Breaking the Bias in the Marketing World

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
March 8, 2022

International Women’s Day is March 8th and the 2022 theme is #BreaktheBias, which is a call for everyone to identify gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping when they see it. Ten Thousand Coffees (10KC) spoke to Sartaj Sarkaria about identifying gender bias, the Canadian Marketing Association’s (CMA) newly launched mentorship program for marketers from BIPOC and newcomer communities, DEI in the workplace, and the power of allyship.

10KC: Tell us about your role at The Canadian Marketing Association and how you got there.

Sarkaria: I am the Chief of Staff and the Chief Diversity Officer at CMA. I work with our Board of Directors, and I oversee the educational offerings for our members. I also manage our internal HR and diversity efforts, so I wear many hats. I get to see how the thread is woven through all of what we do. I've carved out this space for myself where I have a special opportunity to see where all the connection points are. You asked how I got here — it was part luck, but also strong allyship from our CEO and the senior leadership team. I'm a super keen person. I like to ask questions – I’ve always been a bit of a sponge. 

10KC: The CMA recently announced a new mentorship program for diverse marketers that’s powered by 10KC. Why was launching this program so important for your members?

Sarkaria: There are many newcomers and individuals from BIPOC communities that work in marketing, and we wanted to provide some support when it comes to their career growth. If they don't see themselves represented, it's harder for them to navigate a path to success 

We created the CMA Marketing Mentors program to provide a space for individuals to have mentors guide them throughout their careers by offering support and advice. Most importantly, it allows mentees a safe space to go to when they're facing challenging times. That’s one opportunity I wish I had earlier in my career. My hope is that these mentors and mentees will build strong relationships that go beyond this mentorship program. 

10KC: What other DEI initiatives are you working on?

In the month of March, we’re launching a three-part seminar series that I’ll be co-hosting called DEI Seminar Series - Dissecting Diversity. The series will talk about diverse and inclusive marketing practices that marketers can apply in their everyday roles. Many marketers want to have an impact and be part of a movement that positively impacts people, and this series will promote how to do this. There's no one formally offering this type of programming for marketers right now, and after having conversations with our members, it was clear that there was a need for it. 

10KC: The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias, which is a call to identify gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it. How are you breaking the bias for women in leadership roles and for the employees that you lead? 

Sarkaria: One of the biggest ways we can help women in leadership roles to break the bias is to be inclusive. Having women at the table is huge — but making sure their voices are actually heard is part of being inclusive. For my team, and within the CMA, we do this at all levels, including senior leadership. 

At CMA, we're focused on having inclusive meetings and nurturing people who might be a bit more reserved. Person “A” might have expertise, but if I also know they're a bit shy, I’ll give them time to build and grow their confidence. I prepare them to be part of that conversation by saying, ‘Hey, we're going to talk about this topic next week and I think you should contribute to the discussion.’ The underlying idea I'm trying to promote in them, is to say, ‘your voice is really important and valuable.’ I think women don't hear that enough, especially in the workplace. 

10KC: How have you managed to break the bias?

Sarkaria: There's a bit of intersectionality here for myself. I think this happens more often to women than men, and it happens more often to minority women over non-minority women. As a minority woman, it's happened more than I would like to admit. It’s always in the back of my mind. 

I've been in a lot of boardrooms, where it can be difficult for those around the table to make space for a minority female. Once, I was in a meeting with a large group of people, predominantly male. I remember raising some points about our costs increasing and that we should take a moment to pause and think about why this is happening. One male colleague said, ‘Oh, you must be afraid of your grocery bill.’ I was one of the only females there. In that moment, I felt so alone, and I didn't know how to handle it. No one prepares you for that. There were no tools or resources for me to lean into. 

To this day, I regret that I didn't stand up for myself, but it helped me grow over time. That individual wasn't able to identify the privilege he had. He could have made space for me at that table. He didn't know how to show allyship and that's how we break down these walls. 

10KC: What tools and resources are available now, and what do you think is moving the dial on allyship now?

