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Viewpoint - Working women: Vertical ambition or glass cliff?

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This week Kevin Roberts, chairman of the global advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, resigned after saying women lacked "vertical ambition" and that is why so few made it to the top. Financial analyst Louise Cooper has her thoughts.

I've always wanted to be taller. But that's not what Mr Roberts meant by vertical ambition. Instead being a woman means I have an "intrinsic circular ambition to be happy".

Do I?

I think he is suggesting that I am driven by happiness and not money. Rather patronisingly, he said this shows women are more advanced than their highly-paid male bosses.

However, women often want flexibility and being a boss with control and people to deputise to, brings that flexibility while more pay of course makes life a lot easier.

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His most extraordinary comment is that lack of women in leadership roles was not a problem in the advertising industry.

Hmm. Saatchi and Saatchi's global leadership team of 14 includes only three women.

Only 11% of creative directors in the advertising industry in London are female and research has also found that adverts themselves are often sexist, portraying men in the dominant role.

Given all this, it is no surprise he was completely unaware his comments were offensively sexist. In his world, it appears such thoughts are normal.

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So as a woman and mother of two, do I lack vertical ambition? No, of course not.

Admittedly, for a couple of years when my children were small and both were seriously unwell, I took my foot off the career pedal, continuing to work but not at full intensity.

But once the youngest was at school, the pedal was flat to the floor again.

What is interesting is that girls don't lack ambition in their education. In the UK, girls are now doing better than boys at school and also at university. So what is it about the workplace - predominantly run by men - that stops women continuing to progress?

One entrepreneur I know started up her own business mainly because she thought she was destined to fail in a male-dominated company.

The rules of the game, she said, were written by men and she didn't understand them. And research proves her right. There are many reasons why women don't make it to the top of business and most of them are subtle.

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And yet after the financial crisis, some of the most powerful people on the planet are women.

The head of the US central bank, is Janet Yellen, Christine Lagarde is in charge of the International Monetary Fund, Germany's Chancellor is Angela Merkel and Theresa May is the new prime minister in Downing Street, while the USA could get its first female president, Hillary Clinton, later this year.

But this points to the much-spoken about phenomenon of the glass cliff, which states that women only get the job when the chances of failing are high.

So why am I still fighting?

I always said I was doing it for my daughter. That I wanted to set the example that women have careers and to try and improve the workplace so that my daughter and her generation have it easier than me and mine.

However since I had a son, I now realise I am also doing it for him. So that when he begins working, he doesn't act like the outgoing chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi.

Louise Cooper is a British Chartered Financial Analyst, journalist, and newspaper columnist. Her audio essay can be heard on The World This Week on BBC on BBC World Service Radio or downloaded as a podcast.

Related Topics

  • Advertising
  • Sexism

More on this story

  • Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts resigns