untitled mad menLast week as I was about to step out onto a narrow one-way Manhattan street, a 20something guy whizzed by on a skateboard. He was so fast and so close that his backdraft tousled my hair. He was going the wrong way and if I’d taken the natural (legal) step, I would have hit the sidewalk and broken God knows what because HE made the decision that he was in control of my safety. I resented that even more than his wrong way, juvenile behavior.

Women don’t expect that every step will come easy. But we are justifiably angry when someone takes the choice or chance away from us—in our lives, our families and our careers.

This week’s ouster of yet another Madison Avenue chieftain points to the embedded pattern of top ad guys who are as confidently misguided as that guy on the skateboard. Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts joins the lineup of expelled leaders who’ve perpetuated the anachronistic old boys club in the ad business. The article quotes Jane Maas, an Ogilvy copywriter from the 60s and 70s and author of a great book called “Mad Women”

laying out the generations of misogyny in the industry. I would have thought that my mother’s experiences as a secretary in the real Mad Men 50s and mine as one of a handful of female agency CEO in the 90s were history by now. But not.

When I was a VP at one agency, a client noticed my red suit. In front of his team, he asked, “Is your lingerie red too?” When I was interviewed for a Senior VP role at a large global agency, the COO asked, “How do I know you won’t get pregnant?” I managed to make it to the top while holding on to my woman-ness, getting along with the guys through results, persistence and a good sense of humor. Some women chose to keep a low profile or become one of guys.  And some just left the business, as I eventually did.

This article tells the tale well but also reveals the problem. Only three women were quoted.  Absent were current female CEO’s or creative directors. Why? Maybe the Guardian was on deadline. Or maybe the senior women would rather not risk seeming too much in the bag for “the cause” or break ranks with the status quo over somebody else’s problem. Most likely, they were too busy to talk which may be reason number one.

What I found most unsettling was Roberts’ chummy contention that women opted out of the top jobs because they wanted a life. That’s actually true for some women and for many men. Fair enough. The travel, the hours, the punishing pressure would threaten anyone’s sanity. But Roberts glibly presented this as a closed case, true for all women and therefore the gender success inequity was inevitable. I would instead call it a ‘cold case’ that has been brewing in the bellies of agencies for decades, ignored as long as the leadership can get away with it.

I believe there are thousands of women who would take the heat and discomfort of the top jobs on a dime in order to grow in their profession. It’s not a spot for the faint of heart but if you love what you do and can manage to find a life, as in any top job, you ought to be able to make the choice to do it. But skateboarding through the gender divide… cutting off their chance to decide?  That’s not up to you, bro. It’s just not.

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“Can’t means Won’t”

As a drama queen teen, whenever I’d whine “I can’t clean my room before I go out!” my Mom would say “Can’t means won’t.” Mom knew that language directed behavior. And lately while writing my new play “WORK”, I’ve been thinking about our speaking tics that sabotage results.

Take my fitness routine for example. I had none. I dance twice a week but waltz isn’t always aerobic and I was dipping into too many breakfast sandwiches. Then I noticed the FB posts of a fellow dancer, dietician and fitness trainer Christine Coen. She’d share her breakfast of yogurt with fruit and acai (however you pronounce it) and demonstrate lifting weights. Very large weights. After four months as voyeur, I wrote and she suggested I follow a meal plan and meet her for multiple 10 minute weight sessions lifting till my muscles failed.”FAILED?” But 10 minutes sounded appealing. “Where’s your gym?” A 12 minute walk from my apartment. “Oh, I can’t do that.” The “can’t” reflex. “I already go to Soho to dance and to Noho to rehearse and doctors are uptown and our house is in PA. I don’t want more geography.” Pathetic. Three weeks ago, I got over myself and now admit that the walk is the best warm up for Christine time and it takes, what? A half hour total to take care of myself? (Here’s Christine and happy, if makeup-free-Christineme at her gym.)

Language is an energy driver or crusher. And it carries into life and work, especially among women: “Maybe this isn’t a good idea but…” “Sorry, I didn’t mean to push for too much money…” “I’m not an expert at this but…” In the spirit of making everybody feel good or unthreatened, we undermine ourselves. Our natural talent for creating common ground and avoiding conflict is an asset but sometimes, we’ve got to get our true voice heard. Strong. Certain. Active. “I can.” I can hear the hackles go up as we resist the idea that women need more coaching on this while men seem to stride from cradle to cubicle with confidence. But it’s too prevalent not to mention and I want all of us, men and women, to know our worth. Speak your voice. Oh, and if you are looking to step it up, you can find Christine at I’ll share results when I hit my goal. I can, I can, I can.

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Working girl. Still.

