Taking a more intersectional lens to female leadership

Women are often grouped together in discussions about workplace equality, but there are nuances we should address.

The advertising industry has made progress in elevating and celebrating female leadership.

The latest example is the elevation of Suzanne Powers, McCann Worldgroup’s global chief strategy officer, expanding her title to global president yesterday.

But after a year like 2020, it’s clear the conversations we’ve been having about women in the workplace can be colorblind.

It’s true that, compared to men, women overall are paid less for doing the same work, take on more household and child-rearing responsibilities and generally face more bias in the workplace.

But there are layers to these truths.

Compared to white men, Black and Latina women are paid 62 cents and 55 cents for every dollar, respectively, while white women are paid 79 cents on the dollar, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Just 4% of chief marketing officers are Black, while 5% are Asian and 3% are Hispanic, according to the ANA’s 2020 diversity report. That’s compared to 88% Caucasian women in the same role. 

This racial inequality among women has grown starker during the pandemic. Black women have suffered more than an 18% drop in employment since March, compared to 16.7% decline for white women, according to the center for American Progress.

The unemployment rate for Black women is 25% higher than the national average, and almost 50% higher for Latina women, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The term “intersectionality” was coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.”

“We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts,” Crenshaw said in an interview with Time earlier this year.

The advertising industry has just begun to address both racial and gender equality, and it has yet to really explore how these two issues intertwine. But seeing Vice President Elect Kamala Harris take the stage on the eve of Joe Biden’s victory should have us all thinking more about intersectionality.

In my three short months at Campaign US, I’ve had the honor of speaking with numerous women of color in moving into leadership roles, and telling stories of female entrepreneurs of different backgrounds and sexual orientations.

Last week, I got a call from a communications lead preparing to submit nominations for Campaign US’s Female Frontier Awards. The person was unsure if they should nominate the obvious candidate, or if they should go with their gut — and out on a limb — to elevate minority women who were just as integral to the agency’s success.

That phone call got me thinking about Campaign’s responsibility as a publication and an arbiter of industry recognitions. We can nominate the same people over and over again, or we can take care to acknowledge the achievements of people who aren’t always put first.

So, as the first deadline for the Female Frontier Awards approaches tomorrow, I’d like to ask those submitting candidates to put forward the unexpected choices, the behind-the-scenes do-ers or underrecognized thinkers. They will be integral to this industry’s future.

Vice President elect Harris said it best: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.” 


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