CMO Teresa Barreira on the importance of female leadership

22 March 2021 5 min. read
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Teresa Barreira is the Chief Marketing Officer of digital transformation consultancy Publicis Sapient. Over the course of her 25-year career, her global B2B marketing expertise and innovative senior leadership has enabled her to break the mold of traditional marketing in technology and service companies.

A passionate champion of diversity in business, especially empowering the next generation of female talent, Teresa spoke to about her own career journey, what it means to be a female leader and why equality in business is more important than ever. 

Teresa, what does it mean to you to be a female leader?

Being a leader is about empowering others to become their best selves. To me leadership is all about empowerment – empowering teams and individuals and giving them the platform that enables them to grow. Being a woman leader comes with an added responsibility to elevate others, sometimes making difficult decisions in order to build teams with diversity and inclusion at the core so that you can create a place and a path for everyone. 

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Leaders have an important role to play in preparing the next generation of talent and creating a workforce ready for the future. To do that we have to give people the room to grow and the opportunity to become leaders themselves. 

What does your role as CMO at Publicis Sapient entail, and how has the Covid-19 pandemic changed this?

I see my primary role as a strategic growth driver for our business. When Covid-19 hit, most businesses were impacted, many of them our clients’. But the need for digital only accelerated, and at an extraordinary pace. What I’ve witnessed on my own team is rapid innovation. Everyone truly came together and rallied around a shared sense of purpose. 

When I look back at 2020, what’s remarkable is how much we achieved despite the many challenges we were faced with. We shifted our way of thinking and working from a “campaign mindset” to “product mindset,” acting with more agility and speed, building new product innovations such as The HOW Channel, a streaming platform for short form interactive content, and The Digital Life Index, a consumer insights study that monitors changing consumer trends and behaviours influenced by the digital economy.

Overall Covid-19 helped accelerate our journey to become a data-focused, agile and product-minded marketing organisation.

What impact has Covid-19 had on women in particular, and their careers?

Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic at home and at work, the statistics are staggering. In April, unemployment for women climbed by 2 percentage points versus that of men in the US, according to a McKinsey & Company analysis of US labour statistics. Many women exited the workforce altogether due to lack of childcare support, school closures, and the added burden of remote learning. 

What’s become clear is that women carry the bulk of the burden at home, even more so in low-income and minority communities and households. It’s a falsehood to think that remote work provided greater work-life balance. In reality it’s caused it to diminish. Women are now carrying added responsibilities, all while trying to manage fulltime jobs in the same physical space. 

As a result, many women are voluntarily exiting the workforce. We have to acknowledge that the pandemic is setting women behind their male or non-parent peers. The impact is greater in low-income communities and for essential workers. The challenges cannot be ignored, women need support from their employers and communities. 

What challenges (and opportunities) did you encounter on your own career journey?

I’ve had amazing opportunities to take risks and experiment. In my first companies [IBM, Accenture] I had the opportunity to take on different roles in new geographies or divisions of the company and was always attracted to opportunities where I could reinvent, reimagine, or launch something new – a service, product, or a new line of business. This shaped and defined my career path and helped me grow.

I’ve also been lucky to have great mentors and leaders along the way who had a significant influence on me and empowered me to think differently and take charge.

Like everyone, I’ve had challenges too. The challenges are also what define us. I remember my very first job offer, I was so excited. When I received the offer, I asked for a slightly higher salary and the offer was rescinded. I was really devastated and a bit traumatised by the experience. Luckily, I ended up getting an offer at another company where I worked for 10 very successful years.

Why is equality in business more important than ever?

Equality is good for business and it’s good for society. An equitable society provides fair opportunities for all individuals. In hiring today there is an incredible amount of value placed on four-year degrees. Education is important, but a four-year degree is not the only way to learn or contribute. Requiring all employees to have a three to four-year university degree excludes a significant pool of talent from the professional job market. 

Also, higher education is costly, and not all university age students can afford a degree. As a result, these students are excluded from certain career paths. Hiring based on skills versus degrees increases equality in business. It widens the talent pools that businesses have access to, provides career paths to individuals who may otherwise be dismissed, and it adds significant value to a company.

What one piece of advice would you give to women starting out in their careers?

Women need to advocate. You’re going to have mentors along the way, but no one else is going to advocate for you. You have to be in charge of managing your own path. You need to be the CEOs of your own career.

But most importantly be yourself, do not change yourself to fit a “mold” created by someone else. Embrace who you are, your experiences, culture, and heritage.