Advertising Diversity & Inclusion Gender

Diversity should be everyone’s business, not just HR or diversity experts


By The Drum Team | Editorial

July 20, 2017 | 4 min read

It’s no secret that the majority of executives in the advertising and marketing industry are white men. Over the years this has remained true, despite various calls to action from internal and external groups - from Cindy Gallop to the 4A’s - trying to change this. And while these efforts have helped move the needle slightly for women, it remains largely unchanged for women of color.

Refinery29's Hallie Johnston

The problem is even more pervasive today as we’ve seen plenty of high-profile examples of brands missing the mark with their advertising over the past few months. Consumers have been vocal about the fact that certain campaigns have not reflected their values.

Because of this, we couldn’t have been more ecstatic to partner with IPG and National Geographic to conduct research that would shed light on the many ways there are to experience womanhood and the various aspects of identity that play a role in individual experiences. Our objective was multi-pronged. We wanted to look specifically at how identity plays into how women see themselves and interact with the world, the impact of intersectionality and identity in the workplace and media/advertising, and explore the complex nuances that women of color face in their daily lives.

We surveyed more than 4,000 women from five countries and validated our findings through ten in-depth interviews with women of diverse backgrounds and views on identity. The results were pretty astonishing and showed us how the absence of diversity only harms the quality of the goods/services we bring to the market. For this reason, diversity should be everyone’s business, not just HR or diversity experts.

While data showed the workplace as a tangible and desired arena to begin addressing acknowledgement and taking action, with half of women saying that having diverse leadership to learn from is important, it also showed there is still a lot of work to be done with 53% of respondents saying gender equality has not been achieved in the workplace or in society.

So what can we do about this as leaders, marketers, creators, and makers? Some of these suggestion are obvious - but simple changes often require more strategy, work, and forward momentum to implement.

Develop and demand more diversity in your creative teams

If you’re a client - demand this from your agency; if you’re an agency, be thoughtful when it comes to your hiring practices. Bringing in diverse voices is where true change and breakthrough creative will happen - diverse perspectives and life experiences bring about new ways to approach communication solutions for brands.

Encourage your creative teams to seek out diverse sets of makers and partners as part of the creative process

From models, actors, directors, writers, influencers, and designers - makers and creators hold the power of what audiences and consumers want to experience now - trust these experts and diverse voices - just look at winning examples from Barry Jenkins and Moonlight to Ava Devernay and Lena Waithe.

Be deliberate in how your final product/what is shown to the world

Make sure you’re fostering an organization of trusted and fluid communication that tests your concepts amongst the consumer sample you host internally - your team.

And even further, we need to be able to translate these experiences on an international level so it’s important to acknowledge that what works in the United States may not work in the UK or Singapore. As marketers, individuals and leaders, we can all take on more responsibility in fostering a more inclusive world, recognizing different groups’ experiences, all while finding asp

Hallie Johnston is senior vice-president of client services and strategy at Refinery29. She tweets at @halliemass.

This article was first published in The Drum's August issue.

Advertising Diversity & Inclusion Gender

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +