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This exploratory cross-cultural study examines the experiences of women in advertising creative departments in Spain and the United States. The study, an exploration of the creative environment and its impact on female creatives, is framed by Hofstede's dimensional model of national culture (Hofstede 2001; de Mooij & Hofstede 2010) and signalling theory (Spence 1974). Interviews with 35 top female creatives suggest that the challenges women face are rooted in the 'fraternity culture' or 'territorio de chicos' of creative departments in both countries. The data further suggest that the gender-bound cultural environment of advertising creative departments may be a global phenomenon, one that may adversely affect the creative process and impact women's upward mobility
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International Journal of Advertising, 31(3), pp. 000–000
© 2012 Advertising Association
Published by Warc,
DOI: 10.2501/IJA-31-3-000-000
Vanishing acts
Creative women in Spain and the United States
Jean Grow
Marquette University
David Roca
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Sheri J. Broyles
University of North Texas
This exploratory cross-cultural study examines the experiences of women in advertising crea-
tive departments in Spain and the United States. The study, an exploration of the creative
environment and its impact on female creatives, is framed by Hofstede’s dimensional model of
national culture (Hofstede 2001; deMooij & Hofstede 2010) and signalling theory (Spence
1974). Interviews with 35 top female creatives suggest that the challenges women face are
rooted in the ‘fraternity culture’ or ‘territorio de chicos’ of creative departments in both coun-
tries. The data further suggest that the gender-bound cultural environment of advertising
creative departments may be a global phenomenon, one that may adversely affect the creative
process and impact women’s upward mobility.
In the 1960s – the era of Mad Men – there were a whole lot more Don Drapers (or, in
real life, Bill Bernbachs and David Ogilvys) than there were Peggy Olsons (or Mary Wells
Lawrences and Shirley Polykoffs). Today women make up about half the advertising
workforce, however they remain a rare commodity in advertising creative departments,
accounting for only 20 to 25% of all creatives (Klein 2000; DiSesa 2008; Jordan 2009;
Mallia 2009). Yet women make 80 to 85% of all consumption decisions ( Jordan 2009;
Mallia 2009). In short,Advertising is missing its mark with women’ (Berman etal. 2006,
para. 3).
On a global level there appears to be a lack of cultural diversity within advertising
agencies, in particular within creative departments (Pritchard & Morgan 2000; Foster
2003; Nixon 2003; Gregory 2009; McLeod etal. 2009). Also troubling is the underdevel-
opment of international advertising research (Moriarty & Duncan 1991; Zinkhan 1993;
Taylor 2010). Research addressing cultural convergence is imperative for a comprehensive
understanding of our ever-expanding and highly diverse global marketplace (Moriarty
& Duncan 1991; Zinkhan 1993; Hofstede 2001; Taylor 2005, 2010; de Mooij 2010;
deMooij & Hofstede 2010; House etal. 2010). Finally, maintaining diverse creative teams
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has the potential of offering clients more distinctive perspectives (Stewart 1992; Pritchard
& Morgan 2000; Foster 2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; McLeod etal. 2009).
This cross-cultural research explores female creative directors’ experiences in creative
departments in the United States and Spain. The authors investigate the women’s experi-
ences relative to the creative cultural environment and consider the intersection of gender
and creativity. The study is framed by Hofstede’s dimensional model of national culture
(Hofstede 2001; deMooij & Hofstede 2010) and signalling theory (Spence 1974).
Although there has been some research related to the role of creatives in advertising
agencies (Gelade 1997; Hackley 2003; Nixon 2003; Hackley & Kover 2007), little is
known about creative women and their interaction in male-dominated creative depart-
ments. In the past such topics and discussion of barriers might have been water-cooler
gossip. Today’s water cooler is social media with posts to Facebook pages and blogs.
However, a more structured look can bring to light an important perspective for both
academics and those in the industry.
Such gender issues may be systemic. By examining two different cultures – Spain and
the United States – we hope to find patterns that might be observed in other cultures as
well. In turn, this will help practitioners better understand how women deal with conflicts
related to gender and, perhaps, agencies may benefit more from their talent.
This research is framed by three overarching questions. First, what are the similarities
and differences experienced by female creative directors within creative departments in
Spain and the United States? Second, how do gender and culture inform these similarities
and differences? Third, what are the implications of these findings?
Literature review
Global perspectives
Considering global cultural perspectives, Hofstede’s (2001) dimensional model of national
culture offers a productive framework. The model outlines assessment based on five key
dimensions: power distance, individualism versus collectivism, gender dimensions, uncer-
tainty avoidance and long- versus short-term orientation.
