A vagina monologue

So I'm going through this stack of papers in my 'To Read' file when I come across a picture of the new board of directors of the Institute of Canadian Advertising (ICA). I'm scanning the faces, looking for people I know....

So I’m going through this stack of papers in my ‘To Read’ file when I come across a picture of the new board of directors of the Institute of Canadian Advertising (ICA). I’m scanning the faces, looking for people I know. In between, ‘I know him,’ and ‘oh, I know him, too,’ I realize that something looks funny. All the people in the picture, save one, is a guy.

There had to be some sort of explanation for this lack of the fairer sex in this picture. So I called the ICA and talked to a man named Rupert Brendon. He’s the ICA’s president and CEO. I asked him how the directors are selected. It turns out that, among other non-exclusionary criteria, one must be an agency president.

The problem would then seem to be that there are not many female heads of agencies. ‘Why is this?’ I asked myself and about two dozen other people. All you have to do is pick your head up off your desk and take a look around the office to see that this is a female-dominated industry.

Why, then, are we not ruling our domain?

Ironically enough, a lot of men with whom I discussed this subject are of the opinion that advertising is an old boys club at the top. They say that, consciously or not, these guys in charge just feel more comfortable with their own kind.

I thought about the men I know who run agencies and, generally speaking, I couldn’t make that connection.

My take is this – the guys who stated this ‘boys’ club’ opinion did so simply because they’ve heard enough from their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, spouses, magazines, newspapers, books, news programs, Aretha Franklin songs – whatever – to know that we skirts have been held back by The Man ever since Eve was condemned for being a bit peckish. As a movement, the women’s has been successful in its infiltration of the minds of the enemy.

Here’s what I think. The main reason there are not more women ruling the roost is we’ve simply chosen not to. Instead, some of us, including those who have the potential to make it to the top, have decided to have families and make that the priority.

Some of us may take a powder for several months or a few years and have children. If so, we then have to decide how to balance our working life with those sweet bundles of stink. Some of us dial down the speed at which we proceed in our pace to the top. Still others are unaffected in our goals and forge ahead as we did pre-baby. The point is that we have the freedom to set our own unique objectives and to achieve at a pace that fits our lives. The business has allowed for this because it has had to.

Not every female buys into this line of thinking, though. There are holders of the men-are-holding-us-back argument. And it is a scary argument – most often spit out by a woman who just can’t cut it. It’s scary because the politics of the workplace has yet to stand up and shout it down as the farce that it so often is and, therefore, it is not politic to call a spade a spade.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen sexual discrimination and harassment in action. I’ve experienced it first-hand. It’s unacceptable, reprehensible, revolting, infuriating, indefensible and, unfortunately, never going to be completely eradicated. That’s life. Though I would never minimize the effects of discrimination, those same effects have, in general, been exaggerated to a point where they’ve become a red herring in the debate.

Men, young and old, will continue to be men. They’ll notice our breasts and our legs. It’s what they do. But there’s a difference between the new breed of younger male leaders and those stereotypical old-boys’-club types. The new breeds know that to succeed, they need the right team of people, male or female. If the best person for the job has knockers, so be it.

And what of those women who are convinced that their forward momentum has been stymied by the male aversion to a dame in the corner office? I recommend an honest self-evaluation. I subscribe to the theory that one does not become a leader without the consent of others and obtaining that consent is entirely up to the individual who seeks it.

A leader has vision. A leader makes connections with others and negotiates agreement to that vision. A leader inspires others to make that vision live. A leader has magnetism, presence, influence and is respected and returns that respect in kind. Above all, a leader leaves behind a legacy for others to continue.

Are these qualities at all determined or defined by one’s sex? If a person is all of these things, is that person stoppable simply because she has to take a seat in the powder room?

It seems to me that if a woman allows her sex to stand in the way of her success, then that’s survival of the fittest saving us from a weak leader.

Pamela Davis is a group account director at Publicis in Toronto. She can be reached at pdavis@publicis.ca or (416) 925-7644.