Ad Agency Group Tackles Diversity Controversy Head-On

The trade group 4A's knows gender discrimination is a problem in its industry, and a new survey released by the group highlights the depths of the issue. The association released the report more than a month earlier than planned, in direct response to an ad exec's controversial comments on gender discrimination.

When a leading advertising executive made some eyebrow-raising comments about gender parity in the ad industry, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) did not shy away from the debate.

In fact, it helped spur a new one. On Thursday, 4A’s released initial results from a survey already in the works, in direct response to comments made by Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman Kevin Roberts.

Last week, Roberts announced he would retire early. His resignation is a result of comments made during an interview with Business Insider, in which he declared that the gender diversity issue “over.”

Those controversial remarks, and the outcry against them, made 4A’s yearlong research into how women are treated in the ad industry more relevant than ever.

And those results, which were to be released during Advertising Week in September, are particularly damning: More than half of the 375 female ad professionals who responded to the 4A’s survey said they had faced at least one incident of sexual harassment on the job, and a third said they believed they had lost assignments or promotions due to gender discrimination.

Additionally, 19 percent of respondents said they agreed that there were times when they had personally experienced gender discrimination but didn’t immediately realize it. Another 40 percent said they agreed with that statement partly.

When releasing the association’s results, Nancy Hill, 4A’s President and CEO, criticized Roberts’ remarks while highlighting some other statistics from the industry—including that, according to a 2012 study, just 3 percent of creative directors were women.

“What is hard to believe is that, despite these famous statistics, we hear a comment so out of touch with reality that it confirms what many of us fear: There are industry leaders out there who brush off gender and diversity issues; too many C-suite execs believe this issue is an isolated problem, one that doesn’t exist in ‘my house’ or, remarkably, one that doesn’t exist at all,” Hill said in a statement.

In her remarks, she called on ad agencies to hire chief diversity officers, take steps to encourage young women to pursue leadership positions, and even consider implementing a “blind resume practice to eliminate any gender or ethnicity identifiers from resumes.”

Hill emphasized that 4A’s ultimate goal is to change its industry for the better, and that might require some tough medicine.

“Discrimination in any form is not okay. And I urge any employees, female, diverse or otherwise, to raise a flag if they see or hear discrimination like this,” she stated. “It is never acceptable, and it must change if we want to change the face of our industry going forward.”

(Monkey Business Images/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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