Apr 27 2012

Have You Really Come a Long Way, Baby?

By damian ghigliotty

[In the photo Jane Maas confers with former New York state governor Hugh Carey while working on the "I Love New York" campaign]

Jane Maas, 80, is enjoying the moment as she sits in her airy Upper East Side apartment with a glass of chardonnay. Her third book, "Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond" was published in February by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press. Since then the former ad exec has been making the rounds in her 40-city book tour, from Tuscon, Ariz., to Fargo, N.D., to Chicago, Ill., among other places.

Maas made a lot of personal sacrifices to have a career, including spending time with her family. Success meant proving herself in a world dominated by men. When she began her advertising career at Ogilvy & Mather in 1964, the phrase "sexual harassment" did not exist and agencies were short on the kinds of departments that resembled human resources, she said.

Women in the workplace have come a long way since then. As both sexes deal with budget cuts, technology changes and growing competition, gender inequality seems less severe.

Yet Maas believes women still have hurdles to overcome in their careers. The last chapter of her book, "Have You Really Come Such a Long Way, Baby?," a play on one of the slogans for Virginia Slims cigarettes in the 1960s, highlights challenges that professional women still face.

Damian Ghigliotty: You say that your priorities were "job first, husband second, children third." Why is that?

Jane Maas: It was the only way that I could manage personally. As a young girl I knew that I wanted to reach the top in whatever I pursued. I was valedictorian of my high school and in college I did everything I could. I was an actress and president of the drama club, I studied English and French, I edited the yearbook and I had a wonderful time doing it all.

I knew then that it was essential for me to put my job first if I wanted to be my best, and if I put anything else first I wasn't going to be able to reach the top.

I married Michael Maas and we were married for 45 years before he passed away. We had a wonderful marriage, but we didn't spend very much time together. He was an architect and I was an advertising executive. The people who got the short shrift were our two daughters, Kate and Jenney. They didn't get much time from me or much time from their father.

We were incredibly fortunate to have the support of our live-in housekeeper, Mabel, who helped raise our daughters. They still keep in touch with Mabel every day, which is more than they keep in touch with me.

DG: Did your female colleagues and contemporaries have the same priorities?

JM: When I was at Ogilvy & Mather in the 1960s there were only two of us who were full-time professional working mothers, but I talked to so many women who were working mothers in the 1970s and who said they didn't feel that they had done anything as well as they should have. Some felt that they weren't good wives or good mothers. Others felt that they weren't good at their careers because they were torn.

I thought one of the eeriest things that happened was when I started to interview working mothers currently and what I heard was exactly the same language: "I don't feel I'm a very good wife." "I don't feel I'm a very good mom." "I'm not doing my job as well as I should be." The echoes were just exact. That's why I called the last chapter of my book "Have You Really Come Such a Long Way, Baby?" My answer is that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

DG: Do you think having spent years as a woman in a largely male dominated field added to that sense of determination about your career?

JM: I don't. I think could have gone into any career and I would have felt the same way. Before I joined Ogilvy I was working on the quiz show "Name That Tune," which went off the air when Congress legislated all quiz shows off the air in the 1950s. I worked on that show with the same fervor that I brought to advertising, working nights and weekends whenever I needed to.

DG: You write about working on Ogilvy & Mather's American Express account in the 1960s and meeting the late Howard Clark, who mistook you for somebody's secretary. What ran through your mind at that moment?

JM: I was the only woman in the room and he clearly thought somebody from Ogilvy had brought me along to take notes on the meeting. That was not unusual, so the fact that I was sitting there without a steno pad led Howard Clark to say, very kindly, "Did you forget your steno pad, dear? We can get you one." Personally, I thought it was funny. I never felt that I was downtrodden at Ogilvy in any way at all. I was fortunate, because that has not been the experience of many other women.

DG: Why do you think you never felt that sense of oppression while other women did?

JM: I think it's largely due to my cheerleader personality. I hate to be aggressively cheerful, but I that's who I am. I'm not a glass half-full person, I'm a glass overflowing person. I had the feeling all the way that if I kept doing a good job I would continue to be rewarded and everybody was very good to me, from David Ogilvy right on down.

DG: How is the work on Madison Avenue distributed among the sexes now?

JM: There are more women working in advertising now than men. The men coming out of college these days seem to gravitate towards finance and technology. The women are coming into communications.

