Being Female In The Ad Industry


Photo from Mad Men show


Last week, a scandal surrounding WPP subsidiary J. Walter Thompson’s CEO resignation caused everyone to focus in on the advertising agency. As details filed in a lawsuit revealed allegedly racist and misogynistic behavior by those working at the top ranks of the company, observers were quick to discuss why an industry that has been making efforts to improve diversity via panel discussions and internship programs still seem so hostile to women and minorities, especially within the senior ranks.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, one expert, Marc Bendick goes as far as to say that nothing has changed in half a century for the ad industry. He says, “If you look at the face of the advertising industry in [the] 1960s as portrayed on the program ‘Mad Men’ and the face of the industry today, they look shockingly similar…Many industries in the country have moved on a lot since the 1960s…it’s quite amazing [advertising] has been such a holdout.”
Though the technology industry has gotten most of the publicity for sharing diversity data in the past year, advertising companies also disclose diversity data, though typically with less granular detail. A good summary of the statistics can be found in this WSJ article which reveals that advertising is still a “female” profession, when it comes to total numbers of people working in the industry.
  • Overall, women in the advertising industry has declined slightly from 52% a decade ago to 49% in 2015 while the overall percentage of women in the workforce is around 46%. This overall composition doesn’t account for role or job title, however.
  • At WPP, 54% of WPP’s full-time employees were women and 31% of their executive leaders were women in 2014.
  • At Omnicom, 54% of the company’s managers in the U.S. were women in 2015.
  • At Interpublic, women comprise 19% of officials an managers in the U.S. in 2015.
  • At Publicis, women were 49% of the workforce, 38% of the executive committees and 30% of management teams.
  • At Havas, women accounted for 57% of the company’s employees globally, and 39% of the management roles in 2014.
  • At MDC Partners, women comprise 47% of employees and 39% of senior leadership currently.
What the numbers don’t reveal, however, are some of the very personal and shocking stories of some of the sexist and biased behavior in the industry. Under cover of anonymity, one AdAge article collected several stories from women. The full article reveals a series of anecdotes whereby managers ask about menstrual cycles, menopause and engage in inappropriate touching.
One woman recounts: “There was a time when I was passionate about a piece of creative and because of that, my boss asked me if I has my period.” We don’t know who she is but we think her response was great: “No, that’s insulting. I’m emotional about this creative because I care, but I’ll let you know when I have my period so you can decide how passionate I really am.”
Meanwhile, at J. Walter Thompson, Tamara Ingram has just been named to CEO. That makes her one of the most high-level female executives in advertising. Hopefully it doesn’t take a other scandals to help change the ratio throughout other companies in the industry.


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