New data from She Runs It and management consulting firm Diversity Best Practices shows a troubling decline in the number of women in executive positions in the advertising, media and technology industries.
According to the third annual Diversity Best Practices Inclusion Index and the second annual #Inclusive100 benchmark, released on Thursday at an Advertising Week New York panel, just 29 percent of corporate or executive positions at AMT companies are held by women. That’s down from 30 percent last year.
Marketers have struggled for years to improve women’s representation in positions of power, so even a small move in the wrong direction is alarming. Numbers typically hold steady or make disappointing progress each year. “This has been a problem that has been persistent forever,” says Lynn Branigan, president and CEO of She Runs It, “so it’s not surprising that these numbers are really staggeringly bad.”
Women of color fared little better, with only Asian women making any progress, jumping from 1 percent to 4 percent representation at the highest corporate levels. Black women’s representation remained steady, at 1 percent, and white women and Latinx women both lost ground.
Branigan attributes the results to a lack of information rather than malfeasance or a lack of will. She applauded the companies that took part in the survey. “There’s a real desire to affect change, but there isn’t a lot of knowledge about how to do that,” she says. “Participants said, ‘we want to take the blinders off. We want to understand where we are and where we have to go.’”
Women make up about half the AMT workforce at the entry level, so attrition is occurring as organizations fail to promote them. The data says “getting to the C-suite requires a P&L responsibility,” notes Carol Watson, senior director, global advisory services at Diversity Best Practices. Companies promote people who are accountable for the bottom line, but women and people of color often don’t have access to the sponsorship and mentoring opportunities that will get them into those positions in the first place.
“The companies that do the best in terms of improving in diversity are much more intentional about providing access to the playbook and having a sponsor advocate for women and people of color,” Watson says.
The #Inclusive100 report also showcases diversity initiatives at participating companies that are actually working and includes advice for organizations and executives, including recommendations for expanding accountability. “You have to have managers responsible for D&I in their performance reviews,” Branigan says.
AMT companies are falling behind here. Only 7 percent said they set concrete diversity goals, compared to 57 percent of companies in all industries, according to DBP benchmarks. And while 71 percent of AMT companies say they have executive sponsors for employee resource groups that advocate for underrepresented groups, 99 percent of companies across the board do, she adds.
Watson cautions against despair when examining the latest numbers, favoring analysis instead. “I don’t think the focus shouldn’t be on a year-over-year increase in representation as much as on what are the actual drivers what will make sustainable change,” she says. “We need to approach it the same way we approach business problems—dissecting the data and analytics the same way our brand marketers do. That has never been done. We’ve been throwing money at things without the same level of rigor the industry is known for and very proud of.”