How Can We Exclude Exclusion?

By: Ana O’Brien

Just like countless other professions, the advertising industry may also be guilty of gender pay gaps, unconscious bias, female underrepresentation in leadership roles and minority exclusion (e.g. race, LGBTQ). After taking the time to research such issues, it is apparent how these issues can be prevented and how our classrooms can become proactive.

It is imperative to educate college students and emerging professionals about the benefits and competitive edge diversity could give a workplace. Teams comprised of more diverse backgrounds create more innovative ideas. Yet, just 11% of industry creative directors are female. This statistic is just one of endless examples of how the advertising industry has not practiced inclusivity amongst its professionals. The average ad industry employee likely agrees the lack of racial diversity is a very unfortunate situation. But on a daily basis, he’s likely to carry on, figuring for the most part the industry will evolve and that his nonwhite co-workers are content with the state of adland.

So, how will we make a change? How can students, who have yet to enter the industry, work towards changing these statistics? To professionals educated about diversity in the field and even millennials that are up-to-date with trends, it may be obvious that different people present different ideas. However, something that is obvious to us may not be obvious or cared about by others. Advertisers make it their job to strategically communicate brand images to consumers and to make them actually care about a product or service. It is time for us, as students primed to enter the industry, to make professionals and communities actually care about diversifying the workplace.

The foundation for implementing diversity starts with ensuring an entry level professional is “schooled in organizational behavior and culture and networking skills, like how to successfully advocate for oneself, find and work with sponsors and mentors, how to understand industry culture and agencies’ cultures and how to navigate organizational politics”. While we as students learn about how to advertise, it is crucial to consider all of the factors that will affect the job.

Within Martin Hall Agency, our class is equipped with diversity specialists, including myself, that ensure issues of exclusion are avoided. Every other week, we video chat with both emerging and seasoned professionals from the advertising industry. At this time, we listen to their personal experiences and we are able to ask them about how they handle issues in the field. The cohesion between our team members allows us to comfortably help one another to be confident and knowledgeable in our field.

As one of the diversity specialists at Martin Hall Agency, it’s my mission to ensure a diversified agency and continue to enlighten others around me that may suffer from unconscious bias. The classes we take, the knowledge we learn and the relationships we make, if obtained in an inclusive way, will be the optimal foundation for what we will bring to the table for future career endeavors.


Farey-Jones, L. (2016, January 22). It’s Time for Wage Equality in Advertising. Retrieved from

Mallia, K. L. (2016). Addressing the elephant in the room. (Or, I dare you to ignore this any longer.). Journal of Advertising Education, 20(1/2), 104–110.

Wheaton, K. (2012). Silent minorities speak out about adland isolation. (cover story). Advertising Age, 83(13), 1–26. Retrieved from

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