‘Don’t place your plans on pause’

20 years of Women in Marketing: Founder Ade Onilude on the importance of taking action to propel your creative curiosity and career forward.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Ade Onilude, Founder of Women in Marketing, is reflecting on two decades of leading the organisation, through the lens of the words of poet, author and activist, Maya Angelou.

It is difficult to distil the essence of an organisation that has so profoundly impacted so many industry leaders into a handful of words. It is testament to Onilude’s passion that she retains her focus and energy to continue to drive the industry forward by amplifying both the women doing the work today and the trailblazers who came before them.

It is a passion that is so vital for the industry in a year when many organisations and individuals have paused plans. Delayed decisions, economic uncertainty and navigating the post-pandemic working world have all contributed to a marketing ecosystem in which it is so easy to chase the seemingly urgent and forget about the important. 

For Onilude this is a genuine concern; she believes marketing leaders should invest more time elevating their accomplishments and looking outwards to stay inspired and informed. With her trademark assertiveness, she takes aim at one of the biggest challenges for leaders today; creating the space to stay creative.

She explains: “Marketing is in perpetual crisis mode. We need to look upwards and outwards and recognise the role of the marketing industry and the people making the work in driving business forward,” she explains.

Closing the action gap 

With this recognition front and centre, Onilude is passionate about closing the gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to elevating women.  She explains: “If you are saying you are championing women and you want to champion a cause or a social enterprise then the question is where is your budget?”

Onilude is well-placed to make this observation, for in an ecosystem where many leaders have adopted the language of change without doing the work, Onilude has been paving a trail for equality with the Awards long before the issue was on the broader industry agenda.

2024 marks twenty years of Women in Marketing. Two decades of Onilude championing women and marketing with authenticity and ambition to celebrate the women doing the work and making a genuine difference. Yet notably as we sit down to discuss the past, present and future, it is the first time she has really looked back.

In March 2004, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the very first Women in Marketing event took place on the subject of work-life balance. A topic which still tops the marketing agenda today. At the time Onilude was an active member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, where she was a member of the Central London team before she was later invited to join the Greater London Region Board. The annual event evolved to include The Women in Marketing Awards in 2010 before Women in Marketing transitioned to being an independent social enterprise in 2016.

Marketing is in perpetual crisis mode. We need to look upwards and outwards and recognise the role of the marketing industry and the people making the work in driving business forward.

Ade Onilude, Founder, Women in Marketing

Making the space for creativity

Onilude has long championed the importance of not just recognising the many facets of female leadership, but ensuring that leaders prioritise recovery and rest to avoid burnout.

For an organisation which has long centred the role of ‘self-investment’ amongst female leaders, it was ahead of the curve when it came to recognising the impact of burnout on women and advocating for the importance of self-care. 

Burnout was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation in 2019. Yet it's been a topic that has long formed the cornerstone of Women in Marketing’s multi-layered approach to elevating women. 

Onilude believes that overwhelm in the workplace is having an impact on the industry. She explains: “It is having an impact on curiosity and creativity. Marketing is part of every single sector, it impacts everything, You even have to market yourself.”

With a background in fashion and luxury goods, Onilude is particularly concerned with the loss of creativity in a world of short-termism. “We have to stop thinking of marketing as a cost and recognise that it's an investment and marketers need to have the headspace to be creative,” she says. 

When #WomenSupportingWomen is more than just a hashtag

Onilude is passionate about amplifying the real change makers and the people doing the work in marketing. It is clear that she is much more comfortable talking about other people’s contributions to the industry than recognising her own. (Spoiler alert: this is a two-part feature largely due to Onilude’s focus on ensuring that the pioneers of Women in Marketing receive their well-deserved flowers.)

“We stand on the shoulders of others. For me in our 20th year it is so important to look back and give flowers to the individuals to highlight the impact they had through their work,” she says.

For Onilude, Women in Marketing as an organisation has always been rooted in supporting the broader community. The 2018 Awards, held at the Museum of London, highlighted the Centennial Celebration of the suffragette. The same year marked the launch of the Women in Marketing Inclusion Charter. 