Sarkaria: Interviews like this. I think this is a huge part of it, highlighting women and their successes. We say it across the board in BIPOC communities — until you see yourself in a certain position, you can't imagine yourself doing that. Being able to knock on someone’s door and ask, ‘How did you handle this?’ is an important resource to have.

From personal experience, I'm a first-generation Canadian. My parents came here and started their own businesses and my mom stayed at home. My parents were running their own company, which is great and aspirational in and of itself, but it didn't prepare me for how to navigate these conversations. 

A simple example is when I was at the cottage with my family. I had a work meeting and my niece said, ‘Where is Auntie Sartaj? I want to play.’ When I finished, my niece said, ‘Can I go to work with you? I want to come to a meeting.’ These are opportunities and experiences I didn’t have access to growing up.

10KC: What role has mentorship and/or sponsorship played in your career, and what does it mean to you? 

Sarkaria: Mentorship to me is about outreach and leading by example. My nieces are 8 years old. I want to show them what it means to be confident. I hope that when they get to this point in their lives, the questions asked of them as women in leadership are different from the questions asked of me. The biggest step I try to take is to be open to the conversation. People regularly reach out to me through LinkedIn. They want someone to listen to them and to value them, and to provide a little bit of confidence to get them to that next step. I try to make sure the door's always open when it comes to mentorship.

10KC: Marketing job functions are often composed of women in junior to manager roles. However, the majority of marketing executives are men. Men are reportedly more likely to be CMOs than women, and according to Catalyst only 17% of CMOs are women. Why do you think this is?

Sarkaria: We all know women face more roadblocks to advancement in their careers. Women are more likely to take on certain responsibilities within their household — childcare, taking care of parents, management of household activities. Women have concerns around taking parental leave because they're afraid of career repercussions. Many of our current structures and career progressions are designed for those who have fewer external demands on their time — that can have a disproportionate effect on women. Organizations need to acknowledge and address this to figure out they can better support women. 

Women represent the majority of CMA employees. We provide flex work knowing they have other demands — it can be invaluable for people to say, ‘Hey, I'm going to start at 10 o'clock versus 9 o'clock.’ If you are in a position to build someone up, you should be doing that. 

Webinar

Breaking the Bias in the Marketing World

International Women’s Day is March 8th and the 2022 theme is #BreaktheBias, which is a call for everyone to identify gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping when they see it. Ten Thousand Coffees (10KC) spoke to Sartaj Sarkaria about identifying gender bias, the Canadian Marketing Association’s (CMA) newly launched mentorship program for marketers from BIPOC and newcomer communities, DEI in the workplace, and the power of allyship.

10KC: Tell us about your role at The Canadian Marketing Association and how you got there.

Sarkaria: I am the Chief of Staff and the Chief Diversity Officer at CMA. I work with our Board of Directors, and I oversee the educational offerings for our members. I also manage our internal HR and diversity efforts, so I wear many hats. I get to see how the thread is woven through all of what we do. I've carved out this space for myself where I have a special opportunity to see where all the connection points are. You asked how I got here — it was part luck, but also strong allyship from our CEO and the senior leadership team. I'm a super keen person. I like to ask questions – I’ve always been a bit of a sponge. 

10KC: The CMA recently announced a new mentorship program for diverse marketers that’s powered by 10KC. Why was launching this program so important for your members?

Sarkaria: There are many newcomers and individuals from BIPOC communities that work in marketing, and we wanted to provide some support when it comes to their career growth. If they don't see themselves represented, it's harder for them to navigate a path to success 

We created the CMA Marketing Mentors program to provide a space for individuals to have mentors guide them throughout their careers by offering support and advice. Most importantly, it allows mentees a safe space to go to when they're facing challenging times. That’s one opportunity I wish I had earlier in my career. My hope is that these mentors and mentees will build strong relationships that go beyond this mentorship program. 

10KC: What other DEI initiatives are you working on?

In the month of March, we’re launching a three-part seminar series that I’ll be co-hosting called DEI Seminar Series - Dissecting Diversity. The series will talk about diverse and inclusive marketing practices that marketers can apply in their everyday roles. Many marketers want to have an impact and be part of a movement that positively impacts people, and this series will promote how to do this. There's no one formally offering this type of programming for marketers right now, and after having conversations with our members, it was clear that there was a need for it. 

