Feature

Flying high and wanting more

A new award scheme is offering adland's successful women £10,000 to take their careers even further. John Tylee reports.

The Mann Award for Women has a serious purpose that belies its somewhat ironic title - to enable more women to smash through the marcom industry's glass ceiling to become tomorrow's leaders.

The scheme honours Patricia Mann, the one-time JWT international vice-president, who died of cancer aged 68 in September 2006.

The awards, which were launched this year, come in the form of £10,000 bursaries to each of three female high achievers. The money is to be used to pursue an educational or developmental opportunity to enable them to fly even higher.

Last week at the IPA, the inaugural competition reached its climax when Mann's long-time friend, the former JWT chairman Jeremy Bullmore, announced the winners.

They were selected from dozens of responses from candidates who were asked to write why they wanted to further their education and what benefits they expected to gain from their studies.

It's appropriate, given Mann's career history, that one of them should be a JWT veteran. Mythili Chandrasekar, JWT India's executive planning director, is looking forward to studying in the US.

Also making their plans are Alison Chadwick, the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO people director, and Lee Wright, Dare's managing director.

Mann was a true pioneer for women in advertising. Lyndy Payne, who rose through the agency ranks before going on to found the AAR, says: "Patricia opened the door through which the rest of us entered."

Mann was also renowned for combining a sharp mind with great humanity. "She knew the names of all our children," a one-time colleague recalls. And she was a sympathetic listener who took joy in encouraging the careers of women, both in advertising and elsewhere.

From her time as a bespectacled and overweight pupil at a Bristol boarding school where teachers encouraged her to take up public speaking to help cure her shyness, Mann can fairly be said to have lived not one, but several lives.

The first woman officer of the IPA, a long-serving Advertising Standards Authority councillor and a key player in the extension of self-regulation across Europe; the first woman director of the Woolwich building society; a senior non-executive director of Centrica; member of the then Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Her list of activities was almost as limitless as the energy with which she pursued them.

Cilla Snowball, the chairman of the Abbott Mead Vickers Group and the highest-ranking female agency executive in Britain, says: "Patricia was somebody who had a real interest in people and in making them feel important."

Harry MacAuslan, the Leo Burnett vice-chairman, worked alongside Mann at JWT and helped get the awards off the ground along with Payne, the former Guardian chief Caroline Marland, and the former JWT chief executive-turned Downing Street strategist Stephen Carter.

He remembers being invited to Belfast by Mann to do a joint presentation. "She spoke brilliantly and didn't really need me," he says. "I know now that she was being kind, and wanted to make me feel good."

What makes Mann so remarkable, however, was that she managed to carve out a career at a time when high-ranking female executives in adland were as common as tornados in Twickenham.

Evidence would suggest that the winds of change have been slow to blow.

In 1990, when the IPA undertook its first survey into why women were not succeeding in advertising as well as they should, woman accounted for about 13 per cent of senior agency managers. Eighteen years on, the figure stands at just 16 per cent.

Marilyn Baxter, then the Saatchi & Saatchi vice-chairman, who oversaw the survey, concluded at the time that the paucity of women at senior level was a direct result of so few females having been recruited in the 70s. She predicted that the ratio would improve as the number of women within agencies rose.

Yet while the industry workforce is currently split almost equally between men and women, the trend is not mirrored at boardroom level.

Baxter believes that while, in theory, senior agency women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, it's harder for them to seize those opportunities.

The reasons are as obvious as they are long-standing: trying to balance a career with motherhood; a lack of sufficient female role models to inspire woman to enhance their worth by studying for an MBA or a similar qualification.

Tim Bell, the Chime chairman, isn't optimistic that the current status quo will change dramatically. "I think our industry is second only to journalism in the way it has allowed women to get to the top," he comments. "But the fact remains that it's a male- dominated world."

MacAuslan says: "We're a young industry in which women - Patricia was one of them - can take on responsibilities at an early age. It's very hard to juggle things when you have a young family. If we're going to make it easier for women to progress, we must pace their careers better. It's going to be a long game."

Mann's story is truly inspirational. She started at JWT as a secretary in 1959 at a time when almost all other agency jobs were male preserves.

She went on to become not only one of the first women to climb the promotional ladder out of a creative department's macho environment, but to become an influential figure in male-dominated organisations within adland and beyond. What's more, according to a former associate, she achieved without becoming a "proxy male".

Payne, who started work as a secretary at SH Benson four years after Mann, remembers asking for a move into account management only to be told by the client services director that clients didn't much like women working on their business. It was only when the agency won the Gossard account that her fortunes changed.

"They were tough times for women," Payne remembers. "If you had no ambition beyond being a secretary and making the coffee, it was OK. But to get anywhere, you had to make yourself stand out from the crowd and be very pushy."

More than four decades on, the Mann Awards faces a struggle to become a regular event. Organisers say they were so impressed by the quality of the entries that they opted to blow the £30,000 raised on three winners instead of one. Now the begging bowl must be rattled again if the awards are to become an institution.

