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The so-called glass ceiling-the level women theoretically rise to, see the path to the top but can't break through-received a few fissures this year.

The biggest crack, according to the Altschuler, Melvoin & Glasser-prepared survey of marketing titles at corporations, rests right at the top, where women outgunned men with an average $129,000 to $127,000 in base pay for the VP-marketing post.

A victory, yes. But more of a moral one. The pool of VPs contributing to the averages is 59 men and 19 women.

Though a small sampling, the gender gap is maintained throughout all corporate marketing positions and most of those at advertising agencies. The executive office is still a man's world.

Many male ad agency executives don't admit to a gap and, of course, any disparity would differ from company to company.

"Our entire media department is women," says Walter Ohlmann at Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman, Dayton.

"I don't think we have a glass ceiling," says Phil Helser, director of finance at Lord, Sullivan & Yoder, Columbus, Ohio, "Our woman senior VP is compensated equitably." LS&Y has one woman and seven men senior VPs.

"My wife and other women I talk to feel there is a bias in general, but I'd like to believe there is none here," says Robert C. Jaeschke, chief financial officer at Arian, Lowe & Travis, Chicago.

A morale boost for women seeking advancement to VP-marketing is that a number of men in this position surveyed occupy the survey's bottom salary rung (less than $69,000), whereas all women in the VP-marketing slot are higher up the pay scale and in companies more likely to hire women: those with $1 billion or more in sales.

The lowest share of women's to men's pay was 76% for VP-advertising.

The gender gap was prevalent throughout ad agencies as well, with women's base pay ranging from a high of 95% of male averages for CEO to 72% of male pay for media director.

The gender democratization of several agency positions is another fissure.

The AM&G survey shows women gravitating to two agency positions-media director (69% are women) and account exec (63%). The rub: The media director post offers the worst pay ratio for women among the seven titles surveyed.

This may have something to do with female "overpopulation" of the position. Advocates for equal pay for women point out an ironic twist to the glass ceiling: Women may in fact impose a glass ceiling on a position if it becomes known as "women's" work.

Has the media arena entered that dubious realm?

"We women may be our own worst enemy by accepting positions in categories dominated by women. I had to break out and do my own thing to feel I was adding value to the industry," states Glenda Shasho Jones, president of Shasho Jones Direct, a New York catalog agency.

She started her own shop four years ago and now employes 30.

Unfortunately for women, the media department happens to be the most threatened at agencies as some clients move media to separate media-buying companies and further computerize that function.

"Unlike account services, the media department can absorb additional business without staffing up because of computerization," says Mr. Ohlmann.

Women shared in several other victories: They bested their CEO male counterparts in average pay in the smallest agencies. Their numbers are small in those agencies, however, leading to skewing.

Indeed, the agency CEO survey pool is 245. Of those, 193 are males. "I don't doubt, though, that these [AM&G] results are valid," says Ms. Shasho Jones. "These women are making the decision on what they make. They should know what the market will bear."

One of the worst showings for women is that of senior account exec in agencies $7.6 million to $15 million in gross income. Men average $98,000 to women's $66,000 in that group.

The glass ceiling may be having a decided impact in the emergence of new ad agencies. There's a growing number of women who own their business, and may have an "extra" mission: to hire and empower women at the same time.

"I feel this a mission, too, but more an unconscious one," admits Ann Proud, president of Media Directions Advertising, Knoxville, Tenn. "All the creative types we work with are men. The account people are women," she says. "History says top execs in the business come from the account side and there are just not enough good men coming up through the ranks. So the glass ceiling won't exist in five years. It's a matter of mathematics."

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