Female CMOs overtake male ones for the first time, report says

    • For the first time, female CMOs outnumbered male ones in 2021, according to a report by Spencer Stuart. However, tenure remained at the lowest level in more than a decade.
    • In 2021, 51% of Ad Age’s top advertising CMOs were women. This is a dramatic increase from 23% in 2016. Additionally, 71% of first-time CMOs were women, up from 52% in 2020, a staggering 19 point increase.
    • However, CMOs from a minority or underrepresented background remained scarce, despite the increased demand for diversity. Just 15% of CMOs in 2021 were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, up two percentage points from 2020. The incoming CMO class was more diverse, with 18% from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, up from 11% in 2020.

    Short CMO tenures continue to be common. For example, Dunkin’s previous CMO lasted a mere nine months, a remarkably short tenure even among CMOs. The average tenure in 2021 remained at 40 months, per Spencer Stuart, and has continued to creep down from a high of 48 months in 2014. Median tenure continued to inch up to pre-pandemic levels and, in 2021, hit 28 months.

    The prevalence of relatively short CMO stints may be compounded by efforts to diversify and the lingering effects of the pandemic, as Americans leave their jobs in record numbers. However, CEO tenures were more than double the average CMO tenure, at 85 months, according to the report.

    Despite a focus on diversification, the rate of CMOs from an underrepresented racial or ethnic background remained low, with efforts to increase representation stalling. Incoming CMOs came from an underrepresented background at a rate of 18%, down from 19% in 2019 and 29% in 2017. The rate of female CMOs has continued to steadily increase since 2016 in both the overall and incoming CMO categories.

    What is perhaps most reflective of the industry’s desire to diversify and find a fresh way of looking at things is the increasing rate of external CMO hires. The rate of external CMOs hired in 2021 was 45%, up from 37% in 2020. First-time CMOs were even more likely to be hired externally than in previous years. In 2020, 16% of first-time CMOs were hired externally. In 2021, that number jumped to 30%. Tenures could begin to stabilize as diversity goals are met.

    External talent has increasingly appealed to companies, especially as legacy brands search for post-pandemic relevancy. Cryptocurrency, increased metaverse popularity and the expansion of e-commerce demands outside experience for many legacy marketers. These factors combined with the increased push for diversity are a driving force behind the demand for external hires.

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


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