By Joe Pulizzi published November 21, 2016

Tackling Diversity in the Marketing World


In December 2014, I was invited to give a keynote talk at a digital marketing event in Europe. There were 15 speakers. All white men.

When I realized that all the education and training was being provided by only white men, I actually became physically ill. Simply put, it felt wrong to be part of an event like this.

Have you ever experienced something that made you look at the world in a different way?

Well, for me, that event was it.

Upon arriving back at the office, I was compelled to examine my personal behavior. At that time, I was in planning mode for Content Marketing World 2015 (I’m responsible for the agenda each year). I went to the 2014 speaker list and performed a simple speaker count.

  • 120 men (70%)
  • 51 women (30%)
  • 9 people of color (5%)

There’s nothing like seeing your personal bias on paper. Ouch!

You either believe what you think or you question it. There’s no other choice.  – Byron Katie

Male privilege

From my standpoint, we always went out and found the best experts on the planet and rocked an amazing Content Marketing World. But in truth, I went out and found the best experts in my network … and my network was made up of mostly white men.

Male privilege was alive and well, and living inside me. Tin Geber perhaps says it best:

My male privilege happened. Or, more precisely, my lack of recognition of the fact that male privilege is real, and it favors me and others like me. No matter if we want it or not … The amount of knowledge I can reach, the wealth of insight I can gain, the quality of skills I can count on … they are all filtered by implicit bias. It’s not only gender either: race, language, culture, and other superficial differences can effectively block us in echo chambers … And of course, as biases do, the gender bias is a self-affirming closed loop: the more it remains unchecked, the more it tightens the screws on its own casket.

Male privilege is an issue that needs to be actively fought against says @tingeber. #cmworld Click To Tweet

Recognition of the problem

After that moment, I began to notice things (or maybe not ignore things) for the first time, especially the lack of speaker diversity at events I attended. This probably won’t surprise you, but most of the people who own and run marketing events worldwide are white men. It was like a bunch of “me’s” out there living in a white male world.

It was also the first time that I believed we were doing a disservice to the audience at Content Marketing World. To create the best possible attendee experience, it is our responsibility to get expertise and experiences from everywhere we possibly can. If we didn’t, the attendees would see a limited view as to what was really going on in marketing and communication. A lack of diversity was a falsehood that we were helping to project.

To create the best experience at #CMWorld, we need to get expertise from everywhere. @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

In 2015, we did better:

  • 137 men (63%)
  • 82 women (37%)
  • 12 people of color (5.7%)

But yet, still pretty sad.

That year, and into 2016, I committed to going further outside of my network. I made an effort to get more of the CMI staff involved in the speaker selection process (70% of the CMI team are women). I increased my research into diverse speakers, watching more female speakers and speakers of color while traveling to other events, and started to open up and talk more about these issues with the members of the CMI team. We could no longer simply rely on voluntary speaker submissions (70% of speaker submissions come from men … surprise, surprise).

Here were the numbers for 2016:

  • 86 men (55%)
  • 70 women (45%)
  • 14 people of color (9%)

After adding sponsor speakers (speakers selected by session sponsor), the final numbers were:

  • 110 men (57%)
  • 83 women (43%)
  • 15 people of color (7.7%)

Was this better? Yes, absolutely. Was it good? Not good enough.

At the same time, we performed a competitive analysis of the speakers at three large, independent marketing events. Here’s what we found:

  • Event 1: 64% male; 7.4% people of color
  • Event 2: 67% male; 4.4% people of color
  • Event 3: 72% male; 10.5% people of color

The problem was (and is) rampant.

What are we doing about it?

Two weeks after Content Marketing World 2016, Robert Rose and I discussed the issue on our podcast This Old Marketing (here’s the episode if you’d like to listen). I simply asked for the audience’s opinion and said that my goal was to listen and then adapt.

Up to that point, Robert and I had produced almost 150 episodes and we never received as much feedback about any other topic. It was simply amazing.

