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Why the Picture of Diversity on Madison Avenue Is So Murky

Recent incidents of alleged sexist and racist behavior among advertising executives has thrust Madison Avenue into the limelight, raising questions once again about the number of women and minorities in marketing positions of power.

Broad government data indicate that African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented among the advertising and public relations industries, but more granular data can be tougher to come by. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collects demographic information annually from each company about its workforce in the U.S., including data on race and gender. But companies are not required to publicly disclose those filings.

Marc Bendick Jr., a labor economist and workplace discrimination expert who has studied the advertising industry, says the lack of women and minorities is quite clear.

“If you look at the face of the advertising industry in 1960s as portrayed on the program ‘Mad Men’ and the face of the industry today, they look shockingly similar,” said Mr. Bendick. “Many industries in the country have moved on a lot since the 1960s…it’s quite amazing [advertising] has been such a holdout.”

But how has the composition of the advertising workforce changed—or not changed—over that time? The lack of comprehensive data makes it harder to hold major advertising companies accountable for their initiatives to improve diversity.

“We’re in a moment where the public is seeking increased information about the employment practices and composition of large companies,” said Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president for program at the National Women’s Law Center. “Companies can’t be afraid to report bad news. Bad news might mean you have to identify clear plans going forward for the future.”

Many high-profile technology companies have started releasing annual “diversity reports” in the last few years that detail the composition of their workforces, showing that the majority of their employees are male and white or Asian. The release of detailed information often comes with tech firms’ stated goals for improvement and the promise of future updates on the data.

Major advertising companies have also highlighted diversity as a priority and invested in internal resources and partnerships to help promote diversity. But the information they disclose is typically less robust than the diversity reports from Silicon Valley. Major ad companies do release some top-line data, but they all disclose different slices of information that make it impossible to compare across companies. It’s also rare to get data broken down for the creative departments, a significant omission given the criticisms of the lack of women involved in coming up with ad campaigns.

“You can’t improve on what you don’t measure,” said Kat Gordon, the founder of the 3% Conference, a movement dedicated to building a business case for more female creative directors in advertising.

The spotlight is on the industry after the chief executive of WPP ’s J. Walter Thompson agency Gustavo Martinez resigned this week following a lawsuit by a female employee accusing him of a pattern of racist and sexist behavior, including jokes about rape and demeaning comments about African-Americans and Jews. Mr. Martinez has denied the allegations.

In the wake of these accusations and a slew of advertisements in recent years that have come under scrutiny for their lack of sensitivity, CMO Today set out to compile the data on gender and race that is disclosed by the major ad holding companies, to try to better understand the state of the industry decades after the days of “Mad Men.”

Broad Industry

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, African-Americans accounted for 5.3% of the employees in advertising, public relations and related services in the U.S. in 2015, down from 7.1% in 2005. That’s less than in the total U.S. workforce, where African-Americans accounted for 11.7% of employed Americans in 2015.

Hispanics—which made up 16.4% of the nation’s overall workforce last year—accounted for 11.7% of the advertising industry’s jobs last year, up from 7.4% a decade earlier. Asians made up 6% of employees in advertising in 2015—roughly in line with their percentage of the overall employed U.S. population—up from 3.6% a decade earlier.

The percentage of women in the advertising industry has declined slightly from 52% a decade ago to 49% last year, while the overall employed population in the country has hovered around 46%. However, the BLS doesn’t break out gender by job title or role for the advertising industry.

WPP

WPP, the holding company that owns JWT where the CEO was replaced this week by a woman, disclosed in its 2014-2015 sustainability report that 26% of its full-time employees in the U.S. and U.K. and 19% of senior managers in those regions were from ethnic minorities. Those are slight improvements from 22% of total employees and 13% of senior managers in 2007, when WPP began reporting ethnic diversity in its U.K. and U.S. businesses. The percent of executive leaders identifying as minorities held steady at 11%.

For gender, WPP discloses global, companywide numbers. Women accounted for 54% of WPP’s total full-time employees and 31% of executive leaders in 2014. That’s relatively unchanged from 2005 when women accounted for 54% of total employees and 33% of executive directors.

