Joining TrueBlue in 2018, Maggie Lower was their first Chief Marketing Officer. Throughout her career, Maggie has built innovative go-to-market models and leveraged transformational opportunities to deliver better customer experiences, efficient delivery of services. Prior to joining TrueBlue, Maggie and her team at Alight Solutions, won a GOLD STEVIE award for building a new corporate identity in less than four months. Recently, Maggie was named as one of the 2018 OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Models in the Financial Times which is sponsored by Involve – The Inclusion People and this year she ranked in the Outstanding's 100 LGBT+ Executives list.
Maggie is a graduate of Hamilton College and received her MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She volunteers her time as a mentor for The Marketing Academy US helping to develop and nurture top talent within the Marketing, Advertising, and Communications industries.
Laura: Maggie, you were a jury member for the RAHM Contest in Toronto 2019 with the possibility to be among the TOP5 jury members who crowned the winner. What were the crucial skills and attributes that you were looking for in the winner?
Maggie: When you’re in an unexpected setting with other highly capable people, it can be difficult to strike that balance between leading and continually engaging people along the way (especially the introverts!). I was really focused on identifying people that were balancing both, moving the group along in their exercise’s objective while being engaging versus overbearing.
Our world is changing every day. If you’re not confident enough to surround yourself with people who may know more than you about a given topic, you and your team will ultimately lose out. Our job as leaders is sometimes to be the best listeners and help identify the best possible path to an outcome, but you need your chosen team to be engaged to produce the best result. Being a leader isn’t always about having all the answers.
It’s important for women to recognize that we may have been doubting or limiting ourselves and accept that we are formidable and capable of doing anything.
Generally speaking our society is making steps towards a society where women have the same opportunities and possibilities as men. (In 2019, 29% of senior management roles globally are held by women, the highest number ever on record - source) But obviously we still have a long way to go. Based on your opinion, where does the core problem of this inequality lie? Is it upbringing? Education system? Or still surviving gender stereotypes?
I feel fortunate that I currently work in a profession, Marketing, that is very close to gender parity at the leadership or Chief Marketing Officer level where I believe the tone is set. What I also know is that I have many CMO colleagues that are passionate about keeping women in the workforce and it’s that intentionality that I think is spreading, at least in the communities where I engage regularly.
More broadly, the rise of the conversation around unconscious bias is overdue and well-placed and healthy. We all harbor these biases (if you think you don’t, you probably aren’t looking deeply within or somehow skipped childhood where so much of this is subconsciously embedded). If we don’t make an effort to be aware of our own biases, we won’t be able to move past them. The world of work still makes a lot of assumptions about what profile is right for what job. Women have been conditioned early on to gravitate toward certain roles and see limitations on how far they can go (the unconscious bias toward ourselves). It’s important for women to recognize that we may have been doubting or limiting ourselves and accept that we are formidable and capable of doing anything. We have to continue to push past unspoken rules, which is much easier said than done.
Transformation is hard and takes commitment whether you are experiencing it from the worker or employer point of view. For employers, try to expand your thinking on what the best profile is for a job and explore creative ways to make sure you get to the right candidates. Maybe you blind-interview where the voice and face is disguised, maybe you try to recruit someone outside of your industry for the first time, maybe you consider someone with a different title but with transferable skills and great potential. There are capable women everywhere, seek them out and try places that don’t seem obvious.
I think when people realize you’re human and not just this female or LGBTQ+ label, things tend to get better from there. We are all just people.
Following up on the previous question, what were the most challenging stereotypes and discriminations, that you faced during your career based on being women, who is also part of the LGBT+ Community? What techniques did you use to deal with them?
