A Broad's Experience in Advertising
Please note: this is a personal post. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.
It has been a while now since I’ve switched career paths from solo tech freelancer to full-time digital media planner working in advertising. I can’t say I would have ever predicted the switch but now that I am here, I’ve noticed something: advertising is broken.
A recent train ride home was fueled by episode 35 of The Broad Experience, a podcast I’ve come to rely on as it discusses pivotal movements and issues of women in the workplace. This particular episode talked at length the obstacles women still face in the media industry. This episode and the women leading the conversation hit home especially hard.
WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE
Madison Avenue has a long way to go with respect to not only female, but diversity in its truest form. My dream would be we really do reflect, especially here in the US, the American experience, which is not white and male, dominantly.
Another challenge for women in advertising is getting them to believe their opinion matters, getting them to speak up, getting them to put their face out there, getting them to enter their work in awards shows. And then mentorship. You just can’t downplay that you need someone – and sponsorship - you need someone to see the talent in you and open doors for you
If you really want to create great work for your clients that’s going to be motivating to consumers you would not run your agency the way you do. And I think if I were a client today and I knew what my customer base looked like, and chances are it’s mostly female, and I knew that by demanding something to be done in a crazy turnaround kind of crash and burn, and that meant the female creatives at the agency would be less likely to be able to service my business, why is that a worthwhile trade? I think it’s actually lunacy.
People say, well, that’s just the way it is, and I think wow, if that’s how much the agency culture is cemented in people’s minds…I don’t know, maybe I’m enough of an outsider, maybe it’s because I live in Silicon Valley and work with a lot of startups, and I’m trained to think differently and ask questions, but I don’t think it’s working
As my professional career took off in directions I couldn’t imagine, I became ever so aware of my gender and my ethnicity and the roles they play in my ability to grow in a saturated industry. Though I’ve had wonderful success in countless jobs, I’ve also experienced workplace obstacles in extreme ways: I was once bullied by a female coworker (not only emotionally but nearly physically), was sexually harassed by a manager, displaced in meetings and projects by male colleagues, and not to mention downright insulted via social media for being a young woman – especially a non-white woman – working in a man’s world. I began to see the under belly of media in ways I never had before. So, listening to the women on this podcast talk about these every day issues, I felt compelled to form my own response.
One huge problem this all stems back to is lack of diversity. Diversity is a hot button issue as everyone (and by everyone I mean those who want to see real change happen) is quick to point out where diversity needs to improve in order to pave way opportunities for all: race, gender, sexuality, background, etc. Just to give you an example of how far diversity has yet to come, do yourself a quick test: run a Google Images search for “young teenage guy with friends” and then do a Google Images search for “young teenage spanish guy with friends” – notice any differences? Part of my day-to-day is to create highly visual proposals to submit to clients. This means I rely heavily on Google Image search results to fill in the visual representation of a client’s target audience. I sometimes spend hours rummaging through these search results trying to find a non-offensive photo that accurately represents a certain demographic, to no avail. It’s disappointing and frustrating when I’m looking for photos of women of my ethnicity and all I can find are young girls who are pregnant, or even beaten or maybe even incarcerated, in these photos. It’s a disgrace.
Thankfully, I have found a temporary solution: these Getty Images stock photos of real women in contemporary professional and personal settings. Finally, an accurate and positive depiction of women at home and at work that I can feel confident using in my proposals. Finally, real diversity I can get behind. I take this one step further by going through proposal templates within our team’s wiki and replacing images of women who are predominantly white with a variety of those Getty Images photos so that the more proposals we send out with diverse women featured, the more our clients will make the connection that women are in fact from other backgrounds, not just Caucasian but even perhaps “multicultural” as some of our clients like to describe. I dare you to take small steps like these in order to create diversity amongst your peers.
I also speak out, a lot, about what matters most in my job and I make sure those in leadership positions understand this. I don’t come from the traditional media path, I don’t come from the agency world, I come from the startup world where you have to collaborate and be a creative thinker to win clients and projects. I find that in advertising, as much as collaboration and creativity are advocated, it truly isn’t happening. I see a lot of pencil pushing and monotonous administrative tasks being delegated, which delays real productivity and solution planning. I see a lot of “over promise, under deliver” tactics that result in loss of trust and more importantly, loss of business. I see a lack of mentorship and motivation from internal teams. I see a step backwards in time to segregate teams and hierarchies when there should be a movement towards integration and knowledge sharing. I actively bring up these observations in meetings with decision makers so that they take into consideration company culture fixes. Without a progressive-thinking company that cares, these changes will never happen. I suggest you do the same.
The advertising structure is bigger than I will ever understand, but I hope by encouraging others to step up and call out its discrepancies, we can come to work in a space that aligns with real values, real change, and real output.
If you’re a fellow lady working in media, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve worked towards fixing this broken system.