WOMEN IN A MAN’S WORLD: Do women have to act like lads to get on in sales? Rachel Minter investigates

Sly Bailey’s rise to the top at IPC proves beyond a doubt that women can get ahead in sales - and how. But do female media sales executives still feel obliged to drink the lads under the table and swear in three languages to be accepted?

Sly Bailey’s rise to the top at IPC proves beyond a doubt that

women can get ahead in sales - and how. But do female media sales

executives still feel obliged to drink the lads under the table and

swear in three languages to be accepted?

If Noel Coward had known about media sales, he would have wagged a

cautionary finger and said: ’Don’t put your daughter into sales, Mrs

Worthington.’ A life on the stage is far less precarious. But as the

profile of the industry grows more respectable, are women having an

easier time fitting into a profession where men frequently outnumber


It would appear that a female media sales executive still needs to be a

brick wrapped in velvet, especially if she’s working on a male-oriented

product. While most women accept that sales is hard work whatever your gender, there is still a certain amount of pressure to look sassy while being one of the lads.

Even-handed approach

Tracy Gilbey, ad manager at The Sun and News of the World, has spent ten years climbing the sales ladder. She believes that with so many more women in management, the environment has become much less sexist.

’The girls are doing quite nicely for themselves here, and there’s a

real spirit of meritocracy. With two women and two men as group heads,

we are now quite even-handed in our approach. I’ve spent ten years here and never once had to compromise because I’m a woman.’

This is surprising given The Sun’s reputation for being fairly hard on

its female members of staff, even if things have become easier over the


Jane Reynolds, now ad manager at Best, remembers the bad old days. She spent five years at The Sun and says that right up until the early 90s, it was such a sexist environment that women actually had a dress code imposed on them. Reynolds, who started out in classified, regularly

protested against the trouser ban.

’Newspapers are the worst culprits for discriminating against women. How much worse can you get than forcing girls to wear skirts? When I was there, they also had a policy of employing attractive girls. And even

that wasn’t good enough - they wanted you to look like a woman, but

still made fun of you for doing so. If someone came in wearing lots of

perfume, it would be called ’eau de slag’. And when we finally started

wearing trousers, the boys would ask us if we’d run out of clean


Many of Reynolds’ friends were baffled by her choice of career, ’They

didn’t see how I could work in that environment. But you have to be

pretty bullish to work in sales and if you can’t cope, you just have to

get out.’

Despite its drawbacks, Reynolds loved her job and admits that the men

were protective of ’their girls’. In the end she quit not because of the

jokes or the dress code, but because she felt the newspaper didn’t

promote women quickly enough. Now she believes that the industry has

moved on: ’As the whole media industry becomes more respected, so do the women who work in it.’

The comfort zone

Things may be changing, but there is still an overload of female sales

executives working within the comfort zone of areas traditionally

associated with women. Fashion and lifestyle magazines are overrun with

women, while newspapers and men’s magazines, along with sports titles,

are almost exclusively male territories.

According to Maggie Brogi, group magazine head at the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, magazine sales are easier for women because there are more female buyers in the consumer goods sector, traditionally seen as a soft sell. ’Magazines are also seen as a female area because a monthly offers more flexibility,’ in terms of juggling work and family life, she says.

But this is changing - recently The Express employed a female member of staff on a four-days-a-week basis so that she could spend time with her children. ’Associated Newspapers is not so liberal, but none of us has

kids yet so we’ll have to wait and see,’ Brogi adds.

Jane Candlish, ad sales manager at The Mirror, also believes that there

are now more women working on the nationals, and endeavours to create as many equally split teams as possible.

’I’ve spent the last 11 years at The Mirror - in many ways the last

bastion of old Fleet Street - and I’ve seen that women make excellent

buyers and sales people. It’s also very healthy to have a balance in

terms of sex and age.

’Although there are more women on ’softer’ titles, there’s no reason why

they shouldn’t work in less female-oriented areas. There’s this archaic

idea that it’s going to be harder for women to sell on newspapers. But

in fact we’re extremely versatile in many situations and are natural

born sellers. It never crossed my mind not to enter the newspaper

industry because I’m a woman.’

