First time female CMOs outnumber men, report says

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Dive Summary:

  • According to a report by Spencer Stuart, for the first time in 2021, the number of female CMOs outstripped men. However, his tenure remained at its lowest in more than a decade.
  • In 2021, 51% of Ad Age’s top ad CMOs were women. This is a dramatic increase from 23% in 2016. Additionally, 71% of first CMOs were women, compared to 52% in 2020, a staggering 19 percentage points increase.
  • However, despite the growing demand for diversity, CMOs from the minority or underrepresented background remained scarce. In 2021, only 15% of CMOs were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, an increase of two percentage points from 2020. The newly arrived CMO class was 18% more diverse than racial or ethnic groups represented by less than 11% in 2020.

Diving Information:

Short CMO terms remain common. For example, Dunkin’s previous CMO lasted just nine months, a fairly short tenure even among CMOs. According to Spencer Stuart, the average tenure in 2021 stood at 40 months, continuing to decline from the highest 48 months in 2014. The median tenure continued to decline to pre-pandemic levels, reaching 28 months in 2021.

The prevalence of relatively short CMO assignments could be exacerbated by the lingering effects of the pandemic as diversification efforts and Americans leave their jobs in record numbers. However, the CEO’s tenure was more than double the average CMO tenure at 85 months, according to the report.

Despite the focus on diversification, the proportion of underrepresented racial or ethnic CMOs remained low as efforts to increase the stagnation of representation. Inbound CMOs came from an underrepresented background, compared to 19% in 2019 and 29% in 2017. The proportion of female CMOs has continued to increase steadily since 2016 in both the general and new CMO categories.

Perhaps most reflective of the industry’s desire to diversify and find a new perspective on things is the increasing rate of external CMO hiring. The proportion of external CMOs hired in 2021 increased from 37% to 45% in 2020. First-time CMOs were even more likely to be recruited externally than in previous years. In 2020, 16% of first CMOs were hired from outside. In 2021, this number increased to 30%. As diversity goals are met, tenures may begin to stabilize.

External talent has been increasingly appealing to companies, especially as legacy brands seek post-pandemic relevance. The popularity of cryptocurrency, the growing metaverse, and the expansion of e-commerce demand outside experience for many legacy marketers. These factors, combined with the growing pressure for diversity, are the driving force behind outsourcing demand.

Despite high turnover rates, most CMO positions are filled internally. Fifty-five percent of CMOs appointed in 2021 are down from 63% in 2020. This eight-point drop is much more dramatic than a one-point drop from 2019 (64%) to 2020.