I was heartened to hear news of Marin Alsop becoming the first ever female conductor of The Last Night of the Proms. I confess, I'm no classical music aficionado and I don't know much about Alsop's path to this accolade, but I appreciate the focus and single-mindedness required to achieve such a pivotal career milestone in any field.
Almost immediately upon hearing this news though, my thoughts turned to why it has taken over 100 years for a woman to wield the baton at this slightly odd but still momentous occasion in the British cultural calendar.
And I wondered if perhaps there are some parallels to be drawn between the worlds of orchestral music and media in terms of women's journeys to the helm.
A glance at the senior management at Maxus, where I work, reveals a meritocratic gender division, split almost straight down the middle. Yet at global agency network board level, the media industry remains steadfastly male dominated. Why should this high-level barrier to entry, this glass penthouse ceiling, still exist, I wonder, when evidence repeatedly suggests that women excel in senior roles? Just last month we learnt that companies with at least a third of women in senior managerial positions perform better than their male-dominated competitors.
I was lucky enough to meet the awe-inspiring (and worth allegedly $1.6bn) Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook last week and her new book Lean In is a brilliant read. In it she essentially moves from simply blaming sexism in the workplace, which does still exist, but instead asks women to focus on pushing themselves forward, speaking up and sitting at the table. Lots of actions, but simply put... 'manning up'!
And I agree.
Women do need to lean in to their careers. But they need support and self belief to get there in a world where traditional roles of mother/wife/care-giver/household shopper are still manifest. Recently, I was honoured to be shortlisted for a First Woman Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group. How? A friend, a supporter suggested I do it and a good colleague nominated me. The supporter was female. The nominator male. So that's a good start! But a nomination such as did make me press the pause button, just for a moment, to reflect and take stock of my career and how it meets with long held ambitions.
I've worked in the media industry for nearly 20 years now, most recently joining Maxus as the global media agency's first female CEO.
Let me start by saying that I am fortunate to work in an industry populated by some incredibly smart and successful women. There can be no doubt that young women embarking on media careers have a wealth of trailblazing female role models in senior management positions to source inspiration from. Charlotte Beers, Stevie Spring, Carolyn McCall, Tess Alps and Nicola Mendelsohn to name but a few.
It's an exciting time to work in media, as channels converge to totally redefine the consumer experience. It's also a particularly exciting time to be a woman in this sector, something I sense strongly from the remarkably ambitious rising talent I mentor as part of the Nabs Fast Forward programme.
At these sessions, attendees often ask how I overcame the assumed challenges to women realising ambitious career goals. My advice is not to perceive a challenge as anything other than an opportunity. Keep your goal clearly in mind - show resolute single-mindedness in pursuing this goal - and you will achieve it. Forget you're a woman and lean into your career. Put your hand up. And yes, man up!
Coming back to the Proms story, whilst I wouldn't know the first thing to do with a baton, perhaps Marin and myself have something in common after all. It's not a man's world, nor a female's; it's simply a world of opportunity. Step up and into it. Armed with unwavering focus in pursuit of a single goal, anything is achievable.
Lindsay Pattison is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.Suggest a correction