‘So now what?’

2007. So where are we, girls? Are those glass ceilings shattering in creative departments? After all the articles, lectures, editorials and ranting, are we catching up with the progress made in other professions?

2007. So where are we, girls? Are those glass ceilings shattering in creative departments? After all the articles, lectures, editorials and ranting, are we catching up with the progress made in other professions?

In a nutshell, when it comes to the senior ranks, nothing much has changed in 20 years. Today we can see women graduating from ad schools in numbers equal to or higher than male grads. Most agencies can point to plenty of female employees. But you’ll be hard pressed to find more than 5% in top positions.

How can this be? Why aren’t agencies and clients demanding senior female influence when women hold over 80% of the purchasing power? And with female leadership making all the difference on mega success stories like Dove?

How long can this business behave like women don’t matter? Well clearly for a long time to come without some fundamental changes. Here are a few rules for success we’ve gleaned after over a year of talking with students, professors and top advertising men and women across North America.

1. Ladies, get assertive for god’s sake. We’ve made it in part because we act like men on this front. We declare what we need and generally get it. We’re not easily intimidated. We ask for the money we want. This is especially hard for women, who would generally prefer a colonoscopy. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

2. Successful senior women need to snap out of denial. Problem? What problem? Some women don’t want anything to do with the issue. They may not see it because they haven’t had problems, or believe singling out women makes it worse. Recently a magazine journalist told us when she tried to survey advertising women about the career-limiting potential of maternity leave, she couldn’t get anyone to talk to her. There’s a big problem. Let’s all deal.

3. Ad agencies need to allow for flexibility for parents, and stop seeing tending to a family emergency or taking work home as slacking off. We love Rethink. This highly successful agency stigmatizes staying late. Couldn’t focus hard during the day so you can go have a life after six? You’re a loser. New parents love the offer to work from home one day a week. Mom of two, ACD Katie Ainsworth confirms that people appreciate the value placed on balance. The principals know it’s just good business sense. Let’s all copy.

4. Network. This key strength of men is often absent in women. Make a point of meeting influential people and benefit from their lessons and support. Sticking to your knitting will keep your world small and mean losing out on opportunities, from better jobs to hiring the best people once you’re the one hiring.

5. Be a mentor once you’ve made it. A lack of female role models and mentors is cited as one of the biggest obstacles to more making it further. You have much to teach that’s unique to the female experience. We’ve had fantastic mentors. Being mentors now is one of the most gratifying parts of our jobs.

6. Seek out agencies that are female friendly and boost your odds of success and happiness. Across all industries women often feel they have to choose between career and parenthood, and are penalized one way or another for funneling energy into their second job – motherhood. The agency that’s got women in management and/or men who get it present environments where, god willing, you can do it all. We’ve worked where we were stuck on fem hy, and barred from beer. Trust us, it’s better among the gender blind.

7. When all else fails, sisters are doing it for themselves. Women who dare take on that second job can find the flexibility they need by starting their own shops. In fact, women are brilliant entrepreneurs; in Canada they outnumber men by a hefty margin.

8. Can we all just get along? The boys’ club is alive and well, but there’s no shortage of men who appreciate that keeping women in the fold and getting more to the top is good for business. Senior men and women need to figure out together how we can create environments where women can succeed. Here in Toronto, CDs of both genders are laying down their weapons and breaking bread to get this party started. If we can crack it here, maybe we’ll do what Canadians do so well: export our idea to other markets.

Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk are coCCOs of Ogilvy Toronto. In 2006 they helped launch ‘Been There,’ an online mentoring group on creativeskirts.com composed of 22 of North America’s top female creatives. The Globe and Mail named Ogilvy Toronto’s ‘Evolution’ ad of the year, and Advertising Age named Dove global campaign of 2006.