Promotional Product Industry Leaders Reflect on International Women’s Day

Promotional Product Industry Leaders Reflect on International Women’s Day

Women from around the world share their insights on the observance, their professional journeys and the strides still to be made.

On this International Women’s Day, we collectively pay tribute to the progress societies have made in the realm of gender equality, while reflecting on the continuing efforts among women and their supporters.

What started as a series of labor movements in North America and Europe at the turn of the 20 century was officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977. Today, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to honor those who have gone before, as well as a reminder not to rest on our laurels – that there’s still much work to do.

For example, as of the end of 2022, 9% (or 46) of the CEOs on the Fortune 500 list were women. That’s an all-time high, but hopes are that that number will continue to grow in the coming years. Recent data from the Pew Research Center also shows that the pay gap between men and women hasn’t closed much in the last 20 years – women still earn, on average, about 82% of what men earn, compared to 80% in 2002.

This year, the UN’s theme for the day is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” – the organization is focusing specifically on the unequal access to digital resources that still exists. It reports, for example, that 69% of men around the world use the internet, compared to 63% of women. The UN is also raising awareness to women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields and gender-specific online abuse.

From representation disparities, to pay gaps, to trafficking and abuse, to forced marriage and male “guardianship” systems, women around the world still need support in their equality efforts.

To mark International Women’s Day, we asked women in promo across several continents to reflect on the observance, their time in the industry and what they would say to empower their younger selves.

This is a time to come together to celebrate the strides that women have made and to embrace equity. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still more to be done. I’m proud of the courageous and talented women I’m fortunate enough to have in my network, and I’m lucky to call them friends. I frequently look for ways to get involved in women’s initiatives and business networks (like being a co-chair for Promotional Products Professionals of Canada’s Women’s Empowerment Event), and to celebrate women’s causes, from local charities to national organizations. We at Innovatex take action for equality, while celebrating achievements. Together we are stronger! In promo, I’ve learned to take the time to meet people and embrace the workings of the industry. It’s all about relationships. And if I could give my 16-year-old self advice, I would say: always look at the big picture. I still say that to myself when something seems overwhelming. Finding perspective is key. For my fellow women in business – Use your creativity and be proud of what you create for your clients.

International Women’s Day invites recognition and celebration of women’s achievements. Celebration is vital for encouragement and hope, while we’re acutely aware of the suffering of women everywhere. I’m so proud of promo for holding events like PPPC’s Women’s Empowerment Event that specifically focus on professional and personal growth. We lift each other up and cheer each other on. I tell myself to trust my inner wisdom; it’s profound and built on generations of matriarchs before me. They were exceptionally strong women who survived way more hardships than me. Seek knowledge with understanding. Be open, humble, kind and generous, and just be yourself. I’m passionate about my work, so I tell other women in promo to enjoy every moment. Let your creativity flow; focus on people; understand their message, needs and desires, and products will fit in. Focus on the joy of giving and receiving and that makes it all so worth it.

I never thought a woman couldn’t do what a man does. I had three older brothers – if I didn’t keep up with them I was left out, and I didn’t want that. I never really “got a job” in this industry. If you love what you do and enjoy the people you work with, it’s not a job. We help companies conquer marketing challenges, and that’s rewarding. But the work shouldn’t own you and your family should always take priority. Most importantly, have fun. Everyone wants to do business with positive people.  I would tell my younger self never to give up, figure out what she enjoys, work with good people and volunteer when possible – you get to hang out with “the cool kids” and learn a lot. And for those women starting out in promo: Find a company with colleagues and clients who allow you to be the best you can be.

We celebrate women’s achievements, and also recognize the many inequalities that still exist, such as gender parity in the workplace, reproductive rights and violence and abuse. I’ve learned that the people we work with – colleagues, suppliers and customers – are the most important resources we have. I would give my teen self the same advice my mother gave me: “You can be anything you want to be. You have so many choices open to you.” I got into this business because I wanted a better work/life balance with two small children. That wasn’t always possible, but I had a lot of help and mentorship from so many people, starting with Roch and Regent Desjardins at Minimedia International. This is an amazing business to work in. People are friendly and helpful. Even your competitors will give you advice if you ask them.

International Women's Day reminds me of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all around the world. I’ve learned that people always do business with you because they believe in you and trust you. And I would tell the 16-year-old me the following: Never give up. Trust yourself. Be yourself and try new things. Work hard, but take time to make friends and have fun. My best advice for women in business is not to jump right into the sales pitch. Break the ice with your customer and start a conversation. That’s a golden rule for me in sales and in life.