She explains: “From inception, it’s always been my vision to use our awards evening as a further opportunity to amplify the work of NGOs and social enterprises that support women and in certain instances girls. This has included UN Women, Women Win (championing women and young girls to do sports) Women for Women UK and more recently Refuge (via The Independent which co-sponsored the 2023 awards).”

Our industry needs to invest in women to accelerate progress. This was the theme of International Women’s Day 2024 from UN Women and it is work we have to commit to all year round.

Ade Onilude, Founder, Women in Marketing

Looking back on twenty years of Women In Marketing, Onilude has a clear and simple message: “Our industry needs to invest in women to accelerate progress. This was the theme of International Women’s Day 2024 from UN Women and it is work we have to commit to all year round.”

Onilude has long walked the walk when it comes to investing in women. She explains “I have been on this journey for 20 years. The legacy is both the groundbreaking work women in our industry have created and their contribution to the broader industry landscape.”

She highlights two iconic industry leaders for leading with equity; Heide Gardner, Interpublic Group’s former trailblazing Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Antonio Lucio, EVP and Global Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer at HP.

Lucio led marketing at the tech company as Global CMO until 2018 when he left to join Meta, before returning to HP as EVP and Global Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at HP earlier this year. He has long been a trailblazing force for diversity, equity and inclusion across the marketing sector. Championing diverse storytelling at a time when the issue was barely on the agenda

“There are people doing the work for a long time and it is so important to look back and acknowledge that,” Onilude explains. “Antonia Lucio was one of my major allies and not just in terms of being an ally, but in terms of equity. Heide Gardner was the same,” she adds. Notably, both of these key supporters are based in the US, a region which has historically prioritised investment in equality. 

Invest in women: Accelerate progress

It is apt that Onilude is passionate about the official theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’. A theme which underlines the need for a shift from words to deeds when it comes to investing in women. Two decades may have passed since the launch of Women in Marketing, but there remains significant structural challenges when it comes to achieving equity. 

“I am genuinely concerned with the importance of authenticity and integrity in behaviours in the marketing landscape and beyond. Because this has an impact in terms of deliverance,” explains Onilude

She urges companies to reconsider and be mindful of how they interact with small businesses. “It is really important to recognise that you can’t treat a social enterprise like a huge global brand.” A statement which is particularly poignant in the UK creative market, where independent businesses are the beating drum of the creative industries, yet unfavourable payment terms and economic instability continue to threaten their very existence.

The avengers of marketing

Women in Marketing has always been about celebrating the very best of marketing, investing in female-focused awards can sometimes be seen through a singular lens.

It is a credit to the diversity of the individuals that Women In Marketing has celebrated that such stereotyping is not exacerbated by the awards. In fact, Women In Marketing has long been credited as an organisation that celebrates the people doing the work. The winners of the awards continue to make a positive impact on the industry today, a testament to the longevity of the awards.

Onilude explains: “Celebrate and amplify the women that were doing the work and having an effective impact shaping the sphere of marketing.

She continues: “2024 is a very different landscape since I created the first WIM event in 2004 and the first WIM Awards to celebrate women's achievements in 2010. The global pandemic of 2020 had a disproportionate impact on women,” says Onilude.

In line with this, she spent a lot of time listening and observing macro and micro shifts and the continued impact of the pandemic. Shifts which continue to inform the future of the Awards and its annual theme. “The post-pandemic world is different,” Onilude explains: “We are living in a landscape of ‘chaos’ always being on, we must recognise the multilayers of roles that women have that impact their personal and professional lives.”

Understanding and reflecting on the many layers and roles that women play, both in their organisations and society, has always been the foundation of Women in Marketing. While undoubtedly there are now many more awards schemes today, it remains unique because of its authenticity. It is apt that the success of an awards scheme so dedicated to the women doing the work is led by a woman who does the work of amplifying women every single day. 

After 20 years of impact, it is difficult to distil the essence of Women in Marketing into a few hundred words. Yet what is remarkably simple to see is that the grace, grit and focus of one woman, Ade Onilude, continues to amplify, elevate and recognise the women moving mountains every day.

Creativebrief is proud to be a media partner of the Women In Marketing Awards, this is the first of a two-part series to celebrate 20 years of Women In Marketing. In part two hear Onilude on the industry’s short-termism, as well as shining a light on the changemakers who blazed a trail for Women In Marketing.

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