10KC: The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias, which is a call to identify gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it. How are you breaking the bias for women in leadership roles and for the employees that you lead? 

Sarkaria: One of the biggest ways we can help women in leadership roles to break the bias is to be inclusive. Having women at the table is huge — but making sure their voices are actually heard is part of being inclusive. For my team, and within the CMA, we do this at all levels, including senior leadership. 

At CMA, we're focused on having inclusive meetings and nurturing people who might be a bit more reserved. Person “A” might have expertise, but if I also know they're a bit shy, I’ll give them time to build and grow their confidence. I prepare them to be part of that conversation by saying, ‘Hey, we're going to talk about this topic next week and I think you should contribute to the discussion.’ The underlying idea I'm trying to promote in them, is to say, ‘your voice is really important and valuable.’ I think women don't hear that enough, especially in the workplace. 

10KC: How have you managed to break the bias?

Sarkaria: There's a bit of intersectionality here for myself. I think this happens more often to women than men, and it happens more often to minority women over non-minority women. As a minority woman, it's happened more than I would like to admit. It’s always in the back of my mind. 

I've been in a lot of boardrooms, where it can be difficult for those around the table to make space for a minority female. Once, I was in a meeting with a large group of people, predominantly male. I remember raising some points about our costs increasing and that we should take a moment to pause and think about why this is happening. One male colleague said, ‘Oh, you must be afraid of your grocery bill.’ I was one of the only females there. In that moment, I felt so alone, and I didn't know how to handle it. No one prepares you for that. There were no tools or resources for me to lean into. 

To this day, I regret that I didn't stand up for myself, but it helped me grow over time. That individual wasn't able to identify the privilege he had. He could have made space for me at that table. He didn't know how to show allyship and that's how we break down these walls. 

10KC: What tools and resources are available now, and what do you think is moving the dial on allyship now?

Sarkaria: Interviews like this. I think this is a huge part of it, highlighting women and their successes. We say it across the board in BIPOC communities — until you see yourself in a certain position, you can't imagine yourself doing that. Being able to knock on someone’s door and ask, ‘How did you handle this?’ is an important resource to have.

From personal experience, I'm a first-generation Canadian. My parents came here and started their own businesses and my mom stayed at home. My parents were running their own company, which is great and aspirational in and of itself, but it didn't prepare me for how to navigate these conversations. 

A simple example is when I was at the cottage with my family. I had a work meeting and my niece said, ‘Where is Auntie Sartaj? I want to play.’ When I finished, my niece said, ‘Can I go to work with you? I want to come to a meeting.’ These are opportunities and experiences I didn’t have access to growing up.

10KC: What role has mentorship and/or sponsorship played in your career, and what does it mean to you? 

Sarkaria: Mentorship to me is about outreach and leading by example. My nieces are 8 years old. I want to show them what it means to be confident. I hope that when they get to this point in their lives, the questions asked of them as women in leadership are different from the questions asked of me. The biggest step I try to take is to be open to the conversation. People regularly reach out to me through LinkedIn. They want someone to listen to them and to value them, and to provide a little bit of confidence to get them to that next step. I try to make sure the door's always open when it comes to mentorship.

10KC: Marketing job functions are often composed of women in junior to manager roles. However, the majority of marketing executives are men. Men are reportedly more likely to be CMOs than women, and according to Catalyst only 17% of CMOs are women. Why do you think this is?

Sarkaria: We all know women face more roadblocks to advancement in their careers. Women are more likely to take on certain responsibilities within their household — childcare, taking care of parents, management of household activities. Women have concerns around taking parental leave because they're afraid of career repercussions. Many of our current structures and career progressions are designed for those who have fewer external demands on their time — that can have a disproportionate effect on women. Organizations need to acknowledge and address this to figure out they can better support women. 

Women represent the majority of CMA employees. We provide flex work knowing they have other demands — it can be invaluable for people to say, ‘Hey, I'm going to start at 10 o'clock versus 9 o'clock.’ If you are in a position to build someone up, you should be doing that. 

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