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Women in marketing

Professional women, especially those with an MBA, are drawn to the field in large numbers. The best way to the top remains the same.

Women in marketing

Are you a woman with an MBA who's looking to rise to the top in marketing?

It turns out marketing is the preferred occupation of many aspiring businesswomen. But the attraction extends far beyond traditional perceptions. And strong quantitative skills, a good education, and a strong role model can help convert that attraction into professional success.

Women Who Choose Marketing

Clearly, the marketing draw is strong among professional women. More MBA females -- 31 percent to be precise -- held marketing positions than any other business function in 2005, according to a survey of more than 3,000 recent MBA graduates conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the Virginia-based maker of the GMAT entrance exam.

A 2006 survey of 143 women by Women in Consulting, a professional networking organization in San Jose, California, drew similar conclusions. In that survey of women with consulting business, some 66 percent had launched firms that focus on marketing -- from public relations to brand management.

Why the Attraction?

In the past, some believed that women sought marketing jobs, because they were all about making pretty brochures and planning parties, says Karilee Wirthlin, president of Women in Consulting. Those days are over.

"Marketing is often viewed as an expense, but when it's done right, it's an investment," says Wirthlin. "Pulling together integrated marketing is a real art."

Some experts suggest that part of the reason for the attraction is that women want a job that requires creativity and vision. "Women enjoy the creativity," says Anne Roggeveen, assistant professor of Marketing at Babson College in Massachusetts. "They enjoy understanding people and their needs." And no matter what the marketing position -- from managing consumer packaging to Web marketing -- keeping people interested in a company or product by speaking to their needs and wants requires both.

Another reason some suggest is because working in marketing is not a solitary pursuit. Collaboration, a major component of most marketing jobs, is a priority for women, says Wirthlin. "It's natural for women, and it's a strength that they should tap into in any industry," she adds.

Lifestyle might be a factor, too. Compared to other business functions like investment banking or sales, marketing can offer more flexibility for better work/life balance. But it all depends on what marketing job you hold and at what company. Like any industry these days, the higher you climb up the ladder, the harder it will be to telecommute or avoid travel.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

The good news is that women say they can break through the glass ceiling in marketing. First, they have to stand out from the crowd.

Experts say one of the major blunders most women make is forgetting their quantitative skills. Marketing should always positively influence the bottom line. Women marketers, therefore, have to be able to analyze numbers to make sure the work they are doing is driving business.

Education can help. The MBA degree is a stepping-stone for those who want long-term marketing careers, says Elissa Ellis, executive director of the Forte Foundation, an Austin, Texas-based group that encourages women to take on leadership roles in business. The degree might be worth considering for those without much marketing experience who are interested in changing careers as well as those wanting to enter the ranks of senior management.

Having good role models also can make a difference. Formal mentoring programs are not always what they're cracked up to be, so the search can be tricky, but not impossible. "Be aware of people who'll spend an extra minute with you answering a question," says Leigh Nagy Frasher, an associate director of career management at Kellogg, who has a marketing degree from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and has had brand management jobs at Kraft and Little Tikes. You can ask those helpful colleagues if they're willing to advise you, and most of the time they'll say yes.

When it comes to finding a job that will allow you to advance, cultural fit should not be overlooked. Because most people have to manage or at least work in teams, workers have to get along well with others and believe in a common cause, whether that's promoting an event or managing a brand, say career coaches. Knowing the job description, how you can transfer your skills to the role, and the size and type of organization that interests you is a must when hunting, says Roxanne Hori, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Of course, all the help in the world won't matter if you ignore marketing's golden rule. "Never forget the customer," says Roggeveen. She suggests going into the streets and shopping malls and talking one-on-one with consumers. Constantly taking the pulse of customers is the only way to be sure your marketing strategies are working -- and you're doing your job well.

Learn more about marketing careers.

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