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Representation dips for women, increases across race and ethnicity in adland, data finds

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By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

February 24, 2023 | 9 min read

New numbers from industry group She Runs It finds that while diversity, equity and inclusion in the advertising and media space are increasing in some capacity, they’re lagging behind in other critical ways.

She Runs It cover image

The industry is seeing an exodus of women, but an uptick in Black, Asian and Latinx representation / She Runs It

She Runs It – the industry group for women started more than a century ago under the original moniker of the League of Advertising Women – has published its fifth annual #Inclusive100 study on diversity and inclusion in marketing, media and adtech. Participants in the study include major corporate names like Diageo, Unilever, General Motors and Procter & Gamble, as well as various leading advertising holding companies like Dentsu and Publicis Groupe.

The survey’s latest findings shine a light on both positive progress and concerning gaps in representation and movement in organizational commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Namely, data evidenced a slow-moving but encouraging increase in representation across different backgrounds, but hinted at an industry in turmoil, with low rates of equitable promotion and a sweeping exodus of women from the workforce.

It’s a critical pulse check on an industry undergoing massive change. As She Runs It president and CEO Lynn Branigan puts it: “Measurement is essential. And we have arrived at a moment in time when meaningful change is possible through data. With more data comes more progress.”

The #Inclusive100 assesses a range of metrics to evaluate the relative level of inclusivity, diversity and equity within an organization in the industry. Results are benchmarked against ‘indexed companies’ – organizations that scored a 60 or higher on the Seramount Diversity Inclusion Index, a rating that indicates that a company is effectively incorporating representation, inclusion and cultural best practices in their organization.

Here are some of the key findings of the 2022 #Inclusive100 survey:

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1. The industry is failing to retain female talent

She Runs It finds that women are exiting the industry in droves – they comprise just 35% of the marketing, media and adtech sector – down from 46% in 2021, which already represented a decline from the typical split of 50%.

At the same time, there are fewer women than men being hired into entry-level roles – a sign that bodes poorly for gender representation in the future.

And on the other end of the hierarchy, executive positions see the lowest ratio of women, at just 30%, down from 33% in 2021. Among the top 20% of earners in the industry, only 30% are women – a steep decline from 42% in 2021.

2. Ethnic and racial representation is on the rise

The industry is growing increasingly diverse.

Representation of Black employees is rising steadily – the number of Black people in marketing, media and adtech grew 15%, compared to 4.5% last year. Overall, Black talent now accounts for 14% of the industry, which is representative of the US writ large, where 13.6% of the population is Black. Still, Black employees face hurdles when it comes to gaining visibility in leadership: just 6% of managers are Black and only 4% of corporate executives are Black.

Meanwhile, the number of Latinx employees in the sector rose by 7% in 2022, up from 6.6% the prior year. Still, representation lags; Latinx currently make up about 8% of the industry – a number significantly lower than in businesses in general, where they account for 14% of the workforce. Both numbers hover far below the 18.9% of the US population for which Latinx people account. Considering that the Latinx population is the fastest-growing in the US, these gaps are especially concerning.

Asian talent in the industry grew, but at a lower rate than in 2021, at 10% compared to 23%. In general, the marketing, media and adtech sector is on-par with other organizations when it comes to representation of Asian talent – Asians comprise 10% of the industry and 10% of workplaces in general.

3. White employees are still unfairly advantaged when it comes to climbing the ladder

When it comes to succession planning and promotions, however, the media, marketing and adtech sector lags behind in a handful of key measures.

Only 71% of surveyed organizations offer formal executive succession planning – significantly below the 90% of indexed organizations that offer such programs. Plus, just 43% of media, marketing and adtech companies say they require gender-diverse and racially diverse slates of candidates when considering succession, compared to 64% of indexed companies.

What’s more, when employees are promoted within the industry, the results are often lopsided. The vast majority of the 17% of employees promoted last year were white. Among total promoted employees, 63% were white. And while promotions of Asians in the industry outpaced the broader, general workforce at 14%, promotions of Black and Latinx talent did not. Within business in general last year, 11% of promotions went to Latinx employees (compared to just 9% in marketing, media and adtech) and 10% of promotions went to Black employees (compared to just 8% in marketing, media and adtech).

While the workforce in general is largely white, increasing multiculturalism and diversity in the workforce demands more equitable opportunities for advancement.

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4. Organizational DEI commitments are progressing

Beyond the demographic makeup of marketing, media and adtech workplaces, the industry is advancing its institutional commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion in other ways, too.

For one, DEI commitments are growing. 71% of surveyed companies have increased the size of their DEI teams and half increased their budgets for DEI initiatives in 2022. Though these numbers indicate positive growth, they remain below the rates of indexed companies, of which 73% increased the size of their DEI teams and 68% increased DE budgets.

Plus, organizations within the industry are increasingly focused on culturally-conscious, diverse, equitable and fair hiring, training and promotion processes. 93% say they select recruitment organizations based on their ability to produce diverse hiring slates; 82% offer culturally competent interview training to internal recruiting teams; 57% require a diverse panel of employees to interview candidates; and 36% require a diverse slate of internal candidates when considering promotions.

The sector is also investing more in supporting diverse talent in the workplace with resources, training and mentorship opportunities. 63% of companies surveyed offer sponsorship programs for women and underrepresented minorities, compared with 58% of indexed organizations.

Further, though media, marketing and adtech organizations generally lag behind indexed companies when it comes to baking inclusivity and diversity into workplace culture, they are making progress. 79% conduct pay equity analyzes around gender and race (compared to 93% of indexed companies); 64% have specific representation goals aimed at combating systemic racism (versus 97% of indexed companies); and 20% offer training on racism (compared with 89% of indexed companies).

“Confronting toxic workplaces is a new area of focus in the … survey, and it’s encouraging to see so many companies taking action to create inclusive cultures,” said Branigan in a statement. “Yes, some of the numbers are challenging but the great news is that #Inclusive100 focuses on solutions and actions, and the survey itself surfaces best practices from highly indexed companies.”

Participation in the #Inclusive100 is free and She Runs It is actively seeking new participants. Branigan encourages organizations to sign up to “[get] a clear read on how they are performing plus visibility into many successful actions they can repeat inside their own company to make progress.”

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