In one particularly effective response, Meghan P. had this to say:

Don’t hide the ball.

“First thing that came to mind was that study where women will apply for a job if they think they’re 100% qualified; men will apply if they think they’re 60% qualified. You have to make explicit the things that are implicitly taught to white men 

Make it clear in your call for speakers exactly what you are looking for, including guidance on how to write a presentation and pitch it. You may even consider running a small workshop and/or webinar series on creating and pitching sessions.

Put yourself in a position to listen and adapt

You don’t just want women and minorities standing up there parroting the same thing that white men would be saying. If you want diversity in the faces, then you have to be OK with diversity in the stories and approaches.

Be completely unapologetic.

I am absolutely thrilled that you guys are doing this. There is no need to apologize or hedge on this. I heard some backpedaling [on the podcast] on calling it an “issue.” It is an issue. It’s kind of embarrassing that more people aren’t reaching out the way you are. If there are white men who are offended by your reaching out on this, then that is their issue, not yours.”

I can’t thank Meghan and the rest of the community enough for this incredible feedback.

Right now, here is what we are doing about this issue.

  1. Listen – We don’t have all the answers. I’m asking for your feedback to help me (and us) with this effort. Please comment below or feel free to email me directly at (if you want your comments to remain private).
  1. Collaborate – We are working with other marketing events such as Content Jam and Interact Ohio to help surface speaking talent. We are reaching out to a number of other marketing and technology events to help find, work with, and promote talent we are not yet aware of. If you have an event and are interested, please let me know.
  1. Reach out – As I stated, I’m actively reaching out to a number of women and people of color to help me in this effort. At this point, I simply cannot get enough perspective and feedback on this issue.

Perhaps the most tangible thing we are doing, CMI has recruited a team of experts to assist in this effort, including Lisa Welchman, Ann Handley, Tequia Burt, and Tamsen Webster (each of them thankfully reviewed this post). They, along with the CMI team (and others), are developing a pool of speakers that will help us reach our goals.

We believe this is a two-pronged effort.  First, there are women and people of color already out there who are amazing, accomplished speakers. We need to stop ignoring them. Second, there are talented marketing experts that may want to speak, but have, to this point, not reached out to us. We want to reach these people as potential speakers as well.

If you would like to recommend someone to speak at Content Marketing World, or would like to nominate yourself, please use this submission form. I also developed a short video you can watch so you can hear exactly what we are looking for.

In closing, we are going to make mistakes. I already know we don’t have it “just” right. That’s why we need your help. And as this article states, “Small wins are everything.” As we continue to get more feedback and more people involved in this program, we will make a difference in not only our events, in not only the content marketing industry, but in the entire marketing and advertising industry.

CMI is proud to be a leading voice in this industry … and we need to continue to show it. And it starts right now.

Nominate yourself or suggest a great presenter for Content Marketing World 2017. Fill out this form and get all the latest on CMWorld at

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • David Boozer

    ??? Really?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi David…yes, really. Thanks.

  • Janet Kennedy

    Wow! Thanks for this honest and open recognition of “business as usual” perpetuating a less inclusive environment for new ideas. I absolutely agree that there needs to be more diversity of voices at events. Part of your challenge, which I understand is something you can’t impact, is the diversity in the C-Suite. If you are drawing speakers from the top 500 US companies your pool of non-white males is pretty low.

    Thanks for starting the conversation. Maybe some of these established white male speakers could do a little diversity outreach on their own and co-present with a colleague?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Janet. Yes, definitely something we are trying to promote. If everyone does a little, the impact with be a lot.

  • Jay Acunzo

    Joe, this is great. Thanks for writing it. Sadly, some people have been surprised by or even criticized your take on social about this. Theirs is lazy thinking, however, and a failure to engage the rational and emotional halves of the brain.

    Rational: All studies conclude a diversity of people in a room or on a project make the ideas and execution more successful.

