Women working in advertising in the early decades of the 20th century most often found employment as copywriters or researchers and, occasionally, as space buyers. It was not until 1926 that Nedda McGrath became the first female art director in the U.S., when she was hired by the Blackman Agency.
A 1924 survey of more than 600 women employed in New York ad agencies found only five media space buyers; 22 of the women worked as copywriters. The rest were in lower level, mostly clerical jobs. A similar gender disparity was evident in salaries—women space buyers, for example, earned 50% less than men.
In 1993, Advertising Women of New York sponsored a survey of 2,000 men and women working in various communications industries. Respondents were questioned about gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and both sexes agreed that gender discrimination was of greater concern than sexual harassment.
Women perceived a "glass ceiling" that effectively barred them from advancement to higher levels of management, while the majority of men believed there was no such barrier. Even so, men did acknowledge that women had fewer opportunities at top management levels—only 28% of the women surveyed were in top management positions, compared with 68% of the men.
The AWNY study also reported that women in advertising still earned less than men, with differences in salary as great as 54%. Women who worked in the industry for 10 to 19 years might earn only 70% of the salaries awarded their male counterparts.
While women gained more access to positions in media and account management during the 1980s and '90s, they lost ground in creative departments. A telephone survey conducted by Advertising Age's Creativity magazine in 1997 revealed that there were no women in the creative department of one small agency and an average of 26% in the other small agencies contacted. Larger agencies all had women represented in their creative departments, but the average was only 24%.
During the 1960s, some agencies made efforts to correct the underrepresentation of African-Americans in advertising. By the close of the 20th century, however, 8% of employees in ad agencies and related media services companies were African-American women, and the percentages were even lower for Hispanic (5%) and Asian/Pacific Islander women (3%).
Organization and advancement
Several organizations have helped smooth the way for women who enter the advertising industry. The League of Advertising Women, created in 1912, set out to "promote the profession of advertising and to open new opportunities for women in the field."
In 1935, AWNY was given airtime on radio station WNYC to host a half-hour show. As its membership grew and its members became known as effective speakers, the league developed a speakers bureau. It also bestowed an annual Advertising Woman of the Year Award.
AWNY also provides its members opportunities for mentoring, networking and staying abreast of industry trends. Both men and women are invited to join. The group hosts the annual Advertising Career Conference for female college students and also cosponsors the Cannes International Festival Gala in New York.
The Women's Advertising Club of Chicago was established in 1917 and by the end of the century had more than 300 members. The organization, which places a strong emphasis on education, gives its members high visibility and provides a chance to network. Copywriting was the predominant specialization among the 35 charter members of the club, but by the late 1990s one-third of the membership worked in ad sales.
Other groups that help women network or stay abreast of developments in the field include Women in Advertising & Marketing in Washington and the Network for Professional Women, which originated in 1979.
The American Advertising Federation, founded in 1967, operates the Advertising Hall of Fame. Since its inception, eight women and 136 men have been inducted. The first woman admitted was Erma Perham Proetz, a copywriter at Gardner Advertising in St. Louis, who won three early Harvard-Bok awards for creativity for her campaigns for Pet condensed milk.
The Art Directors Club of New York maintains its own Hall of Fame. Among the 102 inductees, six women were granted the prestigious honor between 1975 and 1997.
Perhaps because women have more often held positions as copywriters, the One Club, which recognizes achievements in art direction and copywriting, has a slightly higher proportion of women among its honorees. Four of the One Club's 34 inductees are women. The first to be acknowledged was Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, in 1967, followed by Phyllis K. Robinson (1968), Mary Wells Lawrence (1969) and Shirley Polykoff (1974).
During the 20th century the role of women in advertising was affected by a variety of social and cultural events outside the profession itself. Early in the century, Helen Lansdowne Resor, one-half of the famous J. Walter Thompson Co. husband-and-wife team, organized a group of JWT women to march in the 1915 suffragette parade in New York.
When men went off to fight during World War II, women went to work. Ms. Resor, along with James Webb Young and Bill Berchtold, formed the War Manpower Commission and created the slogan "Women must work to win this war." In 1944, Jean Wade Rindlaub, a copywriter at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne, became the agency's first female VP.
During the 1960s, women inside and outside the ad industry began to speak out for equal rights and equal pay. At Doyle Dane Bernbach, Phyllis Robinson supervised a creative staff that included Mary Wells, Paula Green, Judith Protas, Lore Parker and Rita Selden. And by the 1990s, Ilon Specht, who had launched her career working on the L'Oreal account ("I'm worth it") at McCann-Erickson in 1973, was the creative director at Jordan, McGrath, Case & Partners.
Many women started their own agencies around this time. Adrienne Hall and Joan Levine launched Hall & Levine in Los Angeles in 1959; Janet Marie Carlson opened her own agency; and in 1958, Jane Trahey launched New York-based Jane Trahey & Associates. In 1966, Mary Wells Lawrence founded Wells, Rich, Greene, and Jo Foxworth founded her agency in 1968.
In 1973, JWT awarded Charlotte Beers the rank of senior VP. She was the first woman to achieve the rank at the agency—even Helen Resor had only attained the status of VP. Ms Beers went on to become chairman-CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, in 1992 and, after a brief retirement, chairman of JWT in 1999. At the end of 2001, Ms. Beers was appointed undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs by President George W. Bush; she resigned in March 2003 for health reasons.