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Stonewall’s Jan Gooding on why marketing needs more mentors

By Thomas Hobbs

November 25, 2019 | 6 min read

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The marketing industry needs more mentors, according to Stonewall UK’s chair Jan Gooding, who has called on senior figures in the industry to do more to support young marketers.

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“You can’t be the best marketer you can be if you’re not able to be your true self in the workplace." - Jan Gooding

Speaking at The Drum and Shutterstock's Story Times conference at the Barbican last month, Gooding spoke about how mentorship helped her career go in the right direction. “Having a mentor who can effectively sponsor you and be that person who can give you a bit of tough love and push you in the right direction if you’re heading off track is so important for young marketers,” the former BT and Aviva marketer explained.

“I’ve had some incredibly frightening mentors, but they always spoke up for me and sponsored my progress. A mentor is a bit like your therapist as they have to promise to love you even if you’re not successful in your career or have done something wrong. I try to offer myself as a mentor to anyone that I’ve worked with, even after I leave a business.”

When asked what good mentoring looks like, Gooding added: “I think good mentoring goes back to the idea of the wise owl who creates a safe space where you can go for help when you’re at your wits end or stuck on something.

“A mentor’s job should be about using their power and influence and knowledge to say you should develop in this area or embrace a certain opportunity. A good mentor will tell you when you’ve fucked up too. When I was younger, it was so important for me to have someone who was tough and could help me think more strategically.”

However, not all of the advice Gooding received early on in her career is something she now looks back on fondly, and she recalled how the CEO of one of the first advertising agencies she worked for once advised “never say sorry or explain something to a client”.

“I thought it was fucking weird advice,” she added. “This thought of never apologising to anyone and never explaining your decisions was weird to me; it seems even more bizarre in the current socio-political climate. Our hands help create these brands and if you’re not able to prioritise authenticity then it’s harder to do your job properly. Authenticity is critical for inclusive culture.”

Gooding knows more about inclusivity than most, having worked for two years as the inclusivity director at Aviva. One of her biggest achievements was changing the business so men were given the same amount of maternity leave as women, something that she says cost millions to implement.

She said companies must acknowledge that every marketer has a “breaking point” and that there needs to be flexibility to help them out as well as get rid of the stigma of taking time off to heal.

“We will all have our burn-out moment, believe me,” she insisted.. “And when that happens companies need to be organised to accommodate that and see the bigger picture. I also learned [at Aviva] that you can’t just not listen to someone who has views you don’t agree with. You need to think about the views they have and why they behave the way that they do in a respectful way.”

She explained further: “At Aviva I worked with people of Christian faith who were disquieted by me being gay, but we sat down and agreed we had to work to get our heads around each other. I think how we work together at work can do a lot to show us what's possible and what can be achieved in terms of changing society at large, especially when it comes to building understanding.”

When Gooding told one of her former bosses at British Gas that her marriage to a man was in trouble because she had fallen in love with a woman, she claimed she was advised not to be open about her sexual preferences. Looking back now, she said this was the wrong approach. “In the year I was in the closet, my productivity fell, I became withdrawn, and I was much less creative. I just totally lost my mojo when it came to ideas.”

Gooding’s approach, rather, is to be open. She concluded: “You can’t be the best marketer you can be if you’re not able to be your true self in the workplace. We work in marketing so it is our bread and butter to be curious and interested in other people. If we can show a hunger to understand people and accept them for they are, even if we don’t completely agree with something, then we’re all going to be more effective at our jobs.

“I think you should anticipate at east 25% of any workplace is suffering from mental health issues so it’s incumbent on companies to support them. As leaders, we need to be more thoughtful about whether we’re really listening to everybody. It’s so important.”

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