Pioneering Corporate Executive Charlotte Beers Speaks About Barriers in the Workplace

If history is any measure, today’s career women have come a long way. They excel in the classroom, often graduating top of their class, and they have proven themselves to perform as well as their male counterparts, many of them rising to the upper rings of the C-Suite which had long been an impenetrable barrier.

While evidence of women breaking glass ceilings should be empowering for the next generation of career women, Charlotte Beers, former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, cautions that women should not become oblivious to the unequal gender battles that still exist in the workplace.

“I am struck by the fact that young women coming out of school think that the glass ceiling is their mothers’ problem,” Beers said in a recent interview with WWPR. “And then when they spend five years in the market place they have the shock of their lives to realize it’s present.”

In her book I’d Rather Be in Charge, Beers dedicates 801 pages to helping career women realize their potential and forge ahead as leaders in the workplace.  She shares her extensive knowledge and experience as a corporate executive and talks about the challenges women continue to face in the workplace. She provides real-life examples of these challenges from women across the country and shares step-by-step solutions to breaking those barriers.

Transparency vs. oblique

As an advertising executive, there weren’t many women around to mentor other leading women, so Beers learned mostly from watching men. She said that back then the men were more open and didn’t equivocate; perhaps because they thought she was a one-off. But somewhere along the line things shifted, said Beers.

“Now I say to women it’s tougher for you in some ways than it was for me because I got it all raw, frontal and direct,” Beers said. She went on to say that she was “pushed around a lot but always got the truth, so I could learn what was actually effective and how to move in the territory to which I’d been thrown. But for women now it’s more oblique.”

Change Agents

By several measures, Beers has broken many glass ceilings. She was the first female Senior Vice President at J. Walter Thompson Advertising; named “the most powerful woman in advertising” after becoming CEO of Ogilvy; and after much success as a corporate executive, was tapped to serve as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy & Public Affairs. But despite her individual successes, she came to realize that women overall were still underrepresented in key decision-making positions.

“I came back to the private sector and was astonished to look around and find out that the readiness, the education, the willingness had still not translated into even a proportion of the share of not only the titles but the prizes and the influence, and I just thought we can’t accept it,” said Beers.

During the interview, Beers stressed the importance of women becoming “change agents.” She said companies aren’t going to change and the environment is not going to modify enough, so women have to change themselves.

“Women must understand what they are up against and how to present themselves in the universe in which they find themselves,” said Beers. “Then you will be the change agent because we can’t wait for guys to get ready or companies to change. And once you’ve nailed down what you’re about and what you know to be true about yourself, then you have to find your ability to express that to other people.”

You can hear more from Charlotte Beers as the  keynote speaker at WWPR’s 2012 Washington PR Woman of the Year Award Luncheon. The annual signature event celebrating the accomplishments of women who are raising the bar in public relations  takes place Thursday, November 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Grand Hyatt, 1000 H St. NW, Washington, D.C.  The awards ceremony recognizes three finalists who have reached a pinnacle in the profession, and selects one to become Washington PR Woman of the Year.   Register Today!  Discounted rates for WWPR and PRSA members.