It’s time to shake things up in the marketing world. The industry is ripe with creative minds and innovative spirits, yet when it comes to women in senior leadership roles, there’s a glaring gap. The painful fact is that, despite women constituting 70% of the workforce in Marketing, their representation dwindles to about 37% at senior leadership level. This is not just a gap; it’s a chasm that needs bridging.

Unfortunately, in many businesses, the cards still seem to be stacked the wrong way and the toughest barriers women face to get to the top are rarely well understood.

Based on our experience and robust research here are some immediate insights that could help you shift the status quo in your business or career.

The “Missing 33%” in leadership

The ‘Missing 33%’ - a term coined our research partner the Gender Dynamics Institute - describes one of the biggest hidden barriers to advancement for women: a lack of business, strategic, and financial acumen – the most heavily looked-upon skills by senior leaders considering promotions into senior leadership. 

Advice and mentoring that counts

I often ask women managers I meet to share the advice they have received to progress in their careers.  The answer in most cases centres on learning to become more assertive, confident and better at self-promoting - all useful - yet virtually nothing relating to critically important business, strategic and financial acumen.

So, how do we break through this widespread yet little confronted barrier? Here are some strategies employed by organisations who have been rewriting the rules and setting the stage for women to claim their rightful place in the boardroom:

1.         Business Acumen Bootcamps: imagine a world where women are not only invited to the table but are also equipped to own it. In recent years we have worked with more and more clients who have been stepping up with workshops aimed at demystifying financial statements and investment strategies, empowering women to make bold fiscal decisions. Ernst & Young is a good example, leading the charge with their EY Women Fast Forward initiative, providing women with the tools and training to enhance their financial literacy and business savvy.


2.         Mentorship Revolution: out with the old, in with the new. Traditional mentorship is getting a facelift, focusing on outcome-driven guidance. It’s about connecting women with senior leader mentors who don’t just cheer from the sidelines but actively engage in their mentees’ strategic growth with a focus on commercial acumen.


3.         Strategic Leadership Labs: it’s not enough to play the game; you’ve got to set the rules. That’s where programs like Women in Leadership by McKinsey come into play, offering immersive experiences that sharpen strategic thinking and decision-making skills among women leaders.


The “Missing 33%” is not just a statistic; it’s a call to action. It’s a challenge to every organisation to look within and ask, “Are we doing enough?”. 

Start with assessing your talent pipeline and, if women are missing, actively bring them in, provide mentorship, and ensure resources for their growth. Design leadership tracks specifically tailored for women, ensuring they get the exposure and experience needed to soar to the top.  Early coaching and skill development will pave the way for gender equality at higher levels. 

The time for incremental change is over. We need bold moves, disruptive thinking, and a relentless drive to empower the next generation of women leaders. The future of marketing leadership depends on it.


Daniel Stane is a founding Director of Inclusion Partners – a consultancy guiding UK and global organisations to develop agile, inclusive and future-fit workplace cultures. For information about our highly practical and research-based programmes that support organisations to tackle gender imbalance in leadership, please contact us.