What ‘Each for Equal’ Means for the Advertising World

by Silvia Cespedes, Director of Consulting at Direcly

This year’s International Women’s Day Theme, ‘Each for Equal,’ is a call to action for each one of us to work toward an empowered and diverse society. This applies to the advertising world, too. The “Mad Men” days may be in the rearview mirror, but there’s still much work to be done in achieving gender and cultural parity and in learning to speak to women through our campaigns.

 Women now make up more than half of the advertising industry, and the women who have come before us have worked hard to break barriers. “Since I started my career, you see more women in leadership positions, as well as more open and candid conversations about the necessity for women leaders and closing the wage gap,” says Stephanie DaCosta, director of media at Republica Havas. “I’m proud to be part of a network like Havas, where they support women in the workplace with programs like ‘Femmes Forward,’ a comprehensive six-month leadership program.” 

However, there are still significant barriers that limit the growth of women in high-level advertising positions. “As women, and especially as Latina women, we are still fighting against stereotyping, gender bias and pressure to be an equal partner at the table,” says Myrna De Jesus, strategist at Zubi Advertising. “Nonetheless, I’m proud to say that Latinas have come a long way and we are armed with a sense of purpose and continue to make influential strides.”

 The Work We Do

Advertising’s strides toward equity extend beyond employee statistics. The way we approach the work has shifted too, as our campaigns reach out to and portray diverse audiences. “Slowly but surely, brands and agencies are talking about the different issues society faces,” says Charito Sepúlveda, Head of Partner Success at The HUB Marketing. “Our campaigns are more based in reality than before – obviously influenced by the variety of platforms that give us insights into our audiences and challenges us to speak to them authentically.”

 Karen Acevedo, associate director of media at Republica Havas, argues that as advertisers, we have both the power and the responsibility to change the perceptions of women and cultural minorities.  “We have the capacity to shift the perception of the masses,” she says. “Historically, this has been used to favor white males, with portrayals of women as homemakers and objects of sexual desire. And while over time advertising did evolve, a look at this evolution shows that ‘fixing’ a narrative can turn into another problematic one – such as ads that began to portray women in the workplace, but only as employees, not employers. Not to mention all the other groups that are under- and often mis-represented. This is why it is crucial to not only have women at the advertising table, but also people from all different walks of life.”

 Still, many firms remain behind the curve when it comes to reaching multicultural audiences. “Multicultural is still foreign to many advertisers, even in a world where the U.S. Hispanic population is almost 20%, reaching as high as 70% in key markets like Miami,” says Raysa Rodriguez-Leon, vice president and sales manager of Katz Radio Group. “We need to continue to educate and push at the client and agency level so that Hispanic voices continue to be part of the conversation when discussing media plans. We in the industry need to continue to put in the work so that clients understand the value of the Hispanic market in the U.S.”

 A Business Case for Diversity

Taking steps toward gender and cultural parity isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also good for business, particularly in the advertising world. We can’t possibly reach diverse audiences in a real and effective manner if our teams don’t include people from all walks of life. “The table should reflect the society it represents,” says Rodriguez-Leon. “Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive – the advertising industry is no different. A gender equal world can be healthier, wealthier and more harmonious. It’s smart business to be inclusive of women and their perspective, input and outlook.”

Inclusive teams also tend to be more creative, able to incorporate more perspectives to arrive at more groundbreaking ideas. “Diversity in advertising propels creativity,” says Betsy Henao, strategic partner at WOW MKTG. “As household decision-makers and caregivers, women provide unique perspectives that allow for a more holistic and personal approach to brand campaigns.”

Continuing the Work

 To pave the way forward for future women and Latina marketers, we all have a duty to speak up, says Denisse Roca of Miami Marketers, pointing out that we’re still 100 years away from reaching gender parity. “We have valuable thoughts and visions that need to be heard, especially if they shake the status quo,” she says. “Make sure your voice is heard not just for you, but for your daughter, niece, friends and future generations.”