Midterms helping us move past Mad Men?

November 13, 2018

With the news of the midterm elections highlighting historic progress in terms of women candidates (over 100 female candidates won seats in Congress), including unprecedented diversity (first Native American woman; first Muslim woman; first Hispanic woman from TX), and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of NY, 29), it sparked reflection on the advertising world.

In the 90s, it seemed that the majority of the senior positions across all agency disciplines were male. As an agency newbie at the time, I was lucky to get some good mentors among them, but it wasn’t until a decade into my career that I started to see more mid-level and senior women taking the reins. Sadly (for the industry), it seems that many women choose to leave their careers (for a hiatus and some for good) to raise families. I ventured on, but understand how many choose not to.

According to various articles, women make up almost 50% of those working in advertising. It appears that in certain departments – account management, media, strategy – there is parity or better figures. However, although 85% of all purchasing decisions are made by women, women are woefully underrepresented in creative jobs. And, only 14% of creative directors are women. As an industry, diversity overall is severely lacking. We need to do better.

One area that appears to be growing, but statistics are scarce, is female senior agency leadership. We know that 180 female leaders launched Times Up Advertising movement and there’s an Instagram account and site “Where are the boss ladies?” with a database of agencies led by females, but the exact figures appear elusive. My own experience, however, is encouraging. Sitting around a recent leadership meeting, I looked out at 3 men and, for the first time ever, 4 women – one of whom owns the agency. This is progress for sure and will surely inspire and encourage early-career women to continue their path.

Perhaps the advertising industry can take some positive cues from the recent midterm elections and continue the progress with women and diversity? As the population gets more and more diverse, and our job is to focus on the consumer, being a better reflection of this consumer can only lead to better, more relevant work.


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