Is it just me or does this 1994 picture…Working girl piclook like a Melanie Griffiths wannabe in the “Working Girl” movie? Puffy, overhighlighted hair. Requisite black suit. All that’s missing is the white socks and sneakers. I smile when I look at this, not because I see the unlined face and the hopeful eyes but because it makes me appreciate what so many women go through, working in their own way year after year. So much has changed; so much hasn’t.

That’s why I decided to partner with my wonderful director, acting coach and co-writer @MarthaWollner to create a new one-woman play called “Work.” It’s my chance to untangle four career decades (yikes!), unpack dozens of  “Are you kidding me?” stories and answer today’s “Can I pick your brain?” queries. We are previewing the show for small groups to get it stage ready but what excites me most is how much the story reflects what I see happening now. A woman running for president up against a man who seems to be the one with the PMS! The amazing Sheryl Sandberg of “Lean In”fame who’s looking for ways to cope when life hands you Option B. And young women I meet who aren’t afraid to demand a life AND a career. As it should be.

So I thought it might be time to write about this journey, just as “Work” will talk about it. As I say in the play, “When people say, ‘Oh, it’s just work, it’s not personal’, they’re wrong.” It IS personal to me. And maybe to you. Life. Work. Women. An eyes-wide-open look at our daily world of making a life, making a living, making a difference and hey, having a laugh. You in?

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Dancing with all of my Heart

When I received the email inviting me to participate in a one-night “Dancing with the Stars” style competition to raise money for the Catholic Schools of my hometown Philadelphia, I said yes faster than my fingers could hit the keys. They say “you can take the girl out of Philly, but you can’t take the Philly out of the girl” and that is so true in my case. I have always been loyal to those who ‘brought’ me and even though I have never waltzed, cha-cha-ed or tango’d onstage, nothing can stop me now.

I’ve begun four months of training with a fabulous dancer/choreographer/teacher here in NYC and on March 21st, we will hit the dance floor at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia. Scared? Not yet. Excited? Over the moon. Please check out for details and vote for me anytime if you have the heart! 4700 kids will thank you. (Me, too!)shoese too!)

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A Dream Realized

Edinburgh Fringe Festival #godboxproject

Losing my parents was the heartbreak of my life. But I feel that they left me a gift, first in my mother’s God Boxes of notes but also in the grit and hope they instilled in me as a girl. I had always dreamed of a career in theater but instead poured my years into a business career. But after losing Mom and Dad, I decided I wanted to share their story, not only in my book but onstage.  I started from scratch, at the bottom, at a sad point in my life. But their belief in me gave me courage. And my partnership with the amazing actor/playwright/director Martha Wollner gave me the skills. After many U.S. performances raising nearly $250,000 for charities, now the show is stepping up to a world stage. From July 31 to August 25, I will be performing ‘The God Box, A Daughter’s Story’ at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was an honor to be accepted by the famous Assembly Theater there. A new journey is beginning. But I’ll pack my bags with Mom and Dad’s love inside.  Come along with me as I share the next few months of the dream of a lifetime.

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At last. And just in time.

OKAY. My work here is done.

Today I opened the Wall St. Journal to read a story that was out last week (why are they just running it today??) that reviews a study admitting the differences between men and women’s brains. It’s not that this is new news to me, but if a conservative paper like the WSJ admits it, guess we have finally arrived.


And then minutes ago, I saw the even more stunning announcement that Mary Barra has been named CEO of GM. After years of trying to get GM to get women –both as an ad agency head and as a women’s marketing consultant—I am thrilled that now a woman will lead the largely testosterone-fueled company. And I love it that she’s some external golden girl, but one who worked her way up since starting in the Pontiac division as a 19 year old student.  History has shown that often women get the top job when things are darkest but whatever. Women are used to fixing the toughest problems.

So, a woman in the driver’s seat. And a study acknowledging they aren’t afraid to ask for directions. And it’s only Tuesday.

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How Not to Sell a Car

I thought I was beyond bored bemoaning women’s annoyances about buying cars. SO 1999. Or 2005. But I just bought a new car and what I observed wasn’t about how car dealers fail when selling to women, but how the in-person experience has degenerated for humans. It’s a meltdown of magic.

Let me back up. My father loved buying and selling cars. He wasn’t a car salesman but he loved the romance, the engineering, the finish. He studied passing cars on the road and bought his fair share of new and used ones with the relish of a smitten teenager. He LOVED bringing them home for the first time. I remember our family gathering on the sidewalk to ‘ooh.’  And he loved selling them too. Dad helped me buy a used red, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle for $750 to drive to college. He sold it five years later for $750 because he curated that car to its prettiest. He sold it as he bought it—with pride and integrity and flourish.

Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I walked in to a favored brand dealership, with confidence in the nameplate of the car we were about to buy. We had done the research and felt this model would be just right for us. We didn’t showroom shop and leave for cheaper pastures. We didn’t haggle. We were super friendly and easy. And what did we get? Paperwork and a handshake without a moment of eye contact. Though I called him his name a couple of times, I don’t ever remember hearing mine or Joe’s.

When we picked up the car, we brought our little dog. It’s true that Rocky is darn cute, but the staff seemed to think that complimenting him would replace…yes, again…eye contact. (They asked his name at least four times.) As we approached our new vehicle, there was no “Wow! Here’s what you just wrote a big check for! Great choice!” No smile, no cheer, no…romance. I guess car sales are picking up. Maybe that’s why the sales guy was in such a hurry, barely explaining the complicated computer system, ignoring our questions with that ‘I’ll get to that in a minute” mumble. I suppose his Labor Day plans were burning a hole in his iPhone since it kept going off and he bolted the second we left as our check was popped on the pile on the almost last day of sales. But let me say, that he sucked the excitement out of what used to be a moment of magic in my house.

So, my road rules for any car company who is wondering why sales aren’t where they should be:

Look in our eyes. Money is harder to come by. Appreciate us, the people who pay your salary.

Celebrate the sale. The sale isn’t over when we say yes. The pick-up should be staged like a prom. Elevate the emotional energy. Make it memorable.

Explain what we bought. If your sales guys aren’t great at details, get yourself someone who loves the art of describing how a car works. Hearing “it’s in the manual” after handing over many tens of thousands of dollars doesn’t cut it.

And finally, some female perspective. We take it personally when you don’t try to connect. It’s rude. Don’t call the women who work in your back office “girls” and how about hiring even one woman on the dealership floor? And say thanks, with a smile. We say it all the time. We were brought up that way.

PS: Got a “form thank you” note emailed the next day. Dry as dust. Makes buying online look warm by comparison.


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Texting 9 to 5: A Generational Throwdown

Lately, I have noticed that my Gen Y colleagues have been spending more and more time pecking away at their mobile phones during the work day, (a boomer pet peeve that I have learned to live with). I assumed my millennial partners were exchanging one-liners or plotting cool parties with friends but in today’s Wall St. Journal, I learned that the person most often on the other end of the text is a mom.

Seems that twentysomething’s are g-chatting parents, mostly moms, as often as 20 times a day, just to dish on the sly or to share an indignity of office life. The article didn’t question whether daylong cubicle texting is a career-enhancing move but instead, asked whether the younger generation ought to be dumping work issues in mom’s lap rather than building independent problem-solving skills. After my initial eye-roll’s, I realized that I have actually embraced this digital reality and can even see the good in this changed office etiquette.

First things first. When I was climbing the corporate ladder (yes, and I walked barefoot to school in the snow), personal phone calls were NOT allowed. If Mom called, which she didn’t because she thought I would get in trouble, I would rush to hushed tones and hang up with promises of “I’ll call you tonight!” I’d been taught that the boss was paying for my attention to the job, not to my personal life.

But that was back when my workdays used to end at 6PM and when that same boss rarely, (make that never), called me at home at night. And there was no email. Can I say that again? There was no email. Today’s jobs aren’t 9 to 5 and haven’t been for years. Work summons us with the beep on the bedside table and haunts us with the last blink of night, while emails pile up on the pillow. So, with the workplace boundaries widened, the window for daytime personal duties opens. So I’ve decided I can get over my reflexive cringe at the sight of a clutched iPhone and admit that I like to text from my desk too–my husband, my friends, my to-do’s zip seamlessly in and out of my day. (Oh, how I would love to still have my Mom to text to!) Distracting? Yes. But helpful. And hard to kick. And I’m the boss, so why not? And if so, why not, others on the team?

And while at first, I felt annoyed reading about young-un’s running to mom with every office bruise, on second thought, maybe it’s not a bad idea. While it’s critical that we learn coping and negotiation skills early on, there’s nothing wrong with turning to “the source” for advice. I know I talked to Mom every night about every little nick and achievement. One friend said to me that her daughter texts her the moment her lunch break begins, her cue to lay out all her morning frustrations. And my friend’s responses are usually wise: “Give it some time.” “Think about why that might have happened.”  “Next time, try this approach.” Sound, thoughtful perspective or, one might say, skills training, which let’s face it, is rarely coming from the boss who can barely keep up with her/his own email avalanche. So, as long as the digital umbilical cord doesn’t extend into the performance appraisal session (“But she’s was so smart in fifth grade!!!”), I welcome the life line of Mom, AKA career coach. If the job gets done, I’m good with it. Ping away!