Power distance refers to ‘the extent to which less powerful members of society accept
and expect that power is distributed unequally’ (de Mooij & Hofstede 2010, p. 88).
Individualism versus collectivism refers to how much effort is put into caring for oneself
and one’s immediate family versus belonging to and caring about in-groups. Gender
dimensions are reflected in the dominant values of masculine or feminine society, where
traditionally masculine societies have been defined by achievement and success, while
feminine societies have been defined by caring and quality of life. Uncertainty avoidance
is defined as ‘the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity
and try to avoid these situations’ (deMooij & Hofstede 2010, p.89). Finally, long- versus
short-term orientation relates to a future-orientated pragmatism and investment in the
future (long-term), or a focus on personal stability, traditions and personal happiness
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This model (Hofstede 2001; deMooij & Hofstede 2010) suggests a way to make sense
of the impact of the cultural environments such as advertising creative departments where
the production of branded messages takes place. Specifically, this model can be used as a
way of understanding the collective identity that shapes advertising creative departments
and women’s experiences within them. In that sense cultural values reflect both mental
and social processes within advertising creative departments.
Looking across Europe, there are numerous studies assessing advertising in general.
However, research addressing gender issues within agency creative departments is limited
and generally takes a unilateral approach. The majority focuses on Britain, with three
large-scale studies produced in the United Kingdom. Baxter (1990) and Klein (2000) each
produced industry-funded studies. Nixon (2003) produced another, though not industry
funded, and remains prolific, with multiple critical studies exploring the gendered culture
of advertising creative departments. Also focusing on Britain, Gregory (2009) explores
homosociability, while McLeod etal. (2009) address the impact of class and gender, and
Pritchard and Morgan (2000) look at the male gaze in tourism advertising. Addressing a
few related studies beyond Britain, Alvesson (1998) looks at gender identities in Swedish
advertising, while Michaels (2007) speaks to sexist stereotypes in Italy.
Spain and the United States might be considered David and Goliath within the cultur-
ally western advertising marketplace, with the United States having economic and cultural
dominance. From their divergent places on the global spectrum emerges the potential to
expose contrasts and insights. The United States spends more on advertising than any
other country in the world (Euromonitor International 2010). In an age of global acquisi-
tions with its mammoth advertising spending and its gargantuan media reach, American
advertising has ‘Americanised’ global markets since the 1980s (deMooij 2010).
Historically American advertising, both in reality and in fictional depictions, has been
a man’s world. An example of how ingrained this is in American culture is the award-
winning television show, Mad Men (American Movie Classics 2011). Set in New York
City in the 1960s, the show’s name is a play on the fact that many top advertising agencies
were located on Madison Avenue as well as the fact that men dominated the ad game.
As noted on the television series’ website, The series … depicts authentically the roles of
men and women in this era while exploring the true human nature beneath the guise of
1960s traditional family values.’
Fifty years later, the Shriver Report (2009) documents slowly evolving fundamental
changes in American society, most importantly the movement of women out of the home
and in to the workforce. This has been the case as women have moved into American
advertising agencies. It starts at the college level, where women dominate advertising
classes. In a national survey of advertising students, 81.7% were women and 18.3% were
men (Fullerton etal. 2009). Women have infused many agency departments – in account
management (Davidson & Burke 2004), in planning and research (Doward 2000) and
especially in media (Mallia 2008).
Yet that trend doesn’t extend into the creative department. There men still dominate,
especially at the creative director level and above. ‘Women are starting creative careers
in advertising. But both empirical and anecdotal evidence show many are leaving those
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jobs … not making it to creative director rank’ (Mallia 2009, online). In 2010, there was
only one female Chief Creative Officer among the top 25 American advertising agencies
(Grow & Broyles 2011).
Spain, on the other hand, while an extremely small market, might be considered a hub
of European creativity, with Barcelona as the crown jewel. Spain’s influence is further
demonstrated by its annual hosting of the Festival el Sol, the most prestigious global
Spanish-language advertising awards festival. The Spanish advertising landscape demon-
strates similar trends to the United States, with the advertising workforce being ‘increas-
ingly feminised’ (Hernández etal. 2009, p. 278). According to the Spanish Association
of Advertising Agencies, women make up 56% of the workforce (Pueyo Ayhan 2010). In
Spanish upper management, ‘men occupy 90% of the managerial positions, while women
are concentrated in middle management’ (Pueyo Ayhan 2010, p.245). Similarly, men
dominate creative departments. The number of women in creative is about one-fifth of
that of men (Martín 2007; Martín etal. 2009; Pueyo Ayhan 2010).
