March 8th is International Women’s Day and all of March is Women’s History Month, celebrating the achievements of women globally from cultural, political, social and economic perspectives. Yet where do women of color (as they’ve come to be called by, I guess, some inspired Caucasian) stand in my industry —advertising—today?
Is there good news or bad news? Is there happy progress or enraging backsliding? The answer to these questions is an ironic yes.
On the one hand, for women of color the “glass ceiling” is a “concrete ceiling” as The Wall Street Journal puts it. Women of color make up just 3% of the C-suite (71% are still white men) as a study from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. describes it. Gender parity won’t be achieved until 2133, at least in the estimation of the World Economic Forum. There’s a “political ambition gap” according to a Women’s Caucus report called Not Making it Here: Why Women are Underrepresented in the NYC Council, no less than a stunning reflection of how things are from the world’s capital.
At the same time, there’s room for some good news. Let’s see:
- Women of color will be the majority of all women in the U.S. by 2060, notes a Catalyst study. And ―no surprise here, nor can political wallsstop this― by 2024 the percentage of Hispanic women in the labor force will increase by 30.3%. Only 3% of all U.S. Creative Directors were women and then Kat Gordon started the 3% Movement (now at 11%).
- Women are running for office in record numbers, informs Emily’s List, a national organization dedicated to helping women win elective government positions. They add that more than 30,000 women have contacted them about running for office since the 2016 elections.
- Women of color experience a higher rate of sexual violence, as the CDC tells us, to our inevitable shock and even disbelief. As an encouraging sign, the #MeToo Movement shines a light on harassment yet #TimesUp. And then, there’s The Women’s March!
- Individual women champions are channeling their passion and networks to do something. And they are making a difference, notably Tiffany R. Warren, at AdColor; Lauren Wesley Wilson, of ColorComm, Inc.; Shelley Zalis, and The Girl’s Lounge/The Female Quotient and Geena Davis, with the Institute on Gender in Media.
So, yes, I see things are changing for the better and I am encouraged. But the fight can’t stop now.
What does it mean to be a Latina in Advertising today? Just as importantly, how is advertising marketing to Latinx (both Latinos and Latinas)?
I’ve been on both sides. I started as a young Latina Creative Director in 1975, (the same year that International Women’s Day was established), at pioneering Hispanic ad agency Conill Advertising, then briefly at NBC and PBS, then at Young & Rubicam’s Hispanic unit The Bravo Group in the 1980s. More recently, I founded d expósito & Partners, an ad agency specialized in marketing to Hispanics.
Yes, I’ve experienced the Boy’s Club mentality to some measure, and the “boys will be boys” syndrome. However, self-confidence, adherence to clear values and simple respect are superior antidotes against machismo. It doesn’t hurt to remember how the great David Ogilvy was able to set “them” straight with his famous quote: “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.”
I can also attest to the fact that I’ve been quite fortunate. Way too lucky! At Y&R I had, perhaps, an unlikely mentor in Peter Georgescu, a white man at the top of the most prominent advertising agency of its day, Young & Rubicam. Yet, while he was my boss’s boss’s boss, we bonded over our common personal histories of growing up in, and then escaping, a Communist society, both of us political refugees—from Romania in his case and Cuba in mine.
Since those days, I’ve made it my own personal mission to be a bit like that mentor, specifically to young Latinas. And as head of my own agency, I try to ensure that our clients’ brand messages are sensitive and accurate, so that they resonate with our consumer regardless of gender, sexual orientation or choice, while avoiding stereotypes or disenfranchisement.
When I was honored with the Matrix Award by New York Women in Communications, Inc., I thought of it as a call-to-action to give back to the community. As such, I sponsored and supported their Esperanza Scholarship for Hispanic young women majoring in journalism or communications. I also helped create FuturaMente (FutureMinds), to support education among Latino youth by motivating Hispanic-Americans to become teachers.
Every now and then, when the silly pretentions of gender superiority may surface in my business world, something unavoidable over the years, I often think of what they said about Ginger Rogers, that she could do everything that her famous dance partner, Fred Astaire, could do, but she did it backwards and in high heels. The sentence still applies today, beyond the brilliance of its humor, for those women who may face discrimination of any kind.
But the bottom line in business is dollars and “sense.” What happens when women are left out of the equation, whether as consumer targets or employees with talent and influence? The 3% movement says it best: “In a world where women influence upwards of 80% of consumer spending and 60% of social media sharing, this is business suicide.”