Cannes 2011

Cannes Panel: How Women in Ad Industry Can Increase Senior Ranks

Female Execs Need to Find, Become Sponsors to Cultivate and Promote Top Talent

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Life balance is a false goal. There are double standards around the world for women and men. And while women may have moved up in their organizations, there are still too few at the senior level in every industry, including advertising and marketing.

A few hundred women -- and some men, too -- gathered in a ballroom over a breakfast of fruit, cheese and eggs at the Majestic Barriere in Cannes where the IPG Women's Leadership Network held an event to examine the trends and headwinds facing women in professional leadership at advertising and marketing companies around the world.

Women comprise about 34% of upper-middle management, said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, who kicked off the day after Interpublic Group of Cos. CEO Michael Roth introduced the event. But above that level, she said, women become more rare.

Ms. Hewlett had conducted research on the role of "sponsors" -- a senior person in a company who helps guide and cultivate emerging talent -- and found that women lag men in their use of sponsoring. Men were 46% more likely to have a sponsor than women (when it comes to full-time employees in large companies with sponsors, 19% of men had a sponsor, only 13% of women had one). Sponsors consistently get better assignments, paid more and promoted more often.

Wendy Clark
Wendy Clark

Wendy Clark, senior VP-integrated marketing, communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola, said her company's middle- and upper-middle-management levels are very rich with female talent, but it "gets very thin" up top.

She said that when Coca-Cola would do evaluations and succession planning, they would rank people in terms of how ready they are for promotions. The "ready in a few years" and "ready in five years" buckets would often be rich with women, making the company feel very good about its prospects. But the "ready now" bucket, year after year, was not.

"It was making us feel very good when you looked at it in aggregate, but we had to ask, Why is it not moving into 'ready now,'" said Ms. Clark. So the company's CEO, who has spearheaded a move to get more women into senior-management positions, created a mandate and assigned each of his direct reports to assign one to two women into ready now and to put them in place.

"It was retrospectively obvious we had to do that . ... We've all got to press for right now to make the change, not years from now," said Ms. Clark, who was on a panel with Dawn Winchester, exec VP-chief marketing services officer at R/GA; Trudy Hardy, manager of BMW marketing communications and consumer events at BMW North America; and moderator Eleanor Mills, associate editor at The Sunday Times in the U.K.

The panel also revealed stark differences in how women are valued around the world.

Roberta Cocco, central marketing group director at Microsoft Italy, said that in her country women are tops -- if you're a mom, that is . If you're a working woman, "you're here," she said, indicating with her hands something in the middle. And if you're a working mom? She lowered her hands further, her gesture indicating low regard.

And Lynn de Souza, chairman and CEO of Lintas Media Group, said that in her country, India, women have it even worse. Most of the female business and political leaders, she noted, only become so when they are alone -- divorced or widowed -- and she said women have further to go in advertising and marketing than they do in politics or banking. She had perhaps the best line of the event when she said that in India, women "are either inferior or they are very superior -- they are goddesses and worshiped."

Women have clear advantages to offer senior management in terms of leadership style and diverse perspectives. But getting more into senior roles remains a real and tactical struggle. Echoing the words of Tiffany Rolfe, CPB co-exec creative director, who wrote in Ad Age last week of the need for senior women creatives in agencies to reach out and lift up their promising female colleagues, the women on the panel urged those in the audience to become sponsors to younger women in their organizations.

Ms. Clark urged everyone to "find some mini-me's."

And Vita Harris, chief strategy officer at DraftFCB, New York, pointed out the difference between mentoring and sponsorship.

"Sponsorship happens within your company," she said. "Often in advertising we're mentoring women who don't even work in our companies and programs are set up to facilitate that . It has a role but it's not the thing that 's going to overcome the issue of getting to the top. ... we need to challenge ourselves in the industry."

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