Creative departments can become miniature cultural environments within the larger
advertising agency. This makes them an interesting microcosm for Hofstede’s (2001)
dimensional model of national culture. On a macro level, this model is especially appropri-
ate when making comparisons between Spain and the United States. In addition, studies
by Klein (2000) and Nixon (2003) suggest that a similar pattern may hold across the
industry: women are well represented in the other departments, but not in creative. One
cannot help but ask, why are there so few women in creative?
The creative environmental culture
As previously noted, the vanishing act of women begins in school. It isn’t that there is a
lack of female students. In fact, there are many. Women greatly outnumber men in adver-
tising programmes across the United States (Fullerton etal. 2009; Grow & Broyles 2011).
The same is true in Spain, where women represent almost 75% of advertising students
(Roca & Pueyo Ayhan 2011).
However, the numbers begin to drop as soon as they reach portfolio school. Grow and
Broyles (2011) state that there are nearly twice as many female students as men at college
level, but on entering portfolio school that number drops to about even. As women begin
entering the creative workforce the numbers continue the downward creep, with men
having a slight edge (Grow & Broyles 2011). Five years into their careers, the decline
is no longer a creep but a precipitous drop. By the time women get to the top they are
nearly alone (Dutta 2008; Jordan 2009; Mallia 2009). While there are only a few port-
folio schools in Spain, the employment trend appears to be very similar (Martín 2007;
Hernández etal. 2009; Martín etal. 2009; Pueyo Ayhan 2010).
There may be a number of reasons for this. However, in both countries, all are tinged
with gendered overtones. First, portfolio schools are dominated by male faculty – not
unlike creative departments. Second, creative women cannot, literally, see themselves in
creative departments, especially at the management level. Third, very few female creatives
are industry award winners – and ‘upward mobility hinges greatly on industry recognition.
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However, industry recognition for female creatives’ work is fleeting’ (Grow & Broyles
2011, online). Industry award judging panels in the United States are dominated by men,
as are the awards that are bestowed (Jordan 2009; Mallia 2009). The same happens in
Spain, where nearly 90% of judges are men (Roca etal. 2011). Tied to awards is recogni-
tion in the industry press. In the United States, the number of women that Creativity
magazine calls out as top creatives has been, and remains, less than 10% (Grow & Broyles
2011). In Spain the pattern is similar. When the names of advertising creative’s best and
brightest appeared in 30 Segundos de Gloria (30 Seconds of Glory) there were no women
mentioned (González-Andrio 2005).
As young female creatives look out across the creative landscape, no matter the country,
they simply do not see themselves in anything but small numbers, if at all. Without role
models and a strong support system, women’s success in advertising creative is greatly inhib-
ited (Grow & Broyles 2011). While the shake-out of women in creative may begin as they
leave college, even though in college they far outnumber men, it appears that the lack of
women in creative is an institutionalised industry trend that is environmentally perpetuated.
Signalling theory (Spence 1974) suggests the need to see others like oneself within
an organisation in order to signal the ability to be welcomed and subsequently thrive.
This provides context for understanding female creatives’ experiences within advertising
creative departments. Bourne and Ozbilgin (2008) further suggest that organisations that
don’t transparently address gender bias and/or preferences in the workplace risk not being
able to retain female employees. Further, Hirschman (1989) suggests that role-based com-
munication models are essential to effective advertising. Within the context of signalling
theory, it appears that ‘the social environment can have a significant effect on a person’s
level of intrinsic motivation’ (Koslow & Sasser 2003, p.110), which in turn affects their
ultimate ability to succeed. For creative women in advertising, the consequences of this
environmental challenge can be grim.
Numerous scholars have noted that creative departments are highly masculine environ-
ments, embodying the hallmarks of a ‘boys’ club’ (Klein 2000; Pritchard & Morgan 2000;
Nixon 2003; DiSesa 2008; Mallia 2009). ‘Perception of agency culture and support for orig-
inal work’ are known to be crucial to women’s success in creative departments (Koslow &
Sasser 2003, p.110). Stewart suggests that ‘creativity is inherently embedded in the context
that informs it and nurtures it’ (1992, p.14). However, Gregory (2009) argues that creative
departments are defined by ‘hegemonic masculinity’ framed by sports, humour and clubbing.
In essence, they are the men’s ‘locker room’. Thus, this environmental context signals codes
with powerful masculine markers from how one dresses, speaks, plays, eats and drinks, all the
way to how one makes another laugh. In short, how one bonds and to whