 2,3, and 11.

  • Lead with a purpose and vision
  • Are authentic and transparent
  • Model integrity
  • Inspire confidence in others
  • Never self-serving
  • Know when to take advice
  • Listen to their inner voice
  • Great foresight to move ahead
  • Love what they do and share that passion with others
  • Demonstrate insightfulness and intelligence
  • Emotionally centered and intelligent

Other differences in male vs female leadership

Let's start with communication. Good communication is one of the top skills needed to be in a leadership position.

Communication

According to Garfinkle Executive Coaching, women tend to have a more cooperative and collaborative style of communicating. On the other hand, men tend to have a more commanding and controlling style of leadership, according to the American Psychological Association. Not surprised there, being the daughter of a military officer. Men are generally seen as more authoritative, direct and task oriented, while women are more democratic. “Men provide direction for their employees, while women encourage employees to find their own direction.”

Self-promotion

Another difference between male and female leaders is the way that they promote themselves. Men tend to be good at promoting themselves publicly. If you work closely with them, their strengths and wins are usually pretty obvious. On the flip side, women are more likely not to share their strengths or at the very least be modest about their accomplishments.

Why the gap?

According to Harvard Business Review research, women tend to fear backlash, or punishment, for promoting themselves. But to be successful as a leader, women should get out of their comfort zone and share their wins. You could also say, like men, women should learn to brand themselves by sharing their achievements and skills with others.

It can be difficult for women to advance in their careers or for people to notice their strengths and skills when they are unknown. But saying how great you care can be damning for women. I’ve spoken to my many of female colleagues and  their attitude is usually “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” If we want the opportunities, we have to risk the backlash. “Employers [rely] on self-promotion to make hiring, promotion, salary, or bonus decisions. Women may not talk about their work as favorably as men, but that doesn’t mean their performance is any worse" (HBR). Highly capable and talented women could be left out of executive leadership positions because they are not voicing their accomplishments.

Showing emotion

Forget the "bring your whole self to work" tenet preached by Kim Scott from one of my favorite leadership books, Radical Candor. It's a nice idea to show up with full transparency at work but reality, most workplaces don’t want it, especially from women. According to Pew Research, showing emotion is a huge liability for women with 65% of respondents saying it hurts women seeking leadership.

For years women have struggled against the “Glass Ceiling." Is it because they're too soft spoken or too outspoken? But, little do people know, having and showing emotion is good for business! According to Keysearch,  “Female CEOs illustrated greater empathy, adaptability and diversity more frequently than their male peers, per a survey of nearly 8,500 companies across 61 countries.” And, according to the World Economic Forum, women have 30% more of those “emotional” neurons firing at any moment than men. This includes empathy, intuition, collaboration, and self control. And lastly,  according to Anna Marie Valerio from Business Week, "Companies with the highest representations of women in leadership roles show better financial performance."

Next steps

To sum it up? Let’s get more qualified and talented female leaders in those decision-making seats. If no one at your company is qualified for those roles, seek out the undeveloped talent and start supporting and mentoring them. As a product marketer, you can lead wherever you sit. Continue to develop your leadership skills and look for opportunities to grow and move up, especially if you see a gender imbalance at the table. Your voice is needed.

Written by:

Melissa Garcia

Melissa Garcia

Mellissa is a senior product marketer with 12 years of helping brands win in the marketplace. Being a data and results-driven marketer helps me ensure that the company I’m working for is thriving.

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Why we need more women at the top of product marketing