    Emotional: This is the right thing to do. White, male, and especially white-male privilege is real, ubiquitous in America, and deserves a proactive solution.

    Here’s the issue with criticizing your comments as giving an unfair advantage in the opposite direction (to women, minorities, etc.): The white dude saying “oh cmon” has also been given an unfair advantage. It was just given in an unspoken, private way, at a time before they knew how to speak, much less post complaints to Facebook. They were BORN with it.

    Being born white and male means the door was nudged open, however slightly. And, yes, plenty of white guys deserve kudos for having shouldered into the door to bust it open further and find success in life. They did that through hard work, sacrifice, or even suffering.

    This isn’t about bursting the doors open for everyone else whereas Bob the Angry White Guy had to “work hard” and “fight a fair battle.” No. This is about making sure everyone has the door slightly ajar for them.

    Joe, thank you for nudging the door slightly ajar for more people. I’m excited to watch (and help) others shoulder through it.

    • Stephan Hovnanian

      This is about making sure everyone has the door slightly ajar for them. Yes. This. And to go through life not only leaving doors ajar for others, but also raising awareness to those open doors.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Keep doing what you do my friend!

  • Scott Isbell

    Joe, I’m more compelled to attend CMI events than I ever have been before. Great leadership!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Scott…not the reason I wrote the post, but appreciate it none-the-less.

      • Scott Isbell

        Seems like you are trying to improve your events through diversity. I’m sure you will succeed. That’s the point of my comment.

  • NenadSenic

    The question is when does “hunt” for diversity trump (oh no) quality. And the second, why talking only about gender and race when talking about diversity? Where do you draw the line? Where are LGBT? Asians? Native American?

    • Scott Isbell

      Joe uses “people of color” in the stats above. That would include Asians and Native Americans. Having diversity in speakers that more closely aligns with our culture would not reduce the quality – it would most definitely improve it.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Nenad…looking for diversity of all kinds, including the LGBT community. I think what we are trying to get to is that more diversity will mean better quality. That’s what the research says and that’s what I believe. I don’t believe to truly achieve a diverse platform that we will sacrifice quality…ever. We will only make the show better.

      • NenadSenic

        Well, at least I got to use trump somehow in a sentence. 😉

        • Joe Pulizzi

          And we even include speakers from Slovenia…that’s how diverse 😉

          • NenadSenic

            Well, that IS a small community. 🙂

      • Lisa Dougherty
        • Joe Pulizzi

          That’s why you are the editor and I am not.

  • Mufaro Chivore

    A very insightful article. Thanks for putting this out Joe. As a minority, I’ve come to understand that it is all about perception. The underrepresented minority groups do not feel like they have the “permission to be a part of”. I always strive the challenge the status quo and believe I can be a part of anything I want. I also believe that individuals have the power to spark the change they want to see in any industry.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thank you for the comment. I’ve heard your take from others I’ve chatted with as well. Really appreciate you sharing.

      • Mufaro Chivore

        Anytime….and thanks for the value.

    • Sydni Craig-Hart

      Love your comments @mufaro_chivore:disqus. I totally agree with you about peoplle feeling like they “need permission” to participate. But I have the same mindset as you regarding “I believe I can be a part of anything I want.”

      If you don’t want to play with me… that’s too bad.. you’re going to miss out. 🙂

      • Mufaro Chivore

        Hahahah A winning mindset will go a long way that’s for sure. Keep winning @sydnicraighart:disqus

        • Sydni Craig-Hart

          You too @mufaro_chivore:disqus! It’s nice to “meet” you. 🙂

  • Mitch Jackson

    Joe- First, thanks for putting this on everyone’s radar. As a lawyer, the issues you reference are always present beginning with client retention and ending with jury selection. I think people make diversity overly complicated because when all said and done, it just comes down to embracing differences, empowering others, and doing the right thing.

