Why change is long overdue for women in the workplace

23 Jan 2019 · 5 min to read
Change for women in the workplace is happening, but more needs to be done.
Marian Salzman, SVP Global Communications, Philip Morris International

Written by

Marian Salzman, Senior Vice President, Global Communications*


I have just been to a talk in Davos on female leadership and, darn, I’m saddened about the real challenges women face. There may be more female political leaders around, but the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies declined by 25 percent last year. Worse still, I heard a scary estimate: it will take 202 years to close the global pay gap between men and women, according to a December 2018 World Economic Forum report.

But this isn’t just about women. It’s been more than 15 years since I contributed to gender confusion when I helped popularize the term “metrosexual man.” Just look at the divided and passionate responses on all sides to Gillette’s call for men to be the “best they can be.”

Throughout my career, I’ve owned companies and evolved into leadership roles. To some extent, I’ve been lucky. I come from the communications world, where women often lead and glass ceilings are cracked if not shattered. I realize these so called “pink professions” are easier places to thrive because there are fewer “firsts” for women; the pay scales are lower as well, so women do have real shots at the top. Provided, of course, that they put work first in that work-life juggle. I’ve been happy to do that. But it’s painfully clear to me that women with more to juggle on the climb have to make crazy awful choices about what, where and how.

For me, I never wanted or expected to have a conventional family life, so didn’t have that worry of wanting more than what my career and social life gave me. I traveled everywhere anytime I was asked, I took extra work in the form of board appointments. I skipped vacations because I was the captain of my own identity. I have not lived with infants or primary-school kids. But even I saw some changes in my work ethic when my partner’s four teenage children came to live with us full time. My clock went from a “me clock” to a slightly confused “we clock,” even though their Dad was the parent and I was mostly “friend of the family.”

But when I sit in yet another upmarket airport lounge on the way to the next management meeting or commercial obligation, I won’t reflect on where I’ve been. Rather, I will keep worrying about where we – women in today’s modern work environment – are now.

Gillette’s campaign for men to up their game at home and in the office and especially the #MeToo movement are stark reminders that there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality. They aim to shed the light on serious problems, and yet not everyone can get behind these causes. I wish issues like sexual harassment in the workplace didn’t happen and won’t happen again. But I also fear that the reaction of all the wrongs means that some of the lightheartedness at the workplace will go away, because women and men are both afraid to be misunderstood, taken out of context or worse.

Last week, I sat in a Zurich boardroom with 20-plus men and only one other woman. I frequently sit in meetings and at meals, where I’m the only woman or one of a few women. That makes me cranky at times. But I’m reassured by the knowledge that there’s a clear understanding at PMI that lots of perspectives are needed to get to the right decisions, and we are only at the beginning of this path toward more diversity. I am especially proud that PMI is putting its money and mouth on the line for equal pay – we don’t just say it, we’re doing it; we’ve called in an external organization to ensure we’re EQUAL-SALARY Certified globally. We hope to be the first multinational to reach this milestone, and ours is a real proven fact, not a promise to get it right by 2025 or sometime in the future. But gender balance is not just about salary.

I am especially proud that PMI is putting its money and mouth on the line for equal pay – we don’t just say it, we’re doing it
Marian Salzman, Senior Vice President, Global Communications*

Like senior women in companies everywhere, everything I say, do and even wear is probably up for scrutiny. I’m not just a member of PMI’s senior management team, but also the human Marian who can be intense or flakey, and who can occasionally show up looking like an unmade bed. I love the world of business and adore the world of reality TV. I love fashion and can’t guarantee that my two black shoes match every morning since I dress in the dark many days to ensure my partner gets his beauty sleep. I do hope that I’m also an example of where hard work and smart thinking can get you, regardless of gender, but I also worry my deficiencies mean I am failing all our women.

At Davos, I met plenty of inspiring women and talked about a wide range of topics, politics, trends, travel and our industries. But there was one thing that we discussed, and that is being women, that I honestly wish we didn’t or rather shouldn’t have to. I’d love never to discuss my gender again, but there is still so much work to be done, that I imagine this topic – rather, how to be a woman in business – is going to stay on the corporate agenda, and my agenda, for years to come.


* On January 1, 2024, Marian Salzman was appointed Senior Vice President & Chief Corporate Citizenship Officer.

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