The Glass Ceiling: Women of Influence

By The Drum, Administrator

August 13, 2007 | 6 min read

As with any struggle for justice, the level playing field was once a battleground, and many corporate dinosaurs balked at the prospect of sharing their office space with “fillies”. It is a tribute to the persistence of the sisters of the women’s movement – that had to fight against entrenched prejudice, 1970’s chauvinistic attitudes (Life on Mars had its downside, too) and bullheaded resistance to allowing “girls” to work – that so much has been achieved in such a short timeframe.

To launch The Drum’s search for the Top Women in Scotland’s marketing and media industry, we canvassed the views of some of Scotland’s most successful players in the industry to find out whether the walls really have come tumbling down, or if there are still invisible barriers preventing a woman achieving her full potential, despite appearances to the contrary.

Tessa Hartman, MD of the TFF Agency and founder of the Scottish Fashion Awards certainly believes there is nothing to stop a talented and ambitious woman going as far as her abilities can take her in the media and PR fields.

“Nothing should hold a woman back,” she said. “I get annoyed at feminists who do more complaining than they do pursuing their own aims and objectives. If you want something badly enough in your career you just have to work hard and go for it.

“In the PR sector, I have a whole female team,” says Hartman. “It is really down to the individuals. I get bored of women complaining it is a man’s world. I have certainly never found that. It is all down to personality and drive.”

Traditionally, the creative side of the industry seemed heavily stacked with testosterone, regardless of the collapse of explicit employment barriers.

Yet, despite that balance remaining in part, a new area of male dominance has emerged.

There is an unavoidable techno-geek male stereotype associated with the digital marketing industry, and it is perhaps here where the culture is driven by perception, above any particular male ability. What is it about the culture that causes it?

The digital industry may need to do a PR job on its own image, but it does still appear to be the last frontier for true male supremacy in the marketing arena.

Fiona Proudler, creative services director at Realise concedes that there are still inroads to be made in this sector.

“The digital industry is very male orientated. In my office of 35 staff, there are three girls, including me. When we go on a recruitment drive, it is a miracle if we see a female CV for a technical post. It just doesn’t happen. That is a lot to do with perception.”

Unlike other office-based professions, the world of media, marketing and PR offers flexibilities that allow women and men to work a wide range of hours without being tied necessarily to a desk or a building.

Hartman believes that this is one factor that has assisted women penetrating the media professions to a degree not found across the employment spectrum.

“The way the world is in terms of technology, the way we are working, has changed dramatically,” she says.

“Technology and culture have changed giving a woman an incredible opportunity to prove herself in a man’s world by giving extra time and effort. They are no longer having to rely on as many colleagues to get the job done.”

Sally Stanley, marketing director at Highland Spring agrees that the media, marketing and PR trades are less restrictive to women, offering more opportunities for people to succeed in accordance with their talents.

“I think, generally speaking, it is consistently more difficult for women to reach the top level of their chosen profession, due to the interruptions and implications of having children during their career rather than anything sinister,” she says.

“Also, in industries which have historically been dominated by men, it seems to take longer for female executives to reach the top… with exceptions of course.”

“In marketing, from personal experience, there seems to be a higher incidence of female directors than in some other professions, so I'm not sure that it is really such an issue in our area of employment.”

“People should be promoted on merit, end of story. I personally wouldn't want to work in an environment in which competence was overlooked in favour of irrelevant factors such as gender.”

That view is shared by Gillian Taylor, formerly of Channel 4 Scotland, and now group PR manager for RMJM, who adds that cultural and gender stereotyping, often experienced in other commercial sectors, is far less present in the creative industries, perhaps due to the inherent open mindedness of the work. “In the field of media and marketing I have never felt any prejudice or limitations in any way. It is an area I think women are particularly suited to.

“They often have better people skills, communication skills and networking skills. I have never been aware of any limitations, and it is quite female orientated,” she says. “Probably because women inherently possess good people and communication skills and are natural hosts.”

Perhaps an answer to the creative/accounts role divide alluded to earlier, with men more happy to bury their reclusive nature behind a Mac screen?

“It is also a relatively new industry so it has not been tainted with the history of male prejudices,” continues Taylor. “I have certainly never witnessed a glass ceiling for women. – In fact, quite the opposite.”

As Proudler observes, when the decks are cleared of outmoded attitudes, outdated prejudices, and outrageous barriers, it all comes down to talent, skills, instinct, and that particularly female gift, emotion.

“With emotion comes passion. With passion comes commitment. The only thing that should hold people back is their talent.”

The Drum is looking to identify the most powerful women currently working in the media and marketing industry. Over the following weeks we will look for nominations to compile a poll of the Top 50 Women operating in Scotland. To nominate your suggestions, email Or, to add to the debate, visit


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