As CMO appointments rose in 2020, women lost ground, study says

Marketing leadership boasts greater gender diversity than other departments while facing a persistent succession crisis, with 84% of chief marketers being hired externally.

Dive Brief:

The number of companies hiring CMOs rose in North America last year, with about half of those jobs going to women, executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) found in a study emailed to Marketing Dive. CMO appointments climbed 25% for the year, with second-half activity rising 17% from the first six months of 2020.

Almost half (45%) of CMO appointments were women last year, a 5-percentage-point drop from the previous six months, compared with 27% of other C-level jobs that went to women. Men tended to dominate other sales roles, comprising 92% of chief revenue officers, 86% of chief commercial officers and 84% of chief sales officers, the study found.

Companies face a persistent “CMO succession crisis,” with 84% of CMOs being hired externally, a 5-percent-point increase from the prior six months. More companies need digital expertise to stay competitive as the economy emerges from the pandemic, according to RRA.

Dive Insight:

Demand for CMOs rose during the second half of 2020, as indicated by RRA’s finding that hiring activity picked up following the early travails of the COVID-19 crisis. The study aligns with other research that indicates chief marketers have

won back a larger place in corporate leadership

as brands look to navigate pandemic-related challenges, including putting forward resonant messages to uncertain consumers and adjusting for changing technology mandates.

While fewer CMO jobs went to women, diversity was greater than for other C-level appointments, except for heads of marketing and communications (56% female) and chief experience officers (50%), per RRA. However, most sales roles skewed toward men, making it a laggard compared with other C-suite jobs.

“If organizations want to elevate diversity and inclusion, which is now an expectation of customers and stakeholders, they need to start diversifying their hires and promotes,” according to RRA. “The past year has sparked a renewed sense of social purpose across North America. Customers are choosing businesses that do not just preach diversity, equity and inclusion, but practice it.”

Businesses also need to do a better job at cultivating in-house marketing talent to cope with what RRA describes as an ongoing “CMO succession crisis.” The situation is in flux after many corporations implemented hiring freezes, leading executives to look for “step-up candidates and high potential marketers” within their organizations, according to the report.

CMOs today must juggle multiple duties, balancing traditional brand-building functions with technology demands around areas like data and e-commerce. Fewer than one-fifth of

surveyed senior marketers report they aspire to move up the ladder to take on the mantle of CMO, a separate white paper by the consultancy Clear recently revealed — a sign there is a potential “brain drain” crisis emerging in the industry that brands must account for.

With the economy reopening and growth resuming, businesses may need to look outward for new talent, particularly when courting people with digital expertise. Companies are prioritizing candidate competencies over industry experience, the RRA report said.

“As organizations seek to adapt to this new landscape, they must be prepared to make this shift to a customer-driven, digital world, and to realign leadership capabilities to meet the needs of today’s in-charge customer,” the report said. “Getting the right go-to-market leadership in position is the first step.”

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