WHY SIX PERCENT ISN’T ENOUGH:
EXPLORING THE SLOW INCREASE OF DIVERSE PROFESSIONALS IN ADVERTISING
Written by Brandon Castelo
Edited by Makisha Noël
Graphic by Jonné Pratt
June 11, 2020
You’re excelling in this interview. You sit before people who would be your boss, fully engaged and positively reacting to your responses. You confidently shake hands, smile politely, and are asked to sit out in the hallway while they discuss steps moving forward. Just when you thought everything went as perfect as could be, the door doesn’t close all the way as you walk out. You patiently sit out in the hallway, but you can’t help but overhear the conversation through the crack in the door,
“They are such a perfect fit for this position, it’s too bad that they are Black…”
One would think that by the year of 2020, skin color would have no play in the hiring dynamics of the Advertising industry. Since 1969, the dynamic has changed, but has it changed enough? Some agencies have become increasingly diverse, but when you look past the surface level, are Board of Directors and CEOs just as diverse?
Even in the 1960s, there was opportunity for Black people to be employed in the Advertising Industry and succeed, and at a much faster rate than other professions. However, Black people accounted for only three percent of the industry population despite the opportunities. In How To Be Black And Get A Job In The Advertising Agency Business Anyway, Bill Sharp addresses why there could be a lack of Black People in the industry.
“One reason is that until recently, most Black people didn’t know that there was such a thing as an Advertising Agency,” Sharp wrote. “Printed advertisements and television commercials were something that we looked at but didn’t relate to - let alone, think we could do.”
Flash forward to today.
In an article from the Marketing Charts website entitled, US Marketing and Advertising Industry Still Lacks Racial and Ethnic Diversity, only six percent of the Marketing and Advertising population identify as African American as of December 5, 2019. That’s only a three percent increase reported over 50 years.
In that same article, it is stated that “the multicultural gap widens in leadership positions, as only 12% of member CMOs identify as African-American/Black (3%).”
Rasheed Owens, Brand Manager from the Afternoon Agency, wasn’t shocked to find out that the statistic has only grown so little.
Owens said that “...hearing that the advertising industry has only gone from three percent Black to six percent, I would have to say that I am disappointed but not surprised, because when you think about it in terms of other industries as well, I feel like we’ve been in the same moment for the past 50 years. Even from 1969 all the way to where we are now. I feel like our country has been very stagnant when it comes to growth in different industries, especially in the advertising industry, and that’s why programs like the Marcus Graham Project are so needed...”
Owens continued, “Time is up for agencies saying that there is no black talent out there, or that they can’t find it, because they’re just not looking for it. And that’s why the number has been stagnant for so long.”
Reflecting on the statement that Sharp had made in regard to a lack of Black people in the industry, Owens presented his own perspective on perceiving the Advertising and Marketing industry. He stated that “...when I was younger, I come from a family that pushed me to do whatever it was that I wanted to do. The sky is really the limit...”
Owens then said, “It wasn’t specifically the advertising industry that I thought I could make it into, but I knew that I could make it, and I knew that I could do honestly whatever it is that I wanted to do.”
Despite his supportive background, Owens himself didn’t have a full understanding of the industry. But to sharply contrast Sharp’s assertion, it wasn’t due to a lack of confidence in abilities or relation to the industry.
Owens did mention his thoughts on a grander scheme, and how Black people might perceive the industry from an outside perspective. He said that he believed Black people, when looking at the Advertising and Marketing industry, would be, “Discouraged... they have been discouraged by a lot of the things they’ve heard.”
Owens then went on to state that having a support system is the best way to combat the discouragement one might feel.
“...having a cohort was something that really benefited a lot of people of color… having a smaller group of people who could encourage you and saw you as bright as the afternoon sun, that kind of stuff is necessary,” Owens said.
The slow increase of diverse professionals in Advertising is a multi-faceted problem the industry is facing, but the answers to it are not difficult.
It is the responsibility of those who are in charge of hiring to carefully assess who they’re bringing on. In a field dense with talent, there is no reason to disregard the perspectives that diversity can bring to the table.
There is a desperate need for people of color to be increasingly visible, and internal biases and stigmas need to be checked. Conversations need to be had in the workplace, and open mindedness needs to be the norm when it comes to educating oneself.
In Sharp’s book, he mentions to, “...unclench your fists and teeth,” in the face of racial adversity in the workplace. I would argue that today, it is more important than ever to speak out and use your voice.