Getting people through door isn't enough to serve diversity mission

'I know I still feel like things are screwed up when it's me and a bunch of men in a conference room, and that experience is thankfully pretty rare.'

Are we there yet?
Agnes Fischer
President New York

Tell us about one thing that's happened recently that leads you to believe that there's still a problem?

Simply showing up at this year’s Cannes Lions provided a pretty compelling snapshot of what the industry looks like. And it does not yet look like a cross-section of the general population. We’ll know that we’ve made it when we can take for granted that the make-up of agencies reflects that of our society at large. 

How about something that proves we're making progress? 

Women may not be at parity with men when it comes to the top-of-the-pyramid jobs, but it’s undeniable that women (though still mostly white women) are serving as leaders in a variety of roles across the industry. In fact, over the course of my career, I’ve had more bosses who were women than men. On the flip side, I have also found myself managing more men than women.

I’ve also seen the industry become more supportive of pregnancy and motherhood (and fatherhood for that matter) over the past decade. Earlier generations of agency women spent their 20s and early 30s trying not to get pregnant because of worries about derailing their careers. (Then, when they were ready to start a family, they found that their window of peak fertility had passed and they needed to go down the expensive and sometimes heartbreaking road of IVF treatment.)

While I wouldn’t file this in the "problem solved" category, agencies have made several positive steps in this arena. For example, many of the agencies I’ve worked at recently, and the one I am at now, are providing more time off and flexible hours for maternity leave (and paternity leave) as well as offering insurance plans that cover fertility treatments.

Clients have also been outstanding champions of change, demanding agency teams that are diverse and balanced. In a way it’s sort of ironic as this runs counter to the ad-world stereotype of brands being rooted in hidebound practices while the agencies are the ones at the cutting edge of culture.

What else needs to be done to get there?  

Breaking down the structural aspects that can act as impediments to diversity. For example, you almost have to be privileged to take an entry level advertising job where the starting pay can be very low. Especially in comparison to other industries like tech, banking and corporate marketing. So from the outset, the industry is over-indexing on people who have outside financial support.  

While the industry has made progress in establishing a pipeline of diverse talent with recruiting efforts and programs, what we are finding is simply getting people through the door isn’t enough. There is a growing amount of evidence that this talent is not sticking around, resulting in a revolving door of diversity in the junior ranks but less representation at mid and senior-level leadership levels. If you’re coming into the industry but nobody above you looks like you, do you feel at home? 

I know I still feel like things are screwed up when it’s me and a bunch of men in a conference room, and that experience is thankfully pretty rare. If it was all the time, every day, I’d probably go seek employment somewhere that felt like a better representation of who and what I am. 

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