In its most recent sustainability report, WPP said it aims to achieve “balanced representation of men and women at all levels of the organization.”

WPP said it has initiated a number of programs to develop female leaders and help close the gender gap, including the “X Factor” mentoring and development program and the launch of WPP Stella, a network for the company’s most senior women.

“Clearly there is much more to be done,” a WPP representative said.

Omnicom

Omnicom said 54% of the company’s managers in the U.S. were women in 2015.

“Multicultural professionals” accounted for 18% of its managers in the U.S. Overall, 28% of Omnicom’s talent base in the U.S. are multicultural. Of its approximately 23,000 U.S. employees who are professionals and managers, only 35.5% are white men.

Omnicom said it has experienced a “significant improvement” in its diversity numbers since hiring Tiffany R. Warren as its first chief diversity officer in 2009.

“It’s not just enough to have internal initiatives but to have unique and strategic partnerships with organizations outside of the company that are really focused on the main task at hand—developing the internal pipeline,” Ms. Warren said. She said she believes the company provides enough information on the diversity of its employees.

Omnicom in recent years has partnered with organizations such as GLAAD, AdColor and the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Multicultural Advertising Intern Program on diversity initiatives. Internal programs include OmniWomen, which promotes career development opportunities for the company’s female leaders, and the Omnicom Professional Employee Network, which meets quarterly to share best practices on diversity and inclusion.

Interpublic

Interpublic, which began formal diversity and inclusion programs in 2005, has reported that minorities excluding women made up 19% of officials and managers in the U.S. in 2015, up from 10% a decade earlier.

Minorities represented 26% of Interpublic’s “professional” talent base in the U.S. last year, compared with 19% in 2005.

Women account for 54% of the company’s officials and managers, up from 47% in 2005. Based on its 2015 report to the EEOC, across Interpublic’s agencies in the U.S., 30% of management positions in creative departments are held by women, the company said.

Interpublic ties senior leadership compensation to diversity goals and also has created a diversity council made up of agency CEOs that meets three times a year to report on companywide and agency-specific diversity programs.

“We are pleased that our company has made significant strides in increasing diversity at senior levels across all minority groups and among women,” Chief Executive Michael Roth said in a statement. “Yet we remain clear that there is still much work to be done on this important issue.”

Publicis

France-based Publicis and rival Havas only break down their workforce by gender as French law doesn't permit the gathering of data on employees’ ethnic origin.

Of Publicis’ total workforce in 2015, 49% were women, down from 54% in 2005.

Women accounted for 38% of Publicis agencies’ executive committees and 22% of the holding company’s Directoire+ management board. More than half of Publicis’ supervisory board in 2015 were women.

According to Publicis’ annual report for 2005, women represented 30% of management teams that year.

Diversity is “an asset and a challenge every day, a challenge that we have been taking up for quite a number of years,” Publicis CEO Maurice Levy wrote in the company’s 2014 corporate social responsibility report. “Given the Groupe’s expansion and the way our businesses are evolving, the diversity of our people—in every sense of the term—is an absolute necessity.”

Like other companies, Publicis said it has participated in many recruitment events and conferences in the U.S. dedicated to ethnic minorities and women and supports employee-run “business resource groups” to promote diversity.

Havas

According to Havas’s annual report in 2014, women accounted for 57% of the Paris-based company’s employees globally, down from 61% in 2005.

Females represented 39% of employees in management roles across the company in 2014, a slight improvement from 35% in 2006 when the company first disclosed a breakdown of gender distribution by occupation in its annual report. Women made up 55% of Havas’ creative group employees in 2014.

Havas lists promoting diversity among its six corporate social responsibility goals. Among the diversity efforts Havas notes in its annual report, the company takes part in several diversity recruitment fairs and conferences.

MDC Partners

MDC Partners said it doesn’t publicly disclose diversity data on the workforce of its network agencies due to its partnership model, in which it takes majority positions in agencies and builds its stake in them over time.

Among MDC’s 80-plus corporate-level staff, women make up 47% of employees overall and 39% of senior leadership, a spokeswoman said.

 

Nathalie Tadena, The Wall Street Journal. March 18, 2016

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