The acceptance speeches at the annual Advertising Hall of Fame induction ceremony a few weeks ago were dotted with nuggets of wisdom and insight. One such speech, from futurist and planner Laurel Cutler, included this shocking statistical nugget: She was one of just 14 women inducted into the hall since the American Advertising Federation began bestowing the honor in 1948. (There are 201 members today.)
Ms. Cutler's speech went on to name-check all of them, sharing her connection with that elite group of women, which included Helen Lansdowne Resor, her legendary first boss; Katharine Graham, whom Ms. Cutler described as her personal and professional inspiration; Charlotte Beers, with whom she almost became business partners not once, but twice; and our own Gertrude Crain, who, like Ms. Cutler, bridged the world between advertising and automotive.
Fourteen is a shockingly low number, but to explain the gender gap one only needs to look at the criteria for Hall of Fame induction: men and women who have held long, distinguished advertising careers and have now moved on to retirement. Safe to say, most of the folks inducted over the past decade were building those distinguished careers in the '50s and '60s -- not exactly a golden age for gender equality. In fact, Ms. Cutler relayed the story of being asked to serve on the board of McCann: "I was thrilled ... until Paul Foley told me that of course they would give Margot Sherman early retirement to make room for me. 'If that's the price of my promotion,' I said, 'I don't want it. She's my patron; she's been wonderful to me.' 'It's not your decision to make,' he said. That's when the woman's rung was new and only one-woman wide."
Today the industry has more women in more senior positions -- as the heads of global agency networks, as chief marketing officers of the world's largest companies, as presidents and CEOs of major media companies. Because of that, we fully expect the Hall of Fame's ratio of women inductees to increase.
But the Hall of Fame judging committee can only choose from the folks who have been nominated. Which leads us to our charge to agency, media and corporate giants: Look within your ranks and nominate the women who have made an impact and left their legacies on the industry. We've seen the shift within the advertising business; now let's tilt the ratio within its Hall of Fame.