Digital Natives Hutchison Whampoa Mobile

Girl Guides: O2's Nina Bibby on why she is vexed by the industry gender leadership gap


By Seb Joseph, News editor

July 9, 2015 | 5 min read

Ahead of Hutchison Whampoa’s proposed takeover of O2, its top marketer, Nina Bibby, tells The Drum’s Seb Joseph how the telecommunications giant is empowering its women to go for its top roles.

O2’s marketing and consumer director is vexed. Despite seeing more women on boards, Nina Bibby believes the top slots remain elusive and is working to address the dearth of talented senior women from the executive pipeline at the telecommunications giant.

Women account for fewer than one in 10 senior executives at the UK’s largest public companies, even as the overall number of female board members nears the government’s 25 per cent target, according to Cranfield School of Management’s annual Female FTSE board report. That’s not good enough. And it is why Bibby is beating the drum for O2’s women to be given the skills and opportunities to really have an impact on the company’s bottom line, whether they’re in marketing or elsewhere.

“We need more female executives,” urges Bibby. “The industry is doing well to address the women leadership gap but what vexes me is the ratio of males to females that are executive directors. There’s a lot more we have to do to address that gap and help women cross that divide.”

To stimulate this shift to a more balanced future, O2 created its ‘Women in Leadership’ initiative in 2013. However, it’s only recently, with Bibby as board sponsor, that the organisation has started spreading the programme across all career stages after putting many of its senior women through it initially.

It shows a commitment to build succession plans that support and propel the talented women in O2 in the belief that they can lead just as effectively as men.

“Companies need to make sure that women have the opportunity to drive business performance and that means not just focusing on getting senior women into non-executive positions,” says Bibby. That focus on business performance is something that has shaped Bibby’s leadership style and stems from her time as a consultant. From her stint as consumer marketer at Diageo to her customer experience champion days at Intercontinental Group, O2’s top marketer holds a stance that marketers need be truly committed to contributing to the success of the business instead of worried solely about their own spreadsheets.

While technological innovations and digital marketing are often said to drive the trend of fostering brand relationships, it’s Bibby’s collaborative style that has created an environment for some of O2’s freshest thinking on how to build brands. This was shown at the end of last year when the company added 394,000 customers in the three months to December – its strongest quarterly customer growth in six years.

“The skills at the heart of leadership in marketing haven’t changed but the context is changing,” says Bibby. “Customers are more curious and connecting the dots faster than they ever have, which are all traits that marketers have to embrace because it’s no longer enough to understand more than just the superficial top line.”

It’s why the telecoms marketer encamped on the trading desk at O2’s media agency Havas so that she understood how programmatic worked and more importantly would impact her budgets.

“We’re spending on it and I already have an in-house team looking at it and so I need an indepth knowledge of how programmatic works,” she continues. “Digital is only growing as a share of our media spend and I need to know how all these elements fit together.”

It may seem as though she is hands on, however she is adamant her style is the complete opposite, only offering advice when she feels it’s needed or when approached by one of her team. For Bibby, it’s more about empowering her marketers to proactively spot opportunities and willingly embrace challenges – areas she also feels women should be tackling more if they want to break into marketing.

While these efforts need to be backed by bosses who talk less and do more to champion women in business, those candidates looking to make a difference should be prepared to step away from the well-trodden path in order to get noticed. Bibby suggests women should get better at marketing themselves as digital natives at the start of their careers in order to expose and eliminate the real biases that keep them from giving their all to companies.

“My advice to women just starting out in marketing would be that they show how current they are with everything that’s going on in the industry and can show their experience, whether that’s something they’ve done themselves like launching an app or that they can get work experience in,” added Bibby.

Question marks may loom over the future of the O2 brand, and consequently Bibby’s role, ahead of the proposed takeover, but the marketer is adamant that it’s business as usual for now. And from the sounds of it, either way, the company is much better placed to reach a future in which the female to male ratio is more balanced.

This feature was first published in The Drum's 8 July issue.

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