Women in growth: celebrating 5 inspiring leaders

By John Koetsier April 8, 2024

Some of the best careers are built with uneven bricks. Often the smartest people take twists and turns from role to role, and the most accomplished leaders follow unconventional paths to success. That’s certainly the case for many of the 5 women in growth leaders we recently interviewed in honor of Women’s History Month, which we celebrated in March.

Click play, then keep scrolling …

5 women in growth: different paths, similar destination

We were honored to have 5 women in growth for a LinkedIn Live recently. Each of them had a different path to an already-accomplished growth career in performance marketing:

  • Adrienne Rice, Performance Media Director, M&C Saatchi Performance
  • Dr. Matina Thomaidou, VP data science, Dataseat
  • Tamanda Itaye, Senior Global Performance Marketing Manager, WFP – ShareTheMeal
  • Saadi Muslu, VP Marketing, Singular
  • Susan Kuo, Chief Operating Officer, Singular
women in growth

Follow the boldface words to see their paths:

Adrienne started at an agency working on B2B brand awareness, did some direct response for non-profits, then worked on CPG advertising on network television. Matina achieved multiple degrees in computer science, then a PhD in machine learning. She took marketing science roles in Microsoft, Accenture, and then Facebook, which she calls “a great school.” Tamanda also started on the agency side but worked in South Africa, Mexico, and then Spain, with a mix of DTC and B2B. Saadi planned to be an architect, randomly took a marketing elective, and switched paths, ending up with an international management degree. She worked for an online travel agency, did email, social, and paid campaigns, then followed a mentor to San Francisco, jumped into product marketing, and eventually moved over to marketing leadership. And Susan started in fiber optics, moved to Electronic Arts, worked on sponsorships for big brands like Doritos and Coca Cola, and jumped into sales. She then started a marketing analytics company with 2 cofounders, exited, and started Singular with the same 2 partners.

The point?

There’s no 1 way to a successful career as women in growth and performance marketing. Each path is different, and that brings richness and variety to growth roles.

Biggest career triumph?

For Susan it was becoming a founder. 

For Saadi it was first about taking the step to move from B2C to being a product marketer, being told she would fail, using that as fuel, and proving a manager wrong. Second, it was moving from an individual contributor role to the leader of a marketing department: a big step in anyone’s career. 

Tamanda had a career triumph that is likely to resonate with others: thriving in difficult and changing situations:

“I would just say just thriving within the space, especially from my experience just moving from different regions, different countries, being able to work with people, different languages, language barriers, being able to collaborate and actually produce good results within the growth space … I would say that’s been the biggest triumph,” she says. 

“It’s not always easy, especially in the growth space … working with different teams, creatives … I think within the different environments I’ve worked in, just being able to thrive has been absolutely amazing.”

Matina’s biggest career triumph will also be familiar to many: leading her team to successfully resolving a massive problem for the entire industry. It was — of course — capturing sufficient signal from SKAdNetwork to optimize ad campaigns.

Adrienne’s was one that women but also men in growth over the past few years will recognize as essential: adaptability. The growth space is one of the fastest-changing tech and marketing ecosystems anywhere, and fast learning is critical. 

“I would say that [my biggest career triumph] is being able to be very adaptable and pivot in my career throughout the years,” she says. “Going from brand awareness, media, more to growth, very performance and data-driven.”

In fact, she was so adaptable she flew to Australia without a job, found a home, found a job, made friends, and made a life for a few years in a foreign country.

Toughest career challenge for our women in growth?

Not surprisingly, some of the toughest challenges for these women in growth are directly related to being women. None mentioned male chauvinism or bias, although it’s hard to imagine that having no impact on their careers.

Rather, most of these women in growth framed their obstacles as personal challenges, some of them rooted in family and cultural perceptions of how they should act.

“A lot of the women that I saw around me were people pleasers and I’m a long suffering and now recovering people pleaser myself,” said Saadi. “To not ruffle feathers and to not be confrontational and to not take up too much space was seen as a good quality to have and I had to really break through that conditioning to be successful in my career.”

That turned out to be a common theme.

“I grew up trying to please everyone, be the nice girl,” says Tamanda. “Breaking away from that and actually getting the work done and being more assertive — managing people, not just leading people, being aware also of different needs of different team members — that was really, really tough for me in the beginning as a leader.”

For Susan, it was having 2 babies in the same year.

One was a company: a new start-up in Singular, and the other was a (human) baby with her husband, which she took as an opportunity to change and adapt her role. That was a painful process and a challenging adjustment, and it required her to have conversations with her co-founders about needing additional help and bringing in more leadership to specific sections of the company.

For Matina, it was the realization that successful data science in marketing is not about machine learning: only 30% of the role is about the right models and the right AI. Instead, it’s about business knowledge and industry insight, which takes up 70% of her time, and requires building cross-functional teams that can share knowledge.

What do women in growth need to hear more?

What do women in growth need to hear more for people in the industry?

Saadi says: advocate for yourself. Don’t be invisible. Don’t be silent. Don’t expect executives to just randomly notice you.

For Tamanda, the same is true, but she also wants women in growth who have already become leaders to actually listen to the younger generation coming up. To be an advocate for them, and pass the baton on the success that they have achieved themselves.

Matina’s advice for young women in growth: you are not alone.

“You are not alone,” she says. “You are not isolated. You work in environments with other people. There are other people close to you that are able to support you, to help you, so when you are feeling stuck, it’s not always that you have to think what you’re doing wrong.  You can find the right communities, the right mentors, the right people, the right work environment, the right employer.”

And, importantly, the right mentor.

For Adrienne, it’s about confidence.

“Have confidence in your ability and that your opinions and perspectives have value,” she says.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to chime in and give your perspective … you work in a male dominated society. You might feel like a little bit of an outsider, but that diversity is what makes organizations better and spurs creativity and. And you do bring a lot of value.”

Advice for women who are considering the growth space

“Commit and dive in,” Adrienne says. “You can’t be successful by skimming at the top.”

Try new things, says Matina. Growth is a space that moves very fast, but that’s part of what makes it exciting. And, she adds: don’t be afraid to dive into the technical aspects. That’s something that Saadi echoed: dive into the data. Everyone has an opinion, but the data will tell its own story.

For Tamanda, it’s all about being ready.

“You don’t know when the next opportunity is coming … so always give your best.”

For Susan, it’s about people. Women in growth help other women in growth:

“Women in our industry really do empower and help each other out,” she says. “Some of my closest connections and network at the end of the day when I need help in terms of getting in touch with certain partners or overhauling big projects and finding good talent … it really starts at some of the relationships that we’ve built over time in some of the organizations that are women led.”

Much more in the full chat

As always, there’s much more in our full conversation.

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