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Mars Wrigley's Berta De Pablos-Barbier: 4 life lessons we're often taught too late

The Chief Growth Officer for Mars Wrigley shares four important life and work lessons she's learned over the years.
Berta de Pablos-Barbier is the Global Chief Category Officer for Mars Wrigley Confectionery
Berta de Pablos-Barbier is the Global Chief Category Officer for Mars Wrigley ConfectioneryCourtesy of Mars Wrigley.

Growing up, I was surrounded by the greatest career coaches of my life: the women in my family. Today, they’re trailblazers. They’re courageous and accomplished. They keep me grounded and lift me up.

My mom graduated with a chemistry degree before starting a family. She was one of the few women to lead the way in Spain’s STEM industry. My three younger sisters all have minds of their own – a passionate lawyer, a bank director who was the first female executive to be promoted in her region, a general manager in a male-dominated industry.

And, my father showed unwavering support for our endeavors. Together, my parents taught us we could do anything if we worked hard. They believed that our gender shouldn’t be a barrier to quality education and opportunity. My family’s encouragement made me feel like I could do anything – grace the stage as an actress, develop products as a scientist, work in fashion or start a family (all of which I did eventually). I recognize now that this support system was a privilege. This privilege combined with hard work and ambition, helped me get to where I am today. Here is some advice for women to not only support those around them, but see the changes they want in their industries:

1. Acknowledge your role in the future advancement of your peers.

As Chief Growth Officer of Mars Wrigley, with more than two decades of experience now behind me, I’ve learned that when you have been given the privilege and support all women deserve, your responsibility is to pay it forward.

Women in business play a critical role in addressing the gender inequality faced by women. Equal work should yield equal pay, yet it’s estimated that it will take 108 years to close the gender pay and opportunity gap. The media we consume shapes our perceptions about the world, yet we know men outnumber women in key production roles five to one. No one alone can solve these challenges, but we have to find ways to connect what we do best to make an impact. Every effort counts.

2. Advocate for what you are passionate about.

My personal passion and skills brought me to a career building brands and cultivating talent within global businesses. This is what I do best. And, there has been nothing more gratifying than realizing the intersection between the work I do best and the impact I can make from my position.

As a brand builder, I’ve read and validated hundreds of advertisement scripts and countless copy for our iconic brands including M&M’S, Skittles, Orbit gum and DOVE Chocolate. Each year, our company produces award-winning advertisements seen by billions of consumers around the world. When I joined our U.S. business in 2014, I had the opportunity to meet with Geena Davis at the Bentonville Film Festival. I was inspired by her efforts to change the way women are portrayed in film and advertising and wanted to better understand how gender was portrayed in our advertising. This was the start of a journey that was joined by other passionate women leaders at Mars.

Mars Wrigley's Berta De Pablos-Barbier speaks to Harvard Business School Club's Women's Student Association in February 2019.
Mars Wrigley's Berta De Pablos-Barbier speaks to Harvard Business School Club's Women's Student Association in February 2019.Courtesy of Mars Wrigley

In 2017, Mars took a step to join U.N. Women’s Unstereotype Alliance and forged a partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. We commissioned research to understand how gender was represented in our advertising and leveraging the Institute’s expertise and proprietary tools, researchers analyzed more than 200 global television adverts across our brands between 2013 to 2017. Given we had women in leadership positions shaping our advertising and making decisions, I assumed we’d be in good shape.

3. Implementing change isn’t easy; be prepared to pivot.

The results of our research surprised me. While Mars is shown to be better than the industry average and we have delivered our ratio of women to men in our advertising, the findings revealed other deficiencies related to gender representation. Men were almost twice more likely to be shown working in our ads, and more male characters were show as leaders than females. If the world we want tomorrow is one in which the marketing of our brands is as diverse as the world they’re enjoyed in, we have work to do.

As a business leader, daughter of supportive parents, sister to three accomplished women and mother of a teenager girl, I want to lead that change.

The findings didn’t support our vision of society and therefore my impact, and my team’s impact, had to start here. It revealed the unconscious bias we all have. Now that we understand our data, recognize the stereotypes around us, and have identified the need to deprogram ourselves, we are implementing change. As marketers of iconic global brands, and as people who value inclusivity to build the world we want tomorrow, it is our responsibility to act.

4. Positive attitude is more than a mantra, it’s essential to success.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you can see it, you can be it.” I believe it. It’s been decades since my family lived under one roof together. However, the confidence they instilled in me continues to shape my life and career. Today, I’m trying my best to do the same for the young woman under my roof – my daughter – and the women who make me proud to be a leader at Mars. Whether it’s sharing the lessons learned daily as an executive or pulling someone aside to personally coach through a challenging moment, I want to pay it forward.

If you want to pay it forward too, there are many ways of impacting others. Be attentive, vulnerable, and lift the people up around you. It is rewarding and remember, every effort counts.

Berta de Pablos-Barbier is Chief Growth Officer for Mars Wrigley.