Data Point: Agency Holding Companies Are Full of Women, But Not Minorities

We have binders full of women, I tell you! Binders! Oh, wait. Maybe that's not the best lead-in to this story -- but hey, this is about women and it is about women taking leadership roles. They aren't in binders, though. They are, however, in management positions at the biggest agency holding companies. So yeah, let's leave the binder metaphor back in 2012 with Romney. 

Ad Age did a quick roundup of women in management positions at agency holding companies and found things look a bit better than they have in the past. At Omnicom, 54% of U.S. management positions are held by women. Of the holding company's directors, four are women and two are minorities.  

Over at Interpublic, CEO Michael Roth, who spoke on a panel at the diversity-focused 3 Percent Conference last fall, said the holding company has made "a long-term commitment to improvement as it relates to diversity and inclusion." At the holding company, 55% of management positions are held by women with 20% held by persons of color. In what was perhaps a thinly veiled reference to Interpublic's own Ghetto Day debacle, Roth added, "And unlike so many companies, we stand by our record of taking decisive action and enforcing accountability around Diversity & Inclusion -- particularly in those cases of behavior by senior executives that run counter to the kinds of values for which we should all stand."  



WPP, which has had its fair share of difficulties related to this topic, states in its Sustainability Report that 31% of its executives are female with 46% holding senior management positions. As for the holding company's board, 29% are women and 33% are non-executive directors. 

Publicis Groupe reports that 49.3% of its workforce is comprised of women, while women constitute 54% of its supervisory board. In terms of agency executive positions, 38% are held by women. Acknowledging this relatively low number, CEO Maurice Levy said: "We must go the extra mile so that this number is higher, especially for top positions." 

And while it seems agency holding companies are at least trying to make headway in the area of leadership roles for women, the situation is far bleaker when you look at diversity as it relates to race versus male/female diversity.  

Penning a piece in Ad Age on the topic, Ken Wheaton wrote: "In fact, according to a 2008 study conducted by economist Marc Bendick Jr., while African-Americans would be expected to make up 9.5% of the professionals in advertising (a number even lower than the 13% in the general population), it turns out they made up only -- wait for it -- 5.8%. On the executive and managerial side, African-Americans made up only 3.2% compared with an expected 7.2%." 

And of the apparent white boy club that seemingly wants to keep things this way, attorney Cyrus Mehri said that at the time of the study: "What needs fixing isn't the African-Americans; it's the white guy running the agency. We want to relentlessly focus on not the excluded groups but the excluding groups, the people who control the power and make the decisions. That's where people are running into barriers. The leadership has to come from the top." 

And, finally, sharing my own viewpoint on the situation, Wheaton writes, "I've been told plenty of times that it's Ad Age's responsibility to do something about the diversity problem. Over the years, we've covered it from a journalistic perspective, but after a while, we're just writing the same story over and over again, complete with the platitudes and excuses." 

He's right. It's been written about. It's been talked about. It's been debated. Conferences have dealt with the topic. And while women seem to be taking on more and more senior roles in advertising, the same cannot be said about minorities in advertising.  

So what's the answer? Wheaton says it's women, writing: "And because they've [women] been mobilized and because they're changing the dynamics of companies and boardrooms, perhaps this new group of leading women -- of any race -- are the ones to succeed where so many men before them have failed."


1 comment about "Data Point: Agency Holding Companies Are Full of Women, But Not Minorities".
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  1. Anna Christina S. from Freelance Designer, June 2, 2016 at 2:50 p.m.

    I enjoyed this editorial very much, but want to point out one small detail that makes all the difference in the world.

    The ad agencies and holding companies are NOT claiming they have high percentages of "people of color". They are claiming, in writing, that they have high percentages of "multicultural" people working there.

    They are hiding their low rate of success in hiring American ethnic minorities (we may have as few as 1% African-American managers and Creative Directors in major Madison Avenue-level agencies, for instance) by obscuring the real numbers.

    They are throwing foreign H1B visa holders into those counts of "multicultural" staff, in order to inflate the percentages.

    They are also counting white American women in those overall "multicultural" counts.

    In order to know what the actual state of ethnic diversity is, someone would have to ask them, flat out, "What is the NUMBER, not percentage, of ethnic minorities in your agencies, not counting H1B visa holders, foreign hires, white LGBT hires, and white women as 'multicultural' in that count."

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