I grew up in a fairly conservative industry for a little over half of my career, Financial Services. Conservative dress, conservative point of view, male-dominated and highly competitive to paint with broad strokes that were generally very true in the late 90’s/early 00’s. Here’s what I will tell you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was HARD at times. I constantly had to wrestle with the “you’re the token female I see?” questions that people would sometimes say out loud. Um, no, I have sacrificed a lot and worked extremely hard to be here thank you very much. I was fortunate because I worked for this no nonsense force of nature from Texas who was having none of it, but who also wanted me to learn how to tackle this on my own. She taught me some techniques for managing workplace bullies. She pushed me. I will never be able to re-pay her for that.
When I was younger, I was fighting to make sure I was taken seriously as a professional, not a female professional. When you add queer to that mix, it was tough and it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I was a LGBTQ+. It was a process for me to “come out” at work but I worked for some incredibly fierce women and men who supported my journey at every single step. There were some homophobic folks thrown in there for good measure, but that is the world and those times also helped me grow – and, frankly, probably emboldened me and pushed me to accept myself even more.
It doesn’t work for everyone, but I think humor can be a terrific leveler. I take my work very seriously, but not myself. I think when people realize you’re human and not just this female or LGBTQ+ label, things tend to get better from there. We are all just people.
You have an enormous success behind you. For example you and your team at Alight Solutions, won a GOLD STEVIE award for building a new corporate identity in less than four months. What do you think are the skills you possess that make you successful in the Marketing sector?
I predominantly work in the B2B marketing world. B2B businesses are working hard to adopt a more marketing-forward/B2C-like approach to their commercial strategy. Having said that, if you walk into the boardroom of a B2B firm and speak in marketing jargon, you’re already sunk. You have to speak the language of business with a marketing lens. My very first real job out of college was in Marketing and then I moved to Financial Services and, with time and experience, became a corporate athlete. I found, after a period of 5-7 years, that what I really excelled at was transformation. That skill/bias allowed me to move into really diverse and exciting roles where I applied those core skills to a number of different roles: client service leadership, institutional trade desk operations, market planning, performance measurement, COO, etc. It’s that diversity of experience that has helped me converse across the executive committee successfully. As marketers, we have to make sure we are always thinking like business executives and balance that with the marketing agenda. It’s that combination that has propelled the success of the teams that I’ve been fortunate to lead.
Try to be “out.” It’s hard, but find a person to help you manage it. We have to fight to keep our place at the table, and believe it or not, you/we have allies everywhere. Seek us/them out. We want to help.
You have started your career in 1999 working as Assistant Vice President at the Bank of America. What piece of advice would you have wished to receive in that time which you can now give to other young LGBT+ women starting their career?
There is this incredibly beautiful and powerful movement started by author Dan Savage called “It Gets Better.” It aims to help LGBTQ+ youth understand that it may feel bleak now but it will get better, and part of that starts by seeking out your community. So this organization’s aim is to connect LGBTQ+ youth around the world (I’m paraphrasing but look it up, it’s really inspiring). While I didn’t have someone to tell me that, I wish I would have.
What I did have was my boss and mentor (and aforementioned force of nature Laura) give me advice that changed my life. It was incredibly hard for my parents to accept my sexuality (I’m sorry, Mom and Dad, but this is important to talk about and you know how much I love you). I had moved to the West Coast when I finally made the decision to come out. I grew up in the Midwestern part of the United States and my parents lived there and still do, as I do now. I was particularly crushed by their lack of acceptance. I remember sitting at lunch with Laura discussing the situation and she said to me, “Maggie you have had 24 years to wrap your head around this. Give your parents a year, they will get there.” All of a sudden, I had a framework! One year of mental space living 2,000 miles away I could manage. Fortunately for me, they did “get there.” I shared this with a young man who recently came out and he encouraged me to share that (Thanks, Ben!). It was a powerful moment and powerful advice at a vulnerable time. We all need a Laura. This is what helped me, I don’t pretend to know what every person has to face, but maybe this will help some. I hope it does.
So, what’s my advice? Try to be “out.” It’s hard, but find a person to help you manage it. We have to fight to keep our place at the table, and believe it or not, you/we have allies everywhere. Seek us/them out. We want to help.
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