    Actually, I think it comes down to a bit more than that. Leading by example, taking constructive and affirmative action, and making sure everyone is respected and given the same opportunity is the key to living a personal and professional meaningful life. So, with all of that in mind, well done with the post and for reminding all of us that the issue of diversity is an important one.

    Along those lines, I’ve kept this quote by Maya Angelou in my desk drawer for years. Not because I’m a lawyer, but because I’m a parent: “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for that quote Mitch. Now a new favorite of mine.

  • George Stenitzer

    Joe, I’m glad to see that you’re onto an important need.

    I found myself in a similar position as VP at Tellabs. By hiring the best person each time, I had built up a staff made of 100% women. Then we specifically focused on diversity and brought more men aboard.

    Having a diversity of people leads to a diversity of experiences and most important, a diversity of opinions. That’s what makes for the best content marketing.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love it George. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sydni Craig-Hart

    Kudos to you Joe for publishing this article and acknowledging an issue that’s easy for most people to ignore. In my opinion, creating diversity in the marketing industry needs to be tackled from both sides.

    As you know I’ve been a huge fan of CMI for many years and you’re off to a great start with what you’ve shared in this article. That said, I think CMI could make significant progress by incorporating diversity into the overall culture of the company, not just focusing on creating diversity at CMW.

    Buying products and services from diverse businesses, sponsoring relevant events that promote and embrace diversity, collaborating on internal and external projects with women and people of color, and creating content that discusses and encourages multicultural marketing are all ways to turn diversity into what CMI represents, instead of something that needs to be addressed and pursued.

    If CMI truly embraces diversity and diversity becomes a core value of what the company represents, having a more diverse speaking roster at CMW is going to come naturally, because the network of CMI will become more diverse.

    In addition, women and people of color need to be more proactive about creating the opportunities they’re looking for.

    You probably don’t remember this, but I first attended CMW as a volunteer because we couldn’t afford the ticket. As a small business the investment simply exceeded our budget for that year, but I knew I needed to get to the event. I reached out, asked about volunteer opportunities, received an assignment, attended the event, did a great job in my post and started building a relationship with you and other members of the CMI team.

    Because I was proactive about creating the opportunity I wanted, I got exactly the results I was looking for in terms of relationships, exposure and opportunities. Fast forward a couple of years and I was invited by you to moderate the keynote stage at CMW 2015, CMI sponsored our virtual conference last year and I’m on first name basis with you and many members of your team. None of that happened by accident.

    It’s true that as women and people of color, (and especially as women of color – we have double the challenges of white women or men of color), we aren’t readily seen as experts and sought after to share our voice. We certainly can’t change what people think about us or what bias’ they may (even unknowingly) have.

    But what we CAN do is look past any perceived obstacle and focus on doing whatever it takes to reach our goals. We can create the opportunities we want and not wait for them to be handed to us. We can choose to not use existing mindsets around race and diversity as an excuse for not doing what we need to do. We can partner with individuals and companies who want to embrace diversity and contribute our talents to changing the face of what’s considered normal in the (marketing) world.

    I look forward to seeing how the diversity initiatives at CMI develop and collaborating with you to help you reach your goals.

    See you at CMW 2017,

    • Joe Pulizzi

      LOVE this comment Sydni…making sure I keep this close to me at all times.

  • Cassandra Jowett

    Joe and team, thanks for 1) taking this seriously, and 2) being so open and transparent about your journey.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for being a part of the community Cassandra!

  • Stephanie Stahl

    Proud to be part of the CMI community.

  • Gillian Morris-Talbot

    Kudos to CMI. It’s kind of strange, don’t you think, that a function that is traditionally considered “a girl’s job” should have so few women speaking at events? So I thought about whether I would offer to speak, and my ‘typically womanly’ thought was “what do I have to offer?” I looked at the Speaker page, to see how the advice about being specific had been implemented, and I have to say I’m disappointed. I’d suggest radically revising the copy to something far more motivating, and much, much more specific. And why not ask for something about diversity? I’d be willing to bet most people of colour in marketing do try to increase diversity in what they produce. Chances are some of them may even have a success story to report.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Gillian…did you watch the video by chance?