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You Can’t Text for a Raise


Hey!! Was thinking it’s time the company starts paying me ++$. K?

When it comes to asking for a raise, unfortunately we can’t fall back on our go-to tool of communication. As a Millennial who grew up in the digital era, I understand the reflex response of sending a text to get something done. It’s become too easy to dodge the phone, and because of it we’ve conditioned ourselves to avoid face-to-face conversation.

There’s no shortcut or emoticon you can use to ask for a raise. Talking to your boss can be scary, and asking to put your skills and performance on the examining table…well, that’s enough fear to start hyperventilating into a brown paper bag. Your mind may be racing with a million reasons why you couldn’t possibly ask for what you believe you monetarily deserve. Too often we use fears as excuses to avoid confrontation, or worse, not ask at all. And asking for money is even harder than asking for praise. But ask yourself if surrendering to your fears is worth more than the satisfaction you’ll get from the extra cushion in your paycheck.

Here are three steps that will build up your courage muscle to ask your boss for compensation that matches your value.


  • First, assess your own performance. Are you accomplishing all your responsibilities, following up and even taking on extra projects? Have your efforts contributed real value to the business? Be specific. Next, play detective and check out what else is going on within the company. Is the business in a financial upswing? Are raises being offered to peers? And be sure to check out competitive salaries too.  This will give you a factual baseline to help you feel confident that your request is sound.


  • Ask your boss, either by email or in person, if there is a time later in the week when he or she would be willing to discuss your performance. Asking not only shows initiative, but your boss will appreciate the heads up and control of the timing. Then write out bullet points, or even a speech, and rehearse your pitch with anyone who will listen, a roommate, parent, cat or yourself in the mirror.


  • When the face-to-face meeting arrives, get into a place of strength. Literally, sit up straight, don’t cross your arms and try not to fidget; but even more importantly verbally convey your contribution to the company. Share the topline of your successes and results and explain how you plan to help your boss, your department, your company continue to flourish. And if you get a ‘no’ or a ‘not now’, don’t leave without learning what it will take to get a ‘yes’ next time. (Then text your mom with the good news!)


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You Gotta Feel It to Heal It

Recently, I watched as my mind was ambushed by self-conscious thoughts. In a matter of minutes I convinced myself I wasn’t smart, witty, brave or successful enough to live out my dreams. Sadness washed through my body and I felt it ball up and settle in my throat. I tried to cough but it wasn’t a simple tickle I could just clear away.


I told myself to stop being so darn dramatic!  But when a self-sabotaging monster creeps out from under the bed and starts an attack, it’s easy to forget that all I have to do is turn on the lights to see he doesn’t really exist.

It’s natural to curl up into a fetal position, pull a blanket over our head and decide to wait out the overwhelming, uncomfortable emotions. But hiding and waiting for the morning sunlight is letting the monster win, and I can promise you he’ll be back, most likely with a friend named Anxiety.

I want to share with you an attack plan I’ve found quickly conquers the emotional battle. It’s not the easy route out, but it’s a fight that leaves you feeling stronger than before.

Feeling, Revealing and Healing Process:

  1. Feel the physical discomfort. When we’re feeling mentally pained, our body responds with a not so pleasant physical condition. Mine was the feeling of something caught in my throat, but maybe you’ve experienced shoulder pain, stomachaches, chest pressure or the-oh-so common headache. Simply recognize where it is for you and then really feel it. Acknowledge that there is an underlying emotion that’s the root of the pain. This will relax your body, so you can then focus on revealing the deeper issue.
  2. Be brave and reveal it. Don’t let your emotional monster hide in the dark where he feels invincible. Shine your flashlight inward and start by asking yourself why you’re feeling the way you are? Maybe someone said something that hurt you or you did something that didn’t make you feel good.  There’s always a situational trigger, and when you figure out the root of where it started you can then move on to healing it. And next time you’ll be better equipped to catch yourself before the monster comes out of hiding.
  3. Heal it with action. There are many actions you could take, I’m a huge journaling advocate (as you can read here), but I also like talking to a trusted friend. The goal is to air it all out, let the emotion bubble to the surface, so find the way that works best for you. And it’s okay if you cry! Cowards hide, but it takes a brave, courageous fighter to attack an emotional monster. At this point you’ll start seeing the issue for what it really is, and be able to diagnose the right prescription to heal it.

So I felt my pain. Revealed that it was coming from being too much in my head and taking everything very seriously. And I healed it with laughter when my friend looked at me and said, “you just need to start having more fun.” Point taken, time to party on.

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October 28, 2016
by Mary Lou Quinlan


Last week as I was about to step out onto a narrow one-way Manhattan street, a 20something guy whizzed by on a skateboard. He was so ...

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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