Women’s History Month: Karen Seamen.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are launching a three-part blog series highlighting three women who influence every C-Ker every day. We were reminded on International Women’s Day that everyone has a part to play to create a more balanced and better working environment for women and for men. In addition to celebrating our friends’ accomplishments, we can also learn from their years of experience! Because balance is not a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue. It also makes good business sense.

Karen Seamen has spent the past 30 years at C-K. Starting off as the head of account services, she rose through the ranks and is now President/COO. Karen has been a driving force in managing our innovative single-bottom-line model. This “no silos” approach has allowed the agency to be truly integrated and focus on developing ideas that work across platforms. She is on the Board of the 4A’s and Chicago Advertising Federation. Karen has been named one of 40 “Women to Watch” by Advertising Age, one of the “Top Women from Pittsburgh” and recently, one of Crain’s “Women to Watch.”

How many years have you been in advertising? 


Where did you begin your career? 

At a small creative boutique in Pittsburgh as an assistant account executive.

How have things changed since you were in advertising? 

I would need to write a book to answer that question. The options on how we bring things to life today are endless compared to when I started in the late 70s. Cable hadn’t taken hold yet so there were only three television networks, magazine, newspaper and out of home. That was it then.

How have things stayed the same? 

Insights, strategy and great storytelling still drive everything we do. It did then, does now and always will.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career? 

I don’t think it has happened yet. Still waiting for it!

What are you most proud of in your career? 

I’m most proud of working with such a great team at C-K. What we’ve done and what we do is nothing short of amazing.

What do you think about the movements within advertising to help advance women in the industry? For example, the 3% Conference that has helped bring awareness to the lack of female Creative Directors in the industry. Since it started a few years ago, the number of female CDs has gone from 3% to 11%. 

Surprisingly, our industry is better than many others for women. And C-K in particular has a great track record.  At C-K, 60% of our employees are women. Two of four C-suite positions are filled by women. All three offices are run by women and approximately 70% of our managerial positions are filled by women. But as indicated, there is still a gap in our industry of women in creative. So, we applaud the efforts of our industry and organizations such as the 3% Conference who are bringing this creative gap into the spotlight so our entire industry can work toward changing it.

What advice would you give young women in advertising?

No one can get in your way – unless you let them. Always remember that and behave like that.

While women are around 50% of the advertising workforce, that number isn’t as high in the executive level and C-suite. Outside the industry, just over 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by a female CEO, while only 19 percent of their senior management positions are held by women. What do you think needs to happen to ensure more women reach top positions? 

As I said earlier, our company has great stats. Why? Because our senior staff has no biases. Gender is a non-issue here. That needs to happen in many other industries.

I had the opportunity to attend a discussion with Mary Barra at GM where she discussed the change that happened a few years ago at GM. During that time the leadership team had daughters who were graduating from Yale, Harvard and Stanford. These men respected their daughters and knew that they had what it took to be in a management position. It is because of that recognition that they began to realize that their own organization could benefit by having smart women in management positions.

In order to ensure that more women reach the top position, senior leadership needs to believe that gender is meaningless. How well you perform is all that matters.

How do you, as a leader at C-K, strive to ensure gender equality throughout the three offices of C-K?

We accept nothing less. And make that very clear.

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