MARKETING FOCUS: Pushing the glass ceiling

The number of women in senior marketing jobs is gradually rising, yet few make it into the boardroom. Laura Mazur examines how difficult it is for women to break the barriers

The number of women in senior marketing jobs is gradually rising, yet

few make it into the boardroom. Laura Mazur examines how difficult it is

for women to break the barriers

When the Women’s Advertising Club of London (WACL) held its first-ever

conference to give advice to aspiring females in marketing, advertising

and media careers last week, it lined up 23 of the most senior and high-

profile executives in the business.

Does the fact that these were women in senior positions in financial

services, the media, FMCG and a host of marketing services companies

mean that women have made it into marketing’s higher reaches? Hardly.

The number of women marketing directors or agency chiefs is still quite

low, but the situation is improving.

Take the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) membership. There are

25,000 members worldwide, the majority in the UK. Between the ages of 41

and 50, the proportion of women is 12%. Between 21 and 40, that rises to

38%. Tellingly, between 21 and 30 it soars to 50%.

According to Fiona Rogers, director of marketing at the CIM: ‘You start

to see an interesting shift in terms of where our membership is going. A

significantly higher proportion of people coming into membership are

women. But, at board level in the 41 to 50 bracket, it doesn’t look as


‘I believe you will see more women board directors over the next ten

years, and not before time. There is still a male dominance in the

boardroom.’ Although, as she points out, marketing director

representation on boards could be higher.

The lack of female board members is backed up by the recent National

Management Salary Survey, produced for the Institute of Management by

Remuneration Economics. The survey, which covers over 24,000 individuals

in 293 organisations, shows that while the number of women managers is

up to 12.6%, compared with 10.7% in 1995, at boardroom level just one in

30 directors is a woman. The survey also suggests that in marketing,

women make up about 35% of managers.

Isobel Bird, one of the WACL conference speakers and head of

international executive search company Isobel Bird & Co, finds that

women are doing better at getting heard in companies.

That means focusing on ‘soft’ issues, like influencing rather then

telling, creating teams and so on. ‘Women tend to do well in companies

where there is a desire to get everyone to come forward and be

excellent,’ she says, adding that businesses with old-school management

styles would call her a ‘New Ager’ for thinking this.

There is little doubt that for women, particularly those with children,

determination and sheer energy can be as important as managerial talent.

According to the BBC’s corporate and brand director, Jane Frost: ‘As a

woman you do need three times the determination.’

Frost became the BBC’s first senior marketer about two years ago. She

began as a Unilever marketing trainee, moving to Shell to set up

marketing in the Middle East, and then to run the branding department at

Shell International in London. She has two young children and has no

illusion about the amount of time women can take off when having

children: ‘You don’t get many grey-headed marketing directors, which is

why most women cannot afford to leave for any length of time.’

Is there still a glass ceiling? Lynn Mathieson, vice-president, European

marketing and sales development at Dun & Bradstreet International,

believes this is an over-simplification: ‘There is a view that you break

through and then you have made it. It is not like that. It is more

laminated: you break through a layer and then find another one. It is a

continuous pushing of the boundaries forward.’

It is that pushing forward where women admit they could improve,

especially when it comes to demanding equal pay. However, the situation

may be better than many people think. The Remuneration Economics’ survey

shows, the average female manager is 37 and earns pounds 30,569. Her

male colleague is 44 and earns pounds 34,855. The average female

director, aged 41, earns pounds 71,638, compared with her male

colleague, 48 and earning pounds 88,390. Although men in the same

positions are paid more, women are getting there at a younger age.

According to Miranda Kennett, director of training and development at

the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising: ‘If you are working in a

predominantly masculine culture you won’t be that confident to ask for

what you are worth.’ But the issue is wider than that, she asserts - not

only do women have to value their contributions, but they need to take

stock and clarify what they want, which might not be to scrabble all the

way up the corporate ladder.

Wendy Proctor, group account director at Leagas Shafron Davis and on the

WACL committee, says: ‘There is a different generation of women, in

their late 20s to early 30s, who don’t feel they have to play the game

according to male rules. These younger women are rewriting the rules,

and that is a terrific advance.’

For some of the pioneers, being female has even proved advantageous.

Lindsay Firth-McGurkin is the first marketing director ever employed by

City-based fund managers Henderson Touche Remnant. With a career

spanning the masculine strongholds of insurance and building societies,

she notes, with tongue slightly in cheek, that as a woman she has always

had an interview because headhunters like to be seen as providing a

broad range to their recruiting clients.

