How the Ad Industry Can Help Women Attain Top Leadership Positions

And why they're leaving in the first place

Headshot of Katie Richards

It's a well-known fact that there are not nearly enough women in leadership positions in the advertising industry. This year during Advertising Week, She Runs It (the organization formerly known as Advertising Women of New York, or AWNY) released new data around the topic of gender diversity in agencies and why more women aren't taking on the top leadership roles.

The extensive study, "Accelerating the Path to Leadership for Women in Marketing and Media," was commissioned in partnership with LinkedIn and Ernst & Young and looked at more than 4,000 companies. Results from the study account for roughly 3.7 million LinkedIn members. 

She Runs It looked at men and women across seven disciplines in media and marketing including creative and media agencies, publishers and ad-tech companies. The results uncovered suggest that while 41 percent of "early stage professionals" are in media and marketing gigs, by the time you reach the executive leadership stage only 25 percent of those roles are filled by women.

But the most significant drop off point, according to head of She Runs It, Lynn Branigan, comes at the non-executive level, or the VP level. "Everyone always talks about the fact that we lose women in the messy middle, that we lose them when they are at childbearing age, that they want to have families that cultures and company cultures aren't at a place where they are family friendly and that's where we lose them. When you take a look at that chart you see the biggest drop starts at non-executive leadership, that makes you think something else is going on here," Branigan said. Women are either stalled, she argued, of they are exiting the industry.

Branigan argued one of the ways women could help propel themselves into higher positions begins with networking. According to the research, 70 percent of endorsements on LinkedIn are made by men, with 69 percent of women's endorsements coming from men and 78 percent of men's endorsements coming from men.


Added Branigan: "Clearly the importance of building your network, endorsing others and building your social score are all-important things for women to do. We build our career based upon relationships. Women have to recognize our differences and be proactive in changing some behaviors that are more natural for men."

Plus, at the middle management level, there are a few skills gaps between men and women in HR, finance and strategy that may be preventing women from getting to that next level. If companies begin building out programs in those areas that help provide women with the necessary skills, Branigan argued that could be one way to help women move up in the business.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.
Publish date: September 29, 2016 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT