Study Finds Racial Bias in Advertising Industry

Researchers say disparity is widespread problem

opponent of the industry, contends that mainstream ad agencies have been operating under the radar for years. “If you look at a General Electric, American Express, or General Motors, they are constantly being scrutinized by their actions and how they do in terms of hiring and minority procurement. They don’t scrutinize the people who work for them,” Graves says.

Bendick and Egan assert that the fundamental problem of mainstream advertising agencies is a persistent unwillingness to hire, assign, advance, and retain available black talent. Additionally, about 16% of large establishments in the industry employ no black managers or professionals, a rate 60% higher than in the overall labor market, according to the study.

“Most of these clients have chief diversity officers and diversity programs, yet they continuously do business with these agencies that have no black people or have black people in junior positions,” says Eugene Morris, CEO of E. Morris Communications Inc., No. 15 on the BE 100s 2008 list of black-owned advertising agencies.“The only way the industry is going to change is if the clients themselves take the lead and force the agencies to change.” Morris, who did not see the report, but offered to speak about the industry in general, and Moore both believe that the clients not only fail to scrutinize general market ad agencies but they neglect minority-owned ad agencies as well.

Shedding light on the black-out

The study suggests that solving the problem will require mainstream agencies to avoid stereotyping, reform human resources practices, and eliminate obsolete market segmentation assumptions that racial minorities lack skills applicable to non-ethnic markets. Public oversight and pressure from advertising agencies’ client firms could also be a promising source to influence advertising agencies to decrease the employment, promotion, and pay gap.

Nancy Hill, CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies trade association, believes that the industry has done a lot to try and move this along. “But certainly they are not doing it consistently or fast enough and I think it is unfortunate that it has come to this. We certainly have not done a good job of creating an environment where they would want to stay,” says Hill, who is also the chief diversity officer at AAAA. “It has to come from the top down. Commitment to diversity has to visibly come from the CEO. It has to be a big commitment; not just lip service,” says Hill who also believes that sometimes promotions at ad agencies have nothing to do with skin color, but is simply a case of being the “right person at the right time.”

Graves counters that idea and suggests that when you don’t have a diverse group making decisions on promotions, then everything seems OK. “You can’t have 12 white guys sitting in a room making the decisions on what are the best ways to reach a worldwide market,” Graves says.

To help blacks surmount the barriers they face getting hired as management in the ad industry and make the transition from other industries, the AAAA recently made

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