Not all women gravitate towards a female-oriented working environment; in some cases, women actually prefer to work in a male dominated team. ’Vogue sales might be mostly made up of women, and be culturally poles apart from The Sun,but it’s still essentially the same job,’ observes Vanessa Welham, fashion ad sales executive on Loaded and Later. ’Kitten heels and lipstick may replace Arsenal and Tottenham, but for women or men, the pressure to sell is always there.’

When Welham left GQ classified at Conde Nast to join IPC, she actually

found it refreshing working with the lads. ’I worked for the GQ

classified department for two years as a sales executive, with an almost

exclusively female team. It’s great now because there’s no bitchy

atmosphere and you know exactly where you stand. Men are more direct and there’s now a healthy balance of egos, even though there are eight women out of a total of 20 men. Being one of a smaller team of women means we are much closer.’

Despite the laddish atmosphere, Welham feels respected in her area and

unthreatened professionally. ’We all have our respective specialist

areas and my area is fashion,’ she explains. ’There’s no trespassing on

another person’s patch.’

Although Welham feels she is on an equal footing with her male

colleagues professionally, this is not always the case socially.

Apparently, the Loaded boys enjoy playing the odd prank on female

members of staff. ’When I first arrived I was told we had a fax machine

that talked. All you had to do was speak to it and tell it where you

wanted your fax to go,’ she says.

Welham is also terrified of leaving the company. ’The boys strap you to

a chair with black tape and then dump you in the lift, pressing every

floor button. And it’s mostly women who end up in the lift,’ she


Experience has taught Selinda Kaler, senior sales executive at Sky

Sports, that working in a male-oriented field is not always easy. ’On

the Sky sales floor it’s three to one in favour of men. For a lot of

them, no matter how many women there are, it’s too many.’

A quip too far

Although Kaler acknowledges that most of the sales staff are ’quite

brassy’, and that the odd flippant comment is hardly an issue, she says

things sometimes go a bit too far.

’It’s no great secret that I’m small-chested, but I had only been at Sky

for two weeks when I was reminded of this by a male member of staff -

and not just verbally. I thanked him and retained my dignity, but was

quite shocked. This type of blokey behaviour is usually repeated in the

pub, where the chat can rapidly move from one-minute ratings to


Kaler explains that it’s usually down to a few ringleaders and believes

it does more harm than good to take the banter too seriously. The

28-year-old, who started out at ITV, admits you can’t work for Sky

Sports without expecting laddish football chat to be part of everyday

office life.

’Socially, it’s a rude but amusing environment and no amount of equality

will get away from that fact,’ admits Kaler. ’Before joining Sky, I

would sit in the pub with ten blokes and watch football with little

interest, but now it’s part of my work to familiarise myself with what’s

going on and I enjoy it. Blokes have the advantage over women because

they often have football as a common interest and can get an instant

connection with buyers. We can flirt, of course, but you can never rely

on it, unlike a good football match.’

Women sales executives say there are some obvious tips that make life a little easier. It’s highly inadvisable to cry in the office as it

instantly puts you into the ’girly’ category. Having said that, it’s

sometimes easier for women to get in to see buyers, as they get sick of

being presented to by men. Don’t underestimate the power of flirting as

a way of getting what you want, but never depend on it.

As Kaler observes: ’In such a male dominated industry, women stand

out - you might as well make the most of it.’


Jill Kerslake - group broadcast director TSMS

’Women are nature’s organisers and in the commercial arena that’s a huge benefit. However, if you really want to look for sexism you’ll find


Carolyn McCall - deputy managing director The Guardian

’It’s a shame there are not more women in senior posts at media

agencies, or at the head of TV stations in the UK’

Martina King - director, Yahoo!

’I have always found media sales to be non-gender biased. It has always

been about being noticed, knowledgeable, trustworthy, innovative and -

most importantly - able to generate revenue’

Janey Pilkington - group ad manager IPC Connect

’You will always have to be a bit of a geezer-bird in this field, but

don’t forget to be who you are and have the strength of character to

fight for where you want to go’


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