Julie Roehm Talks About Gender Obstacles in Leadership

Julie Roehm, the chief marketing and experience officer at Party City, recently spoke on the podcast “Empowered Women” about the piece she wrote entitled “Navigating Traditionally Male Dominated Institutions.” She knows all about it after a career spent in these institutions. Now, she’s experiencing inclusivity at Party City as she leads a marketing team with a metrics-driven, performance-oriented approach. 

“There have been a lot of barriers to women who are strong, outspoken, and willing to be a change agent and break the status quo,” she says. 

Roehm graduated with a degree in environmental engineering at Purdue University in the late ’80s. She was one of a handful of women in the engineering classes. 

“Engineering classes at Purdue University at the time were probably 80 to 90% male,” she says. “Then I went to business school at the University of Chicago. There were more women than there were in my engineering classes, but not half.”

She received an MBA in marketing from The University of Chicago Booth. Afterward, she took her first job in the automotive department at Ford Motor Company. There, many women worked in the call center, but few worked in management. In the dealer group, there was a token presence of women – one or two employees, Roehm says

“It was another largely male-dominated industry,” she says. “The top tier of any large public company is usually male-dominated, but even more so in the automotive industry – especially in the ’90s. The dealer body was 99.9% owned by middle-aged white men.”

Julie Roehm Details Life in the Trenches 

Julie Roehm reflects on her childhood when she attended Catholic school. She was competitive against the boys. It turned out to be a motivating factor.

“I am not sure if it was just the era I grew up in, or if it was because of the church that ran the institutions, but they all made it clear to us that it was a boys’ world,” she says.  “Being an extremely competitive person, that just did not sit well with me.”

She vividly recalls competing with and often beating the male students in spelling contests, math contests, foot races, soccer. 

“I felt the need to,” she says. “It was almost to prove a point, more to myself than anyone else.”

She stayed frustrated with the situation into multiple careers after attaining her MBA.

“Work was difficult because it was very clear women didn’t get the same opportunities,” she says. “Somebody next to me was promoted. I was asking for the promotion, and it was just a no. And the head of HR was a woman! It was just always very disheartening.”

Despite the barriers of workplace stereotypes about women – made worse by her blonde hair, she pushed herself to be better. She used the prejudice as fuel. 

“Instead of being resentful, I chose to use it as my motivating factor and a chance to prove those people wrong,” she says. “I felt like I had to prepare harder to know my business backward and forward, to be confident, and to be ready to be tested more than my male counterparts.”

Her experience informed her hiring practices about inclusivity and diversity. “I work really hard to support other women in the industry,” Julie Roehm says. “My entire leadership team is women. I don’t do that purposefully. I look to be really, really inclusive.”

Julie Roehm Promotes Inclusivity and Diversity in the Workplace

As populations diversify by factors including race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, the face of the workplace is changing rapidly. Julie Roehm says she looks to hire employees from different backgrounds and cultures.

“I am really looking for people who have had totally different experiences so that I don’t veer towards sameness,” she says. “I am trying to have more diversity, not just of race or physical or gender identity, but a real diversity of thought.”

The data tracks with Roehm’s attitude as more statistics support the focus on inclusivity. The April 2021 Deloitte Global Marketing Trends Executive Survey got into the weeks on diversity and inclusivity. Prepared by Deloitte Insights, the report includes data from more than11,500 global consumers and 1,000 global executives. It outlines emerging and growing marketing trends. 

Deloitte Insights discovered that among global consumers, those 18 to 25 years old – youngest respondents – were more aware of inclusive advertising when making purchase decisions. 

It’s been a minute since the early days, when Julie Roehm was the minority as a woman among men in male-dominated fields. She made it with a combination of intelligence, moxie, and grit. 

“There are t-shirts that say, ‘Underestimate me; this should be fun’,” she says. “That is exactly how I approached life then and now.” 

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