The Rise of the “She-M.O.”
By Tiffany Meyers
In a business of predominantly male pilots, mechanics and engineers, Joanne Smith has had to shout over more than the din of aircraft engines in the course of her marketing career. The vice president of marketing for Delta Air Lines recalls a meeting at another airline a short decade ago, when she tried to convince a roomful of men not to cut hot towel service on flights as a way to save money. When she added that, in fact, the hot towels should be scented, her former CEO tossed a quarter across the table and quipped, “Call someone who cares.”
Contemporary boardrooms are hardly free of chest-puffing antics like these, but Smith believes such an incident probably wouldn’t happen today. “Not so much because it’s rude behavior,” she says, “but because I think women [marketers] have forced the point that consumers do care about these kinds of things.”
At Delta, Smith often finds herself reminding colleagues that the concepts of “safe, clean and on time” are merely the price of entry. “In a male-dominated industry, I find that I sometimes have to be a very loud voice that says, ‘If operations is all we focus on, we’re going to lose an opportunity to engage customers in a brand connection beyond those things.'”
Such sensibilities among women in marketing are earning more respect in corporate America – and giving women execs a boost up the career ladder. A quick scan across the business vista shows that in marketing, women are thriving in the most senior roles – making the CMO into the “She-M.O.,” as it were.