      • Gillian Morris-Talbot

        Hi Joe. No, I didn’t. I’m one of those people that hates videos. I prefer the written word. And I tend to advise my clients to offer content for all audience preferences because of that. Worth bearing in mind?

        • Joe Pulizzi

          Thanks Gillian. Will do.

  • Fernando Labastida

    Great post Joe, you have solidified yourself in my mind as the gentleman and scholar you are. And I hope this call-to-action also spurs international speaker submissions as well!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Me as well. Thank you sir!

  • Chuck Kent

    Joe, I struggle with the same issues when I recruit participants for The Branding Roundtable – the first issue being my own self-referential network and my own restricted exposure to non-white, non-male marketing leaders (and I even once worked for one of the few African-American CCOs in a major agency), and secondly, the industry’s traditional slowness and reluctance to hire and nurture beyond its (our) still very white comfort zone. I applaud the self-awareness and intentionality here – but we have a long, long way to go.

    As content per se is newer (OK, yes, I know about the Furrow and all, but I’m guessing that didn’t have a really diverse staff), this may be both a need and opportunity to reach out not just beyond white males but beyond traditional content marketing particularly as one can make the case (as I’ve heard Robert Rose make it) that there won’t be “content marketing” soon, just marketing that all uses content. In that spirit, how about inviting advertising leaders like Burrell’s co-CEOs, Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse… start making CMW more diverse in thinking and content as well as in presenters…

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for the excellent idea Chuck. On it!

  • frankjaeger

    After 5 years I decided to quit my old job and it was a best decision i made in my life… I started freelancing online, for a company I stumbled upon on-line, several hrs /a day, and I earn much more than i did on my office work… My payment for last month was for 9 thousand dollars… The best thing about this job is the more free time i got for my loved ones… CHILP.IT/8d93f4b

  • Terra L. Fletcher

    Joe, Thanks for your transparency. We certainly benefit from diversity. Looking forward to seeing great things from CMI!

  • theaxleblog

    Diversity is not only race and gender; it’s also diversity of thought and perspective. This coming from a sales guy. CMWorld would be well served with a few more sales professionals presenting.

  • Scott Abel

    First, kudos on this effort. It’s amazing that it’s taken us so long to get here, but here we are. Thank you. [[insert applause here]]

    A reminder: Diversity comes in all flavors. Inclusion is about more than race and gender. It also involves sexuality, gender-identity, age, culture, disability, and other categories.

    As marketers attempt to taget people (personalization) instead of groups (personnaization) we will see just how important understanding diversity is.

    This year, my firm, The Content Wrangler, became the first LGBT-content strategy firm to be certified. LGBT businesses represent a huge portion of the overall market and yet are often under-represented or ignored all together. But corporate America (and firms in other nations) have begun to realize the importance of spreading some of their budget on products and services provided by LGBT and other minority-owned and operated businesses. In fact, many large corproations have goals in place to ensure they spend a specific amount of money with minority businesses.

    The organization that certifies LGBT businesses is the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce-NGLCC, a group that has since certified LGBT owned and operated businesses of many types. NGLCC’s lists 91 marketing firms in its directory, a small number, but an increasingly improtant one.

    If marketers hope to understand niche markets and target their members, they will find LGBT-certified businesses a source of valuable information and service. And if marketing conferences hope to educate their attendees on these topics in meaningful ways, they’re going to need to “reach across the aisle” (so-to-speak) to include a much more divserse set of topics, presenters, tracks, and vendors.

    I’m working with Val Swisher and others to educate marketers on the LGBT community and the things that make members of the subgroups unique. Hopefully, we’ll get to share what we’ve learned at events like Content Marketing World in the future.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love it Scott. Thanks for sharing my friend! I know you’ve been leading this charge for many years.