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 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 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 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.’