‘I never wanted to be employed simply because I was a token woman to fulfil a quota.’ This was what jellybean CEO Fiona said when asked about barriers in her career. Many women still feel this way and insight suggests there is still inequality in many industries. Even now, in 2022, it is likely to take 30 more years to reach gender parity at senior levels of the financial services industry*. In the advertising industry, 45% of women sit in leadership roles, however, a 10% pay gap still exists, with this gap rising to 24% as a whole**.

To mark International Women’s Day (8th March 2022), we had a chat with our Founder and CEO Fiona Rickard and Managing Director Susan Bolam to talk about their successes and perceived barriers in the industry, and to find out which inspirational women they look up to.

Fiona embarked into her career in marketing in the late 1970’s where she was often the only female executive in the room. She says she found that ‘being taken seriously as the only female’ was difficult, as was earning respect. Her experience shows that the world is a very different place now, thankfully so are attitudes and company cultures.

“I was expected by my male peers to pour the coffee, pass round the biscuits, organise the sandwiches, take the minutes and contribute and sometimes even chair the meeting. I used to joke that the pilot should not be the air hostess as well, but this was a time when male chauvinism was in the company’s DNA to the point that often decisions would be made in the little boy’s room during a comfort break! The biggest barrier I faced in my early career was being taken seriously and being respected which of course must be earned and is not a rite of passage just because of your job title.”

In order to overcome these barriers, Fiona said she often found she had to work harder, multi-task, know her stuff, pick her battles and be the best that she could be.

Susan had a very similar experience when starting her journey in marketing. Earlier in her career she found it was a struggle to be taken seriously in what she characterised as a far more misogynistic world.

“I made sure I knew my stuff, tried not to be intimidated and had the courage of my convictions. To this day, I still say to those who fear presenting ‘What’s the worst that can happen? They’re not going to punch you! The sun will rise, and the sun will set, and it will all be fine.”

Despite the barriers early on in their careers – both Fiona and Susan pushed through to end up in the senior leadership positions they hold today.

Both cited the 34-year success of jellybean as their biggest achievement in a leadership role. This legacy was tested in 2020, but the pair were able to guide the agency through the worst of the pandemic and even thrive commercially, at a time when many agencies were sadly struggling.

Fiona says she believes that success is all about making a positive difference and is “hugely gratified by knowing that as the CEO of jellybean, and with the consistent support of my team over the past 34 years, we have been “successful in changing and influencing people’s lives for the better.”

“Within the business there is an opportunity to identify an individual’s flair and give them a chance to shine, nurturing talent through bespoke training and development to help employees achieve their personal ambitions and goals, engendering self-belief in team members who lacked confidence in their ability or taking on bright school leavers (who chose not to go down the university route) at grass roots level and developing their full potential through home grown apprenticeships. I am still immensely proud when past and current ‘beans’ (as we affectionately call ourselves) go on to achieve great things and feel warm and fuzzy knowing that their time at the agency has given them strong foundations to pursue their goals. We have created a culture whereby every individual is treated with respect, valued for what they bring to the party, made to feel secure in their job and actively championed to reach their personal best and the result of that is a genuine team spirit and thankfully a successful agency.”

Although we are talking about International Women’s Day and gender equality, it is equally important to focus on workplace diversity as Susan states “I am a strong believer in running a meritocracy. Whoever does the job best should get it, whatever their race, gender, background, or disability.” Fiona agrees, adding “thankfully the working world is a very different place now and is evolving still whereby a workforce comprises of individuals of race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, physical ability, and other demographics.

“People are the powerhouse in your business and having a wide variety of demographics in your team positively affects the work environment, your brand reputation and crucially your culture.”

Fiona believes that although the business world is far more inclusive and diverse, it “still has a long way to go to make sure that it removes unconscious bias and accepts, welcomes, and nurtures anyone with the right skill set, aptitude and attitude and give them equal opportunities.

“Diversity and inclusion are critical in any organisation because hiring people from different backgrounds brings a variety of new perspectives to the table and better reflects the world in which we live i.e., a homogenous, highly mobile, and diverse society. It also means that different personal experiences benefit decision making and problem solving, leading to more creativity and productivity as well as improving employee engagement.”

At jellybean, our company is made up of 73% woman, and although Fiona confesses that “this is not because of any conscious bias on my part or any diversity target, but simply because I have always employed the best person for the job which is also why 27% of the team are amazing guys!”

Susan believes that as a company “we are well ahead of the curve here and a lot of that is down to the fact that we have a female founder and CEO. Marketing does tend to attract women, but that can change when you look at senior and board level positions, so I am very proud that 3/5 of our leadership team is female as it shows there is no glass ceiling, which cannot be said for a lot of agencies.”

Offering advice for other companies to #BreakTheBias, Fiona says “I have never understood why there would ever be a gender pay gap in any organisation – a person doing the same role should get the same pay. It’s as simple as that.”

If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?


1. Mother Theresa – She had such a simple philosophy in life “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” She devoted her life to the poor and destitute in Calcutta and broke an impossible task of ending starvation and poverty down to small, simple steps that made a difference. She demonstrated her management skills too by setting up soup kitchens, a leper colony, orphanages, and a home for the dying destitute. She faced unbelievable challenges but steadfastly and selflessly stuck to her mission and beliefs becoming an amazing inspiration to others and example of pure kindness showing us the true meaning of charity.

2. Princess Anne – She is such a hard-working royal who just resolutely gets on with the job despite, I am sure it not being her first career choice. Alongside her dedication to royal duties, I love the fact that she pursued her passion for horses and show jumping and successfully represented her country at the Olympics winning a gold medal. I think she is a very grounded royal with a fantastic dry sense of humour and would be a very entertaining dinner guest. I would love to hear the inside track of her life as well as some royal insider gossip!

3. Rosa Parks – Her one small gesture became all powerful in its simplicity and a force for change. She helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Her action inspired the leaders of the local Black community to organize a bus boycott led by Martin Luther King. Her peaceful “protest” to stand up to a regime that was unjust and wrong on every level and today is just unthinkable, was the spark that ignited change. I would love to learn more about her life and experiences and her view of the world we live in today.


1. The Queen – Having watched The Crown (fiction I know) I have such respect for how she has dedicated her life to the service of her country. Ideally it would be good to get her a bit tipsy and get all the off-the-record gossip.

2. Maxine Peak – I think she is an incredible actress (she even played Hamlet a traditionally male role) and I think she’d also be a great laugh at a dinner party.

3. Beyonce – A hugely talented woman and a business powerhouse. Plus, any woman who can dance like that in heels (and pregnant) is pretty inspirational!
We also asked this question to the other beans in our team which we will be sharing on socials this week on Instagram and Twitter @jellybeanagency.

If you’d like to read up more about International Women’s Day and get involved to help #BreakTheBias, raise awareness and take action for equality, visit https://www.internationalwomensday.com/.

* Source: Amanda Blanc, Aviva – https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/mar/07/how-long-for-uk-gender-pay-gap-to-be-bridged-at-top-of-finance-about-30-years
** Source: Advertising Agency All-In-Action Plan 2021