We honour women who fought for their rights and inspire future generations to work towards gender equity. In solidarity we speak out, call for change, celebrate achievements and recognize women’s contributions to society. We all have a responsibility to work towards a world where every woman and girl can live a life free from discrimination and oppression. I was extremely lucky to be raised by a Polish mother and Sri Lankan father who had to deal with prejudice. They instilled in me that I could be whoever I wanted to be and that no one should ever make me think differently. For this, I’m eternally grateful to them. I’ve learnt that success depends on strong relationships with suppliers and clients. Create a loyal customer base that will continue to do business with you, and make sure you can ask suppliers for much-needed favours when needed. I would tell my teen self: Live with no regrets. Don’t be a sheep. Take risks. Make memories (loads of them). Be a forward-thinker. Make each day count. Look at failure as a lesson in success. Know that everything will be okay. And most of all, enjoy yourself. For those women just starting out in promo: Listen to your customers’ needs and respond promptly with personalized solutions. Go above and beyond to provide excellent customer service. Be transparent. And stay up-to-date with industry trends and best practices.

I’m fortunate to work in a company where almost 60% of our managers are women. That’s quite uncommon in Europe.  Since the start of the war in Ukraine, over four million Ukrainians have fled to Poland, the majority of them women and children. We hired 90 women last year and trained them in printing, embroidery, logistics and production. We helped many find shelter and offered them benefits and free Polish lessons. These are my ABCs of Promo after 30 years at Lynka: • Be ready to pivot quickly (remember COVID!) • Build enduring relationships. Think long term. • Change – embrace it! I would tell my younger self to practice self-care; maintain a work-life balance; travel, read and continually learn; surround yourself with good people who boost your energy; and always treat people the way you’d like to be treated. I tell women in promo to be confident and not overly humble; leave inferiority complexes at the door; take responsibility for your own development; embrace learning; and be prepared for a dynamic industry.

International Women’s Day honors those who have or still have to fight against discrimination of women. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to reach a worldwide standard in gender equality in 2023. In my time in promo, I’ve learned it’s a broad market with a great variety of product variety and people, so you never stop learning. That’s what makes this industry extra special. I would tell my younger self that your gut is one of your life’s best mentors, and to always trust it. And I would tell women new to promo just to take the opportunity to discover it, network as much as you can and don’t be afraid of that big league of men surrounding you.

International Women's Day celebrates women’s contributions to society and raises awareness to ongoing gender inequality. I hope Europe can be a role model for women worldwide. I’ve learned to always put the customer first to build strong relationships and long-term loyalty. I would tell my teen self to discover her passions and interests. Prioritize personal growth and development, while also being open to new experiences. Keep studying, get a good school certificate and lay a career foundation. Visit other countries and learn the languages and culture, and then you’re at home anywhere. Women new to promo should be assertive and not shy away from new challenges. Build strong professional networks and seek out mentors. Pave the way for career advancement with continuous learning and by staying up-to-date with trends and best practices.

We also asked women at ASI about their thoughts on the observance and their advice for fellow women in business. We’re reminded to look back at the achievements that bring us to today, to reflect on women’s struggles and accomplishments, and to be conscious of current realities. It’s an opportunity for younger generations to feel a sense of community, and to inspire them to achieve their goals. In business, I’ve learned to take the time to understand overarching business objectives before diving into a project. Consider all factors that contribute to success, then roll up your sleeves and be honest when you don’t know – it’s ok to ask for help. My younger self has the same rights at the table as her male counterparts, and she’s not responsible for her superiors’ emotions. It’s important to work hard, get the job done, and promote your work and skills. And don’t sweat over things you have no control over. For those women just starting out: Take advantage of the free education offered at industry events; act like you belong; be relentless but respectful; and take time to thank others and acknowledge their help and support. And never take ‘no’ personally; it’s an opening to your next experience. We remember those in history who worked hard to move equality forward, and remind all women to support each other, call out all inequality (not just gender-based) and celebrate achievements. I’ve learned that women need to mentor each other. My first job out of college was in the heavily male-dominated oil industry, but my first boss, Lane Barker, was one of the most successful women in the company and one of just two that reached executive level at that time. She was my mentor, cheerleader and role model long after I’d stopped reporting to her and until her passing in 1998. She coached me formally through my first two positions and informally through four subsequent promotions. In one of those positions, I was the first female in the company’s history to be in that position. The mentoring and guidance I received from her stays with me to this day. Miracle with her first supervisor, Lane Barker, at an Amoco Oil Company (later BP) mentoring program event in 1994. For those women starting out in promo today, my advice is to find a female leader in the industry who can serve as your mentor and role model. The oil industry was a huge purchaser of promo, so back in the day I received a lot of it. I had a closet full of men’s polos that I would try to alter to make them more flattering. If I could go back in time, I would have introduced women’s promo apparel sooner! International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women and girls across the globe and recognize the importance of overcoming adversity with resilience. There are limitless possibilities ahead to shape a more inclusive world. I’ve learned to believe in myself, my strengths and my individual purpose as it relates to my professional ambitions. I would tell my 16-year-old self to follow every dream or passion, and to make a continued effort to nurture the relationships garnered throughout the years. Trusted people bring joy that can last a lifetime, shape your identity and personal growth, and connect you to your purpose. Identify other women (and men) in the industry whom you admire and learn from them. Networking can spark a conversation we may not have envisioned. I think you’ll find people want to share their knowledge with you; as a result, you also form new and hopefully lasting business relationships.

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