Jan Gooding has long been a champion for gender equality in business and a supporter of more inclusive working environments. Throughout her career she has fought to change out-of-date strategies and empower those who feel oppressed, whether it’s by writing one agency’s first maternity leave policy, through her role as chair of LGBT charity Stonewall, or through her most recent appointment as Aviva’s global inclusion director.
Despite becoming the first woman to get to board level at Burkitt Weinreich Bryant during her stint at the agency in the 1980s, Gooding says her career progress has been “noticeably slower” than her male counterparts.
“I was very shocked about that,” she says. “When I was in advertising I was told not to let anyone know I could type or they’d think I was a PA. I’ve never felt anti-men – I would not have done as well without the feminist men that saw the potential in me – but I don’t think the pace of change has been fast enough,” she argues.
Gooding grew up in the Bahamas and moved to London after studying economics at Cambridge. She initially decided on a career in retail so went on a management training course run by Selfridges. While it’s not a time she remembers fondly – “I have to say, I absolutely hated it” – it taught her that in your career you can learn as much from a negative experience as you can from a positive one.
I discovered how business strategy was expressed through marketing strategy, and that was when I knew that this is what really interested me.
Jan Gooding, Aviva
She learned that while she is not a natural retailer there were aspects of the industry she enjoyed, such as understanding the commercial rhythm of a business, learning to deal with conflict while handling customer complaints, and advertising.
“I discovered how business strategy was expressed through marketing strategy, and that was when I knew that this is what really interested me. At that point I decided I wanted to work in an ad agency, and that’s what I did for the first 12 years of my career.”
Gooding moved client side in 2004, and she continues to adapt and reinvent herself to take on new challenges.
“In my career I’ve often been given very difficult jobs to do, many of which have been roles that have never been done before – I was the only woman on the board, I started my own business when people didn’t really work virtually, I went client-side and now I’ve moved into an HR department. All of these big changes in my life did not happen because I planned them, they happened because an opportunity arose, I had very good sponsorship and I was always determined to go as far as I could.”
Learning from a negative experience
Selfridges, graduate trainee (1981-1982)
“My experience in Selfridges, as much as I hated it, was foundational in the success of my career in that I could see the bigger picture, which actually if I’d gone straight into an ad agency I wouldn’t have had.
“I had the experience of customers coming in holding a copy of the Evening Standard with an ad for a dress and because we didn’t know it was happening we didn’t have the stock. The two departments were not joined up.
“I also learned that there is always an opportunity to try and learn, even when you’re in a negative space. I knew I hated Selfridges but I still completed the year-long programme. It’s important to discover what’s not your bag as well as what is. Unless you try things you’ll never know.”
Highs and lows
Burkitt Weinreich Bryant, account director (1986–1993)
“When I looked upwards in the agencies I worked at, there were not many women in director level or on boards, so getting to board level around my 30th birthday is something I’m very proud of, particularly as I was the only woman on the board.
“There was no maternity policy when I went on the board so I was the person who had to write it. I remember the managing director coming to see me and saying ‘why are you writing the maternity policy – are you pregnant?’ They were outrageous times.
“After having my first child I had planned to come back to the agency as the new business director as I thought that would be the best way to have a more flexible working arrangement. But the agency thought – in a well-intentioned way – she’s got post-natal depression, if we sack her [it would look bad, so] we’ll give her a lump sum and she’ll recover. She’s married to the chair so maybe she’ll be better off working in a different agency anyway. My objection was that no one asked me.
“I look back on it now as all of us women do and think: why did we put up with it?”
Starting a new business
BLUEdOOR, co-founder and managing director (1997-2003)
“When my children reached a certain age I decided I wanted to get back into the main swing of things. I was frustrated that my career in advertising was cut short [after leaving Burkitt Weinreich Bryant] so I made my point by starting my own business, which was fantastically successful.
“I earned more and had a better client list than the agency I’d left within three years so it was tremendously satisfying. It grew very well and I earned a lot of money. But it was a virtual consultancy and I had a feeling that there was more in me and I wanted a bigger stage.”
First move client side
BT, head of brand experience, head of strategic communications (2004-2006)
“Amanda Mackenzie, who was a client of mine [and is now CEO of Business in the Community], took a chance on me when she recruited me into BT as I’d never worked in a marketing department before.
“I came in at a ‘head of’ level and reported into her. Amanda gave me that break and saw in me someone who could very successfully work client side. It doesn’t often happen. She knew I’d run my own business, she knew I could do marketing strategy, and she knew I’d worked with Unilever all over the world and she gave me a break. So that was a woman not writing me off in my 40s. Amanda was an amazing influence and important person.
“I actually didn’t enjoy BT very much but a friend advised me I should do three years or it wouldn’t look right on my CV. So that’s another thing I found very hard but I did learn a lot and I was determined to do it.”
Finding a supportive mentor
British Gas, interim marketing director (2008)
“When I was at British Gas I met a very important man called Chris Jansen. He was the managing director of British Gas Energy and he was the man I first told I was gay.
“My marriage was in crisis and I’d fallen in love with a woman, and I simply went to tell my line manager I was having a difficult time at home so if I seemed a bit off in meetings or a little distracted he’d know why. Full marks to him; there was a slight raise of the eyebrow but he was absolutely solid and didn’t bat an eyelid. He asked me what he could do, whether I needed time off and said I could talk to him at any time, which was a huge support.
“He subsequently helped me when I moved to Aviva. He encouraged me to go for it and even helped to negotiate my package.”
Becoming an inclusion champion
Aviva, global inclusion director, group brand director, marketing operations director (2008-present)
“Amanda Mackenzie gave me a second chance to go and work client side when she moved to Aviva. She left very soon after I joined BT, so we had this sense of unfinished business.
“It was Chris Wei, who took over marketing when Amanda left and I became the brand director, who suggested I become global inclusion director. [Wei is now executive chairman of Aviva Asia.]
“It’s a role that arguably I was completely unqualified for – being the chair of Stonewall doesn’t qualify you to work in HR and be a diversity specialist – so when he called me to talk about the opportunity I asked for 24 hours to think about it. But I realised my marketing skills are entirely transferable. It’s about understanding people’s attitudes and behaviour and how to change them.
“It’s been an absolute rollercoaster. I feel like I’ve done an MBA in diversity and inclusion, and it’s been extraordinary. I’ve learnt more in the last year than I feel have in the past decade, so it’s been very intellectually stimulating.”
Jan Gooding’s CV
Global inclusion director, group brand director, marketing operations director
Chair of board of trustees
Interim marketing director
Head of brand experience, head of strategic communications
Co-founder and managing director
Partner and brand communication consultant
1994 – 1997
Burkitt Weinreich Bryant
Various agency roles