While the advertising industry is still predominantly white, agencies are hoping to increase
A key advertising trade organization is hoping to use new survey data about diversity to improve the industry and foster dialogue.
The results—collected by the 4As from 165 agencies representing more than 40,000 employees—found that Black and African American employees make up just 5.8% of the industry, while 8.68% identify as Hispanic or Latinx, 10.7% as Asian/Asian American, 4.23% as “other” and 70.51% as white or caucasian. Of the less than 6% who are Black or African American, 68% are admin or entry-level, 43.5% are non-management professionals, 27.6% are managers or directors and just 4% are vice presidents or higher, excluding C-suite roles. Diversity across regions also varies slightly. For example, Black or African American employees in the Western U.S. represent just 3.3%, but 9.4% in the Southeast.
Of the agencies that took part, 75% are a part of holding companies, while 25% work at independent agencies across media buying, creative, account services and other roles. In terms of gender, 59.5% of employees are female, while 40.5% are male.
According to 4As CEO Marla Kaplowitz, the top topics discussed by the agencies’ members are issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Kaplowitz says she and Simon Fenwick, EVP of talent, equity and inclusion for the 4As, have been wanting to do an employee diversity report for several years. However, she said there had been “a bit of trepidation” among agencies regarding how the data would be used. To persuade them to participate, the 4As agreed that the reporting would be confidential to “create an understanding of where we are and where we need to go.”
“People want to know that it’s going to be used in a way that is for good and that there is a purpose behind it,” Kaplowitz says. “That it’s not about being negative and focusing on what hasn’t been doing or what’s wrong, but how do we use the data to help inform in a positive way benchmarking and guidance for moving forward.”
That doesn’t mean the data is at all flattering. However, Kaplowitz says it helps the 4As and its members to use the data as a benchmark for future progress.
“I’m just going to go out and say it: the data sucks,” she says. “Right? We all know that and it has for a while. And we’re not the only industry where it sucks. But let’s just all recognize that until we acknowledge the problem, we can’t move forward and drive solutions. And I believe that there are many companies out there that are very proprietary about the way they want to drive and enact change and drive some of these programs, and we all have the same end goal: We want a better industry for everyone and that truly represents the people of this country and that no only helps to shape society and culture but mirrors it.”
In order to foster that cross-company dialogue, the 4As have convened around 300 DE&I leaders for a multi-day event this week called the Equity and Inclusion Congress. The virtual gathering—which runs Monday and Tuesday of this week and continues on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6—covers a variety of topics, from acquiring and maintaining talent to how to measure diversity, through workshops, panels and other discussions. The conference is also meant to help attendees both collaborate across companies while also setting short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. On the second day, the 4As will bring in agency leaders who will hear various proposals and provide feedback on which ideas might be worth putting into action.
“Every agency obviously has their own plans and they’re doing their own thing, but as an industry, we can start putting some stakes in the ground and saying we commit to getting to this representation and this is how we’re going to do it,” Fenwick says. “And as an industry, we’re supporting these couple of big initiatives while at the same time we’re doing everything we need to in our business.”
Among those attending the Congress is Shayna Walker, director of diversity, equity and inclusion and Horizon Media. She says the company has already created resources for different groups of employees with resources for Black, African American, LGBTQ, Hispanic, Latinx and Asian employees, as well as working parents. And when it comes to recruiting efforts, she says the agency has begun looking outside of the advertising industry to find diverse talent that might have transferrable skills.
“Right now we don’t have enough,” she says of diversity within the industry. “So we need to be intentional with focusing on hiring diverse talent and in terms of a set number I don’t believe that it’s something we’re going to do because it’s kind of a moving target.”
While the 4As is the first to collect industrywide data, some major agencies have self-disclosed in the past several months. For example, in July, Paris-based Havas disclosed the makeup of its U.S. workforce, which showed around 6% of employees are Black, while 11% are Hispanic or Latino and around 10% are Asian.
According to Havas New York CEO and 4As board member Laura Maness, the agency’s internal research revealed a sense of “isolation and loneliness” among the industry’s Black employees. She says releasing the data is “a restart,” but data transparency is just “the first step.”
“There’s a lot of collaboration versus competition,” says Havas New York CEO Laura Maness. “And I think the health crisis and the pandemic really prepared us for this social justice movement to take the collective action that’s needed.”
As a part of this week’s event, the 4As included a talk with three top chief marketing officers to bring perspective from the brand side of marketing. Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, General Motors CMO Deborah Wahl and IBM CMO Michelle Peluso all spoke as a part of a panel organized and moderated by Lynn Branigan, the founder of the organization She Runs It.
In an interview last week, Wahl said women now hold 32% of management positions at GM. And within the marketing department, she said the company has a goal of 40% diversity representation. It’s also auditing creative to make sure all ethnicities are represented, creating a “scorecard” to help the car manufacture measure progress, forming an inclusion advisory board comprised of internal and external leaders, making sure marketing content isn’t being shown next to hate speech on various platforms and promoting GM’s chief diversity officer. All of this is being done, she says, because “we can’t ask our agencies to suddenly make a lot of changes if internally we aren’t being a clear example in selling this and doing this.”
“Ten years ago, I think a lot of companies and agencies went to a total market approach as we saw so much crossover in how you reach people in the channels they’re in no matter which ethnicity they are,” Wahl says. “And I think the discussion really since the George Floyd murder encouraged everyone to rethink that and work harder with our Black-owned businesses and diversity-owned agencies or companies and partners in this whole marketing ecosystem to revive efforts and really look at how we improve success.”