Silent Segregation

“Madison Avenue is full of blue-bloods.” This was the blanket description of the industry’s leaders that a friend provided when I shared that I was going into advertising. Within venerable, established Madison Avenue agencies, an Ivy League diploma, New England upbringing and WASP background helped… and being a minority didn’t. Although never directly discriminated against, it was obvious to see (even for someone more than half blind) that hiring challenges permeated the industry. For the disabled minority, it seemed that ad industry culture fostered a silent segregation in which few advertisers embraced inclusion and fewer agencies integrated diversity.

Don’t be fooled by all this past-tense language into thinking these minority issues were part of the Civil Rights era and creative revolution of the 1960’s. Advertising agency employee discrimination was bluntly highlighted in the fictional TV-series Mad Men when Roger Sterling asks “Have we hired any Jews?” and Don Draper smugly replies “Not on my watch!”

Advertising Age reported in 2006, after finding fault with the diversity-hiring practices at many of the big ad agencies in New York, the Commission on Human Rights signed a memorandum with the firms regarding hiring policies and practices toward improved minority inclusion.

Now 2011, Advertising Age reports:
Sorry State of Diversity In Advertising Is Also A Culture Problem

Cyrus Mehri, an attorney at Mehri & Skalet, who filed charges with the EEOC against the various holding companies and a number of their agencies for discriminatory hiring practices and one of the people behind the Madison Ave. Project, said this is an industry that’s behind the times in terms of diversity hiring. “As a result it’s missing opportunities in terms of talent and business opportunities,” Mr. Mehri said. Mr. Mehri points to a study centered around Super Bowl 2010, which found that of the 60 or so commercials aired during the game, not one of them was captained by a minority creative director. “That’s a shocking revelation,” he said. Rob Norman, CEO of WPP’s Group M North America, said that all of the programs and efforts may never be enough to rectify the problem.

The silent segregation within agencies expands to their clients and muffles the voice of the disabled amongst advertisers. Things are changing for the better, which I’ll blog about further in a future post. Beyond the lawsuit there are efforts to welcome minorities into the creative world. One challenge, though, is that many of these organizations rarely, if at all, include disability amongst represented minority groups.

If you are reading this and already in the ad industry, ask yourself how many minorities you know in the ad business, more specifically, those with disabilities. If you’d like to consider going into our creative profession, and are a minority click on one of these links to learn more about how you can get involved, or contact me directly.

Ideas, creativity and dreams transcend color, gender and ability.


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