Interviews

“It’s time to reboot, rebuild and reconquer”

Christina Ioannidis, CEO of Aquitude, on how marketers can overcome adversity, build resilience and recognise the power of women in business.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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“People don’t like change.” The conversation surrounding digital transformation in marketing is very rarely about people. But for Christina Ioannidis, CEO of Aquitude, transformation is fundamentally a question of people management.

“The language of digital transformation is very aggressive,” she explains, noting that when a new CMO comes into a business with a new strategy, often everyone can feel confused and get their backs up. A defensiveness which she believes can make change difficult to achieve. 

In the wake of the global pandemic which has brought with it unprecedented change, she believes that smart marketers recognise the need to focus on the fundamentals. To really listen to their audiences and drive authentic representation and meaningful connections internally and externally. 

Winning back your female talent

Christina is talking as part of the Women in Marketing interview series and has been supporting the organisation for over a decade. As one of the world’s leading experts in diversity and innovation, Christina has worked across the globe building a reputation not just for her skills in consulting (she is CEO of Aquitude, an agency that specialises in customer experiences and works with brand such as Hermès Perfumes) but as a passionate advocate for women in business and a skilled trainer and speaker.

In the wake of the Coronavirus crisis which has disproportionately impacted women in the workplace, Christina has a nuanced approach to why women are exiting the workforce and what companies need to do to win them back. Having written a book titled Your Loss: How to win back your female talent, her insight is backed by the book’s global survey of top performing women in business who walked away from their careers.

“When it comes to mid-career women, the story is that women have kids and then they can’t hack it. But when you speak to these women you find out this is just not true at all. Women at this point are more economically active than ever; they just do it in a very different guise.”

She points to the fact that even in a sphere like marketing where there are more women coming into the industry in entry level roles there simply aren’t enough women in leadership positions. 

When you talk to women about why they are leaving the corporate world it is not about work, life balance it is about values.

Christina Ioannidis, CEO of Aquitude

Wake up to the power of the chief purchasing officer

This lack of recognition and respect for women is also evident when it comes to understanding the importance of women as consumers. “The chief purchasing officers are women, and companies without female leaders are still coming up with pink products and expecting us to buy them,” she explains. 

It’s an ecosystem which demands what she describes eloquently as a ‘course correct’. As she explains, company cultures need to do much more to tap into the energy of the female mindset with flexibility and authenticity.

Noting the way in which the toxic narrative of ‘dropping out’ focuses on that impossible pursuit of ‘work/life balance’ she says this narrative of why women leave is fundamentally flawed. “When you talk to women about why they are leaving the corporate world it is not about work/life balance, it is about values,” she adds. Pointing to the fact that these values correlate with Generation Z with a real focus on making a difference and having a positive impact in the workplace.

As we emerge from the Coronavirus crisis, it is a trend that she doesn’t see changing in the short term. “I say to women; 'Get out there, take control, own your career and prioritise your own happiness.’ It is a trend which means they are earning less in the short term but they are happier. “What many people are looking for is that control of their life and of their destiny.”

Irrespective of where you are in your career, the last year was marred by grief. Whether you lost someone, you lost your confidence, or you lost your job.

Christina Ioannidis, CEO of Aquitude

Building back better

As companies seek to recover from the Coronavirus crisis, Ioannidis believes that every business needs to think about how their customer is represented in the boardroom. A shift in approach which will lead to greater inclusion. She believes that the Coronavirus crisis provides a unique inflection point both professionally and privately.

She explains: “Irrespective of where you are in your career, the last year was marred by grief. Whether you lost someone, you lost your confidence or you lost your job.” An environment in which she believes support networks are vital. 

To provide this support she launched Top of Her Game,  a platform which aims to cut through the assumptions and stereotypes surrounding women in the region. Working with clients such as Hermès  Perfumes, the brand was able to better connect with ambitious career women in the region, culminating in the co-creation of five new products which have successfully connected with women in the Gulf. 

From digital transformation to overcoming outdated stereotypes, doing things differently is increasingly vital for marketers in a post-pandemic world. As Ioannidis explains: “There is a conversation in marketing about the importance of being brave. But being brave involves risk and that is tough because the culture can blame individuals for failure.”

Celebrating Women in Marketing: What can we learn from the collective power of women

The story of the Women in Marketing Awards is one of building a movement and a network that is the antithesis of the ‘old boys network’, which has historically excluded women from key networking and profile building opportunities so vital to building a career in the creative industries. To celebrate the Women in Marketing Awards, Creativebrief will be asking winners and supporters of the Awards to open up about their experiences in the industry and give their advice to the marketing talent poised to enter and pick up the much-coveted awards in the future.

Q: Tell us what the most challenging moment of your career has been and how you got through it?

I was a very young brand manager and part of a graduate development programme. Out of 2,500 applicants only 8 were selected. Yet after 2 years, I left because I had a misogynistic experience with someone who was supposed to be my guide and mentor. I made a development decision based on my sanity. 

After moving to the UK I tried different things but losing my jewellery business Aqua Studios was the hardest experience. But my first client was a former client and I banged my own drum. I had to rely on myself. This is the reason I focus now on transformation. We need to reboot, rebuild and reconquer. But you have to face adversity in order to build that resilience. 

Q: Tell us about the impact of being part of the WIM community? 

With Women in Marketing I met Ade [Onilude, the founder of Women in Marketing] at one of the first events and have worked to get more talent in the Middle East involved. Women from the UAE are at the top of their game and the world is stereotyping women as if they are still chained to the kitchen sink. They have really shifted, but marketers haven’t. 

Q: What would be your advice to women starting out their career in marketing today?

Now is the time to reboot, rebuild and reconquer. You have to face adversity in order to build that resilience. We have to stop being lazy and relying on stereotypes. We can break down the stereotype of the downtrodden woman. We can make change happen. 

 

Christina runs Top of Her Game, a social movement marketing platform to encourage women in the Arabian Gulf to be active, ambitious and resilient.

 

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