Why skills are more important than degrees in today’s workplace

IWD21-Insight from Global Female C Suite Leader Teresa Barreira of Publicis Sapient

Transformational leader and innovator Teresa Barreira is currently the Chief Marketing Officer at Publicis Sapient. Her creative thinking coupled with her 25 years of global B2B marketing expertise has enabled her to break the mould of traditional marketing in technology and service companies.

Have you always wanted to be a marketer, and why?

As a kid, I dreamt of becoming a doctor. I started university as a pre-med major, but after organic chemistry realized it wasn’t for me. When I was growing up, I didn’t know that marketing was a career choice; my parents always wanted me to become a lawyer or doctor. I didn’t discover marketing until I was in business school, but it became my passion. Now there’s nothing else I would want to do (except maybe owning my own coffee shop someday).

You’ve worked in very male-dominated sectors throughout your career: tech and consulting. Have you always enjoyed it?

I didn’t notice that I was working in male-dominated sectors until I was further along in my career. As it became evident, and I realised I was the minority in the room, I committed myself to change that, to do my part. Now, 65% of my team is made up of women leaders.

Why are Senior female leaders made to carry significant responsibility?

When companies don’t have gender parity, senior women leaders take on the responsibility to bring change. But the reality is if we want to reach parity, everyone, including and especially men, need to take a stand. In some cases, that might require making room for women leaders.

From a personal standpoint, women leaders often carry a significant burden in their lives outside of work. We’ve seen this in the last year with the pandemic and the added weight on women, many exiting the workforce because they were overextended and lacked the necessary care infrastructure to support them. Every company needs to continue to support women leaders, particularly as they advance in their careers, to ensure they have the same opportunities as male counterparts and don’t face setbacks.

Looking at it through a gender lens, what trick would you say the marketing industry is missing today?

I believe marketing has been quite balanced overall, at all levels, concerning gender. Where we need to add diversity is beyond gender, it is race, ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds. Marketing is the voice and champion of the consumer, and as such, the marketing organization needs to represent all consumers, the broader population and society.

I have heard you say that skills are more important than degrees today. Why is that?

Our society places a lot of value on degrees, but degrees aren’t the only way to learn. Learning isn’t linear, it’s a continuum, and we all have to be lifelong learners in the digital age. Restricting hiring to degree holders excludes entire pools of talent that don’t have access to the same opportunities. We can’t create inclusive workplaces if we don’t first offer opportunities to every individual, including non-degree holders.

The change needed by an organisation to build a diverse and inclusive workforce starts with its culture. How do you build a culture of fairness and empowerment? 

It starts by building a team with diverse perspectives and giving individuals space and room to create, allowing people to experiment and test and learn. We are able to create and innovate when we have multiple perspectives coming together to share different ideas and unique visions. Teams feel empowered to take risks and aren’t afraid to fail when that culture supports them. We see greater impact and outcomes as a result.

Why does diversity matter?

Our individual, unique, and diverse life experiences shape our thinking and who we are, allowing us to think differently. This is where ideas and creativity come from. Those experiences shape who we are, how we think, and enrich us as individuals as well as in our jobs, therefore in any company culture. Most importantly, diversity allows us to innovate and come up with new products or services. Different voices, perspectives, and backgrounds change the way teams think or react. No one can dispute the value of that.

What does inclusion look like at Publicis Sapient?

Publicis Sapient is an incredibly open and inclusive environment. We have a strong culture that stands out, whether with someone who has had a longstanding tenure with the company or someone who only started a few weeks ago. Like many companies, we are also on a journey to build an even more inclusive workplace.

One of the company’s greatest strengths is its ability to give every individual the platform to learn and grow and a voice regardless of their experience or background. We have young talent driving conversations in global company town halls and a program for the next generation leadership team. Talent of all levels and career stages continuously has the platform to and is encouraged to excel, grow, and thrive.


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