Q&A with Tara O'Sullivan, CMO at SKILLSOFT

ONDECK | March 15, 2019

Tara O’Sullivan, the CMO of Skillsoft shares her insights on the impact of digital transformation on marketers and the need to focus on slashing the wide gender pay gap. With over 25 years of experience including B2B marketing in Ireland, EMEA and the US, Tara has extensive expertise in using marketing to effect change.

Here are her thoughts on women in marketing and the changing dynamics of the profession.

MEDIA 7: Tara, how old were you when you had your first paying job?
14 – I worked for my Dad photocopying manuals for software training. I loved the work, I loved being in amongst the team of people who were there. There was a lot of fun with the other people who worked there, and I learnt a lot of lessons on dealing with people, working on end user manuals which were like 500 pages thick, making sure they were all collated properly, the cover looked good – all to provide a real sense of the importance of the training.

"Marketing teams are not aligned to what technology can do for them and how it can transform the business."

M7: What do you consider the biggest challenges for a CMO these days?
TS: Digital transformation. I believe the impact of digital transformation is impacting the CMO even more than other areas of the business. There are so many tools that can help the CMO get the data s/he needs, but it is figuring out which ones are the most relevant, timely and useful. I think a lot of marketing teams are not aligned to what technology can do for them and how it can transform the business.
The other major challenge is around proving to the business the benefit of marketing. As well as the funnel, and marketing sourced OI, we also need to better measure the branding impact on the business and how it supports revenue.

"Agile marketing is becoming more and more the standard, and in order to be agile, you need to be able to pivot."

M7: How important is learning and unlearning in today’s digital age of data and automation?
TS: Learning is the most important thing in my view. From figuring out what the new version of Excel can do for you (LOADS) to determining the best tech stack your marketing organization needs – we need to be learning. Agile marketing is becoming more and more the standard, and in order to be agile, you need to be able to pivot. This means that you need to be continually changing your approach in order to make the company more successful. Agile marketing is a brand new mindset for marketing people – there isn’t an annual budget, the team decides what to spend it on a quarterly basis, so sometimes you will be investing in SEO, or investing in demand generation depending on the needs of the business.

"The gender pay gap is wide and people think about it as being 80 cents on the dollar."

M7: Is Skillsoft closing the gap between the number of men and women in marketing? What are your views on gender equality in the present corporate world?
TS: Well I always thought marketing is different – I assumed that the majority of people entering marketing are women, but that’s not strictly true. Research from Axonn shows that women are only slightly more likely than men to enter the marketing world (21% vs 16%).
Marketing Week (a UK-based publication) carried out a survey and found that  female marketers earn less than male marketers in every sector and in every role, except that of marketing assistant.
Let’s remember though that the gender pay gap is wide and people think about it as being 80 cents on the dollar.  This is awful – but think about it over the lifetime of the female worker. Recent research analyzed a longitudinal dataset which shows total earnings across the most recent 15 years for all workers who worked in at least one year. The study found that women workers faced a wage gap of 51% in the 2001-2015 period. The research also found that the cost of taking time out of the labor force is exorbitant for women. For those who took just one year off from work, their annual earnings were 39% lower than women who worked all 15 years between 2001 and 2015.


SKILLSOFT is a global leader in corporate learning, delivering beautiful technology and engaging content that drives business impact for modern enterprises. Skillsoft comprises three award-winning systems that support learning, performance and success: Skillsoft learning content, the Percipio intelligent learning experience platform and the SumTotal suite for Human Capital Management.

Skillsoft provides a comprehensive selection of cloud-based corporate learning content, including courses, videos, books and other resources on Business and Management Skills, Leadership Development, Digital Transformation, Technology and Developer, Productivity and Collaboration Tools and Compliance. Percipio’s intuitive design engages modern learners and its consumer-led experience assists in accelerating learning. The SumTotal suite features four key components built on a unified platform: Learning Management, Talent Management, Talent Acquisition and Workforce Management.

Skillsoft is trusted by thousands of the world’s leading organizations, including 65 percent of the Fortune 500. Learn more at www.skillsoft.com.