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What Needs to Change for Black Women in Marketing, Advertising, PR, and Communications?

Recent research from McKinsey shows that companies with diverse racial and ethnic representation tend to perform better financially. But what does this mean for industries such as advertising, public relations, and communications? White men have long dominated the advertising, marketing, public relations, and communications industries, with Black women often sidelined or excluded entirely. As the push for diversity and inclusion grows, questions arise about the experience of Black women in these industries. While each individual's experience is unique, studies show that Black women often face a multitude of barriers in the workplace.



How Is The Diversity And Inclusion Of These Industries Statistically Rated?

The lack of diversity in industries like advertising, communications, public relations, and marketing is a significant issue that people and agencies must recognize. In a small interview conducted by Shelby Casimir with Kayla Lawrence, a black woman professional in the public relations industry, Lawrence stated that: “The marketing and communications industry has historically possessed racial and gender biases that oftentimes underestimate the talent that’s possessed by women of color, and more specifically Black women.” Moreover, these biases lead to a lack of workplace diversity and how brands market themselves to consumers.


Unfortunately, statistics show that this lack of diversity is pervasive in the industry. According to a 2017 study from the EEOC, the statistics highlight a troubling reality within advertising, PR, and related industries: black women are dramatically underrepresented in executive positions. Out of 8,734 executives, only 93 were black women. This means that black women made up just over 1% of executives in these industries, despite representing nearly 13% of the U.S. population as a whole. Also, according to a report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), only 7% of employees in marketing departments at ANA member companies identify as Black.


These statistics raise two troubling assumptions about the advertising, marketing, and communications industries. First, Black or African American professionals may face unequal opportunities to advance within their organizations and jobs. Secondly, a significant number of professionals, in general, have left these industries over the period studied, possibly due to a lack of engagement or diverse representation within the workplace. These numbers point to systemic barriers for black women in advancing their careers and demonstrate the need for continued efforts towards diversity and inclusion in the workplace.



Can Happiness Happen for Black Women in these Industries?

While there has been progress regarding Black women rising to leadership positions in marketing, advertising, public relations, and communications, the overall representation remains low. And unfortunately, even those who have achieved success often experience misogynoir. As a result, achieving true happiness and fulfillment in these careers can be a challenge for Black women. In a study conducted by Lindsay Rittenhouse, she found instances of both overt racism and microaggressions towards Black individuals in these industries – with Black women experiencing an even more significant impact from these slights.


And for Black women in this industry, there is another issue in regards to diversity: tokenism. According to Steve Bien-Aime, diversity in this industry get seen “solely as a number. While the numbers [for diversity] provide good reference points for goal setting and goal measurement, they are not the whole story in and of themselves. Numbers do not always equate to power.” In advertising and public relations specifically, there have been instances where Black women are often only hired to specifically target black consumers, rarely allowed to shape broader branding messages.


What Can Lack of Diversity and Understanding Misogynoir Mean for Agencies and Companies Altogether?

Rittenhouse also found that the diversity problem in advertising and marketing agencies is often framed as a pipeline issue - that they “simply can't find diverse talent.” However, numerous stories have surfaced of Black employees leaving their agency jobs due to microaggressions and a lack of inclusion. This lack of representation not only means Black women have limited opportunities for advancement in leadership positions but also likely limits the range of perspectives and ideas represented within these industries.


In terms of serving customers, a lack of diversity can lead to missing crucial cultural nuances and not effectively addressing the needs of diverse communities. In reality, agencies need to do more to make their workplaces welcoming and inclusive for Black women. In order for agencies to indeed have diverse representation, they need to prioritize creating an environment where Black women feel valued and respected. For these industries to truly thrive, comprehensive inclusion and representation is crucial - including increasing the representation of Black women in leadership roles.


The benefits of workplace diversity have long been discussed. A recent study from McKinsey found that companies with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are more likely to show financial success and 36% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry means. Having a range of perspectives can lead to better problem-solving and innovation within the company and the ability to effectively serve a broader range of customers, especially in advertising and marketing.



What Must Be Done for Women to Have a Supported Career in these Industries?

The lack of diversity within the advertising, marketing, public relations, and communications industries often leads to Black women being overlooked for career advancement and opportunities. While initiatives like Black Women Marketers, African American Marketing Association, Toni, and ColorComm create spaces for Black women to thrive, more must be done within the industry.


To support Black women in these industries, companies must prioritize hiring and promoting diverse candidates at all levels of the organization. Additionally, corporations should ensure that their management teams are equipped with the necessary training to understand unconscious biases and lead with inclusion in mind. It is also crucial for Black women to have access to mentors who can support and guidance in navigating their careers. Finally, the industry must address systematic discrimination and provide resources for Black women facing discrimination on an individual level. Implementing these changes can lay the foundation for Black women to have successful and supported careers in advertising, marketing, public relations, and communications.



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