But I read a statistic recently that only about 3% of all creative directors at American advertising agencies are women. So there seems to be a real imbalance there. Women are the majority, but few hold top positions. There are still very few women who are CEOs at big agencies and there are very few women who are creative directors.

There is also that same tilt in favor of men when it comes to certain accounts. Jack Daniels is a client of mine and I know that on both the creative side and the account executive side they tend to have men working on their advertisements. On the client side, however, there are more and more women working on brands in-house.

DG: When do you think advertising will reach a point where women have the same amount of influence as men?

JM: That comes back to our priorities and women feeling "I'm not doing anything as well as I should be." When I realized that working moms today were having the same old problems as working moms in the 1970s, I talked to some psychologists and educators who said that they believe women are simply wired differently. Generally speaking, a man will throw money at a problem and say, "Hire a housekeeper. Hire two housekeepers if necessary," while a woman will say, "But it's my home and my children and I need to take care of them."

DG: How can women better tackle the problems they face in their careers?

JM: I'm not saying women should feel the need to put their jobs first 24/7 year round. If you can carve out a weekend and not have to go into your office or think about it, that's wonderful.

But if your office needs you for a new business presentation that you're going to make on Monday then you have to be prepared to do it. If you want to get to the top, you're going to have to put your job first a good amount of the time, if not all of the time. I realize that's not always easy advice to give.

I was recently in Mobile, Ariz., talking to a group of students -- about 50/50 men and women -- and the question the young women all wanted to know is, "How am I going to handle marriage, children and a career?" My thought was, "When is a man going to stand up ever and ask that question?" Men just don't worry about that, at least not overtly.

In order to get past that way of thinking, a woman needs to be able to say, "I'm doing the best damn job I could possibly do with this career." That holds true in not just advertising, but just about anything.

DG: David Ogilvy wrote in his 1960s book "Confessions of an Advertising Man" that if two Ogilvy & Mather employees got married, one of them had to leave, preferably the woman "to stay home and raise her babies." Would he say the same thing in 2012?

JM: I think he would think it, but I'm not sure he would put that in a book now. As the women's movement began to gather steam, it was a very infuriating statement. Finally he took it out. David was always very aware of the pulse of the world, so as I said, he would think it, but he wouldn't put it in print. He was an old-fashion man, despite how very worldly he was.

DG: With the influential men who still think that a woman's place is more in the home, how can female employees prove themselves?

JM: I think women have to be very careful not to appear too aggressive or too pushy. It's the old story that an aggressive man is considered strong and powerful, while an aggressive woman is considered a bitch.

Nobody likes it, not even her fellow women, and men resent it terribly. So I think women have to learn how to carefully handle people, because when you become a female boss of both men and women, it's a real high-wire act. You have to be strong enough so that people will follow you and take your direction, but persuasive enough that they don't think you're ordering them, but instead urging them.

DG: Do you think women still find it hard to share the spotlight with one another when it comes to their professions?

JM: Oh yes. In many cases, the more successful a woman is, the harder it is for her to help other women rise up. There seems to this unspoken feeling of, "Well I made it, baby, let's see you go try it."

I don't think women are doing a very good job supporting and mentoring each other. We talk a good fight, but it's not as natural to us. I think that has partly to do with the way we are wired, but also because we've had to struggle more to become successful in our careers.

The other part of it is that many successful women are simply too busy. I look at women who I admire enormously like Mary Wells Lawrence and it's clear that she didn't have time to mentor.

DG: How have you mentored women?

JM: I've been a very specific mentor to a select group of women.

One was Chris Moseley, who worked as a senior vice president at the History Channel and an executive vice president at the Hallmark Channel. Another one is Laura Masse, who worked as a marketing director at the Discovery Channel and an executive vice president at the Hallmark Channel.

I taught them that you have to work harder than the man on the right office and the man on the left office. I also taught them that you need to have a sense of humor and a thick skin -- you can't go off in the corner and cry every time somebody looks at you cross-eyed.

Lastly, I taught them that honesty is important. I preach to people that if you're going to turn something down, don't spend ten minutes saying, "This has been a really interesting creative presentation. Thank you for all the hard working you've been doing." Just say, "I'm sorry, but we're not interested."

Write to Damian.Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com

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