Baxter believes it's important they continue. "Women are still reluctant to push themselves forward to do an MBA because it isn't what they're supposed to do," she says. "Awards like this send out a positive message to ambitious women."

Payne agrees. "Women don't just need the knowledge," she says. "We also have to give them the confidence."

LEE WRIGHT, MANAGING DIRECTOR, DARE

Lee Wright's career epiphany occurred earlier this year when Campaign picked her as one of a dozen examples of an agency chief executive-in-waiting. It was, she says, not so much a pat on the back, more a slap in the face, a sharp reminder of the shortcomings she needs to overcome were she ever to make the top flight.

"It just made me realise that I wasn't ready to be a chief executive," she confesses. "I wasn't trained in business and finance, and I knew I needed this if I was to move to the next stage."

Now, Wright plans to use her bursary to fund a career-development course at either the London Business School, Harvard, INSEAD, the graduate business school near Paris, or Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania's management hothouse.

Popular with clients and with a nice line in self-deprecating humour, Wright is a rare bird - a senior manager whose career is rooted in the digital world and has flowered as a result. It began when she joined Modem Media as a graduate trainee in 1993 and progressed rapidly through Tribal DDB and Grand Union before arriving at Dare in 2006. She is currently one of three women on a ten-strong board.

"I've worked for some outstanding agencies and some inspiring leaders - John Bartle and Mark Collier among them," she says. "But my training has largely been on the job. There was a point last year when I knew I'd need some further education to fulfil my career."

The rapidly changing nature of advertising and digital communication in particular has only heightened that need, she believes. "Agencies are facing ever more complex problems and so are clients. With some extra formal training, I might understand some of them a lot better."

MYTHILI CHANDRASEKAR, EXEC PLANNING DIRECTOR, JWT INDIA

Mythili Chandrasekar is already preparing for some heavy reading before embarking on a two-week marketing course at California's Stanford University this summer.

"I really feel the Stanford course is the MBA I never had the chance to do," she says. "My knowledge of communication and marketing is largely self-taught."

The story of how she came to have joint responsibility for 25 planners working out of five JWT offices across India is all the more remarkable because of where it began.

Chandrasekar was born in eastern India into a family of modest means, but which laid great stress on education. Nobody more so than her father, one of the country's first cost accountants, who used to hand-write huge chunks of copy from the textbooks he couldn't afford to buy.

She studied English literature at university, but abandoned the idea of full-time writing after visiting BBDO during the course of her studies and being offered a job in the agency's research department.

Soon afterwards she moved on to JWT, where she has remained for the past 16 years. She never met Patricia Mann, but is thrilled that she, a current JWT "lifer", should figure in awards honouring another from the past.

Most recently, Chandrasekar has become synonymous with Brand Chakras, a proprietary toolkit which looks at brands and consumers from an Indian perspective.

"Study has become a bit of an obsession for me," Chandrasekar admits. "But it's been difficult to find a way of funding myself. I need the experience and stimulation, and I saw these awards as providing a wonderful opportunity for me."

Chandrasekar regards the marketing course at Stanford very much as being a means to an end. "I want to make the most of this and turn it into a platform," she says. She hopes that the course will broaden her experience and provide insights that will allow her to make Brand Chakras more global.

Are the opportunities for senior women, not always plentiful in the UK, even more restricted in emerging markets such as India?

Chandrasekar says there is no shortage of women working in the country's agencies. Indeed, six of the 14-strong JWT India executive committee are female.

"In the country as a whole, more and more women are rising to the top, but, in advertising, their progress has been slower," she observes. "But I believe that could change," she adds.

ALISON CHADWICK, PEOPLE DIRECTOR, ABBOTT MEAD VICKERS BBDO

Alison Chadwick extends the Abbott Mead Vickers group's enviable record of nurturing female high-achievers.

Britain's biggest agency group is unusual in that its two most senior managers are women. Now Chadwick is following a trail blazed by Cilla Snowball, the group chairman, and Farah Ramzan Golant, the agency chief executive.

An Oxford graduate, she fills the relatively new role of head of the people department at AMV, with a brief to develop the group's talent pool and ensure it fulfils its potential.

Her appointment climaxed what had been her growing interest in coaching and training that evolved during a nine-year spell in account management beginning at WCRS. "I'd become increasingly passionate about developing people," she says. "But AMV gets in your blood and it's where I'm happy to focus my skills."

Chadwick plans to use her bursary to fund a two-year masters course in executive coaching run by Ashridge Management College in Hertfordshire. The part-time programme begins next February.

Snowball says: "Patricia was somebody who took an interest in people and made them feel important, and Alison has these exact same characteristics.

"She's very good at removing obstacles and equipping people with useful things such as the confidence that enables them to manage a new-business pitch. She's extraordinarily popular within the group."

What does Chadwick hope to gain from the Ashridge experience? "It will give me greater confidence as a coach and enable me to add more value to the people I work with," she says.

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