Caroline Marland, managing director of The Guardian and The Observer,

and keynote speaker at the WACL conference, feels it is incumbent on

senior women to help those beneath them, just as she was helped.

Marland offers some sound advice: ‘Now that the concept of a job for

life is over, women owe it to themselves to move jobs to develop new

skills. They need to get a grip on their careers.’

Lynn Mathieson

Lynn Mathieson vice-president European marketing and sales development

Dun & Bradstreet

Lynn Mathieson is vice-president of European marketing and sales

development at Dun & Bradstreet, a US multinational with a turnover of

pounds 3.2bn (dollars 4.8bn) worldwide. She is responsible for

developing and implementing European strategy for all products, services

and distribution in Information Services. With a direct staff of 30 she

is functional head of 70 marketing staff in 20 countries.

Before Dun & Bradstreet, she worked at Bell & Howell and Letraset

International. For 42-year-old Mathieson, the turning point in her

career came when she did an MBA nine years ago, having just had a baby.

‘I felt it was a statement about the seriousness of my career,’ she


She feels that men and women moving to a senior level in marketing need

an understanding of how to mobilise resources and manage people, as well

as having political awareness and sensitivity. ‘I think women tend on

the whole to be task-oriented and assume they will be rewarded, rather

than actually pushing themselves. That can be linked with a desire not

to get involved in company politics, which can limit their progression.’

Elaine Underwood

Elaine Underwood managing director JA Sharwood

Joining RHM as a graduate trainee, 37-year old Elaine Underwood has

worked her way up though a spectrum of sales and marketing positions

before taking the role of commercial director for soft drinks in 1988.

In 1991, she became marketing director of RHM Foods, becoming head of

Sharwood’s in January 1994.

She had her first baby ten months ago without missing a beat. ‘I didn’t

take a lot of time off and never actually lost contact with the

business.’ She was able to deal with key issues by fax and phone: ‘You

can actually breast-feed and read at the same time,’ she says.

Nevertheless, she agrees that combining work and family is not for the

faint-hearted. However, in the months since returning full time to the

office she does work differently: ‘For instance, I leave earlier at the

end of the day, but more often than not I work two to three evenings a

week when the baby has gone to bed.’ And she reckons that taking a less

frenzied approach to office hours can benefit either sex: ‘Because I am

slightly less intense now, I think my decision-making is a little bit


Lindsay Firth McGurkin

Lindsay Firth-McGurkin marketing director Henderson Touche Remnant

Lindsay Firth-McGurkin is used to being a woman in a man’s world. Now

39, married with no children, her career spans positions at Royal

Insurance, Bradford & Bingley Building Society, the Liverpool Victoria

Friendly Society and Henderson in September last year. She did a full

time MBA in the mid-1980s, and spent five years as a business academic.

She has had her share of patronising attitudes from male City stalwarts,

but battles on: ‘You cannot let things upset you and have to be

incredibly persistent to get things through.’

Firth-McGurkin recalls being asked at a conference by a (male) marketer

of a building society how she had managed to push through her award-

winning corporate rebranding at the staid Liverpool Victoria Friendly

Society when he himself had been battling to do so for a long time.

‘Perhaps you should try wearing a skirt,’ she told him bluntly, and not

altogether facetiously. ‘I have had more than my fair share of stamping

my feet when asked to pour the tea at meetings, or being thought of as

the secretary. Now I just laugh.’

Caroline Marland

Caroline Marland managing director The Guardian and The Observer

Caroline Marland, one of the most respected executives in the newspaper

business, is also the first female managing director of a national

newspaper in the UK. She began her working life in newspapers at the

Yorkshire Post in 1969, moving later to The Times, and becoming the

first woman advertisement director in Fleet Street at The Guardian. She

has one child and three step-children.

In her time moving up the advertising sales ladder she has faced both

patronising attitudes and been given a rough ride by ad salesmen working

for her. But so much has changed: ‘I have a number of women working for

me in their early 30s. And I see a huge difference from when I was that

age. They have examples of people like me and others and can see what

can be done.’

She finds women in business flexible and adaptable: ‘We are used to

juggling our lives, so we don’t find it difficult to learn new skills.

And I don’t think women necessarily have big hang-ups about egos and

their importance in an organisation.’ But the downside can be that ‘I

think we are far too likely to think about what we can’t do.’


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