Dana Anderson, 47, of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide and Kary McIlwain, 42, of WPP Group's Y&R Advertising are the latest to take charge of major area shops. They join an exclusive Chicago club that includes Linda Wolf, 53, chairman-CEO of Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett Worldwide; Cheryl Berman, 49, chairman-chief creative officer of Leo Burnett USA; Tonise Paul, 44, president-CEO of Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide; Andrea Murphy, 50, chairman-CEO of independent shop Grant/Jacoby; and Linda Garrison, 54, co-managing director of WPP's Ogilvy & Mather. In addition, there are several women in the top ranks of Chicago media shops.
"What took them so long?" asked Nina DiSesa, chairman-chief creative officer of Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, commenting on Ms. Anderson's promotion. Ms. DiSesa worked with Ms. Anderson in Chicago for three years at J. Walter Thompson.
The fact that women lead many Chicago shops is of little surprise to Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a research and advisory organization for women in business. "Advertising is one of the breakthrough industries," she said. "Like many service industries, advertising is now viewed increasingly as an industry that is coming to be and will increasingly be a heavily female profession in the future."
Women in advertising seem to have fared better compared with women working in the Fortune 500. Catalyst's 1999 Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners found that, overall, 11.9% of corporate officers and 3.3% of the top earners were women. While 79% have at least one woman officer, only 5.1% of those that hold the title of chairman, vice chairman, CEO, president, chief operating officer or exec VP are women. Catalyst does not break out figures specifically for ad agencies.
In attempting to define a common denominator among the female bosses, Jennifer Fondrevay, account director-partner at JWT, Chicago, and president of the Women's Advertising Club of Chicago, noted that many of today's agency leaders started on the account side. "Inherent in the position of account management is helping people work together and I think women excel in that," she said.
"Being able to pull together lots of people from different teams and really listen and hear what a client wants. Those are skills we traditionally associate with women," agreed Deborah Kolb, professor of management at Simmons Graduate School of Management and co-director of its Center for Gender in Organizations.
Most top adwomen, however, are loath to cite gender-specific skills as a route up the ladder. "I don't lead with my gender any more than I lead with my short, Italian perkiness," said BBDO's Ms. Paul. "It's part of your package but it's much more about your personal values than any of your internal descriptors."
Linda Wolf, long a rainmaker for Burnett, bridles at the notion that gender plays a role in her or the other women's elevations. "It is about getting results," she said.
"I never felt I couldn't do something or get somewhere because of my gender," agreed FCB's Ms. Anderson. "I think advertising historically has been a place in the last 20 years where gender was much less an issue [than it] may have been in other industries."
Since Chicago has half the number of agencies as the Big Apple, the number of top female agency executives appears more striking in the Windy City. Ms. DiSesa said because the pace is "a little more relaxed [in Chicago] than in New York they may be willing to take chances-and putting women in senior level roles is still somewhat unusual."
"I feel like Chicago just works on a more family-friendly level that maybe helps women do the incredible balancing act that we have to do," said Y&R's Ms. McIlwain.
But Nancy Smith, senior VP-director of personnel at Cordiant Communications Group's Bates USA, said that to compare the pattern of women heading agencies in Chicago to the one in New York is like comparing apples to oranges. "If you are trying to make a case of Chicago [having more women leaders than] New York, it's because Chicago has more streamlined organizations. Company presidents there may be comparable to division heads ... in New York," said Ms. Smith, who is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Equal Employment Opportunity committee.
The rising number of women in senior agency posts doesn't necessarily mean that women have reached parity in the ad business, said Mary Baglivo, president of Panoramic Communications, a rare example of a top female executive at the holding company level. She still sees a glass ceiling, not universally but in the highest posts across agencies and holding companies and in pay. "Until you see the same kind of proportions represented in the rest of the business, it's not true, particularly in the creative side of the equation. Men are way over-represented in senior ranks. Our business is about understanding consumer populations and consumer behavior and the diverse opinions are critical."
Contributing: Lisa Sanders.