US deep dive: Marketing industry’s first global DEI census finds women, minorities face higher discrimination

The historic research was led by the World Federation of Advertisers and partners including Campaign.

Women and ethnic minorities are still struggling to find their place in the marketing industry, according to the sector’s first DEI census by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

The survey, created with partners including Campaign and research firm Kantar, includes more than 10,000 responses from 27 countries. Participants were asked about their sense of belonging, as well as experiences of discrimination and demeaning behavior to determine their Inclusion Score.

Although the industry still has room for improvement, it scored a 64% on Kantar’s Inclusion Index — the highest of any category. Health and pharmaceuticals came in second at 60%. 

Stephan Loerke, CEO of the WFA, called the census “a Herculean but long overdue effort,” in a press statement. 

“There is a confidence and strong sense of belonging that rings true of the marketing industry,” he said. “But there are significant minorities in all countries saying they witness negative behaviors and discrimination on account of their age, family status, gender, ethnicity, race, disability, mental health, sexuality… such that one in seven considers leaving the industry. No company or industry can ignore this; a line has been drawn in the sand and we now know where progress must be made.”

Women lag behind men in the industry

In the U.S., women scored 58% on the Inclusion Index while men reached 68%, revealing women report poorer lived experiences than men. When it comes to feeling an absence of discrimination and presence of negative behavior, men scored 69% compared to women at 61%.

There is also a notable pay gap between men and women, especially for industry starters who have a 13% pay gap in the U.S. The average salary reported by men at junior levels is $62,200 while women make only $55,000.

Ethnic minorities still face workplace discrimination 

For ethnic minorities in the U.S., discrimination is still present at the office. In the survey, 17% of minorities said they faced discrimination because of their racial background. Additionally, 71% of white respondents said they feel like they belong at their company — compared to 59% of minorities.

Companies should pay attention. Twenty-eight percent of U.S. ethnic minorities said they would leave the industry because of a lack of diversity and inclusion. 

Stigma remains for disabled community, mental health 

Among U.S. employees in the disabled community, 60% reported feeling like they belonged at their company, compared to 67% of non-disabled people. Twelve percent of disabled employees also report facing discrimination because of their disability. 

There is also a lack of transparency around mental health in the workplace. Among respondents that reported health issues in the U.S., 83% said they have experienced mental health issues in their lives, but only 27% have told their companies about their mental health conditions.

Globally, 7% of participants have reported a long-term health condition to their company, of which 71% reported a mental health issue. Of those with lasting health issues, only 44% of global respondents have told their companies about their condition, but of those who did, 59% said their employers were supportive. 

Age and family status is the biggest discriminator 

Around the world, age and family status is the most common form of discrimination. 

According to the survey, 27% of respondents globally think that their company doesn’t treat employees equally regardless of age. Twenty-seven percent also don’t think their company is fair to all employees regardless of family status. 

In the U.S., 34% of respondents don’t think employees are treated equally based on family status and 43% of women believe family status can hurt their career.

When it comes to age, 34% of U.S. employees don’t think their company treats everyone equally based on age and 42% believe age can hinder careers.

Where do we go from here?

Employees are willing to stick with companies if they make changes. In the U.S., 79% of ethnic minorities and 90% of white respondents believe their company is working to become more diverse and inclusive.

The U.S., however, may actually be more optimistic about diversity in the industry in the long run. Overall, 83% of U.S. respondents believe their company is working on inclusivity, compared to 60% of global respondents.


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