Discourse About Gender and Diversity in Advertising Is Reaching a Crescendo

But real change starts at the top

It's been nearly a month since the 4A's Transformation conference, where, as many of you heard, read or experienced firsthand, the discourse about gender and diversity in the advertising industry was raised to a new level. We have now reached an inflection point in the conversation: More people than ever are engaged, which is exactly what it's going to take to make significant and meaningful change.

Nancy Hill

This time, I am confident agencies and their leaders—men and women alike—are going to take action to ensure that our industry better reflects the population.


The comments I received at Transformation and after the event have been moving, to say the least. One reason I know this time is different is that people have been taking it upon themselves to come directly to me and say, "This is what I am going to do to make a change."


We at the 4A's are engaged in numerous initiatives to support gender equality and diversity—from the Glass Ladder series, designed to empower and educate female leaders, to our MAIP multicultural mentorship program.


And we're going to be doing more. This month, we're launching a yearlong, multiplatform initiative involving 4A's events, webinars, salons, content development and enterprising research.  

The objective is threefold: to keep the conversation front and center, to hold a mirror up to agencies regarding female and diverse experiences and to offer programs that advance the careers of female and diverse agency professionals.

As part of the initiative, we will be commissioning comprehensive research to provide insight into how women are treated and rewarded at agencies and portrayed in advertising. The first part of the two-part survey will examine female experiences in the industry as they relate to equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement and sexual harassment, among other topics. The second part will look at how women are portrayed in ads and the impact on current and future generations of women.


We expect the findings to be comprehensive and informative with the goal shaping how the conversation about gender and diversity in the advertising industry progresses.

But real change needs to take place within agencies, and it has to start at the top.


As I mentioned at the conference, if you are a CEO, you are also the chief diversity officer. And you need to look at every hire as an opportunity to change the playing field at your own company.


Here are a few places to start to take action:

Revisit your hiring process. Following Transformation, one CEO at a large, independent agency approached me and said, "From now on, I'm not looking at any resume that has a name on it." Blind applications are one way to help erase unconscious biases when it comes to hiring (or not hiring) female or diverse candidates. Another option is to institute the Rooney Rule and mandate that whenever you're hiring for an open position, the slate of candidates must be diverse.

Close the wage gap. Look at your staff's salaries. Is there a gap between what men are making and what women are making? If so, I urge you to fix it if you want to retain and nurture some of your agency's best talent.

Open the discussion. Make sure your HR department is receptive and reactive to employees' feedback. "If you see something, say something" shouldn't just be a slogan on the New York City subway. If you see colleagues, friends, bosses or junior staffers being treated unfairly because of their gender, race, ethnicity, physical ability or any other reason, raise a flag. This is unacceptable behavior, and each agency should have a process in place to address it without making employees fear for their jobs.

I'm encouraged by the progress we've made in just the few short weeks since this discussion came to a head. Nancy Reyes became the new managing director at TBWA\Chiat\Day's New York office, and less than a week into her job as JWT's new CEO, Tamara Ingram declared her intentions to make diversity a top priority.

This is an industry I fell in love with more than 30 years ago. There is so much good, so much creativity and so much innovation that flows through its veins. I know you all have a passion for this industry as well, and that's why I'm confident that we'll do the right things together and move this industry forward.

It's why I am confident that this time is different.

Nancy Hill (@nhhill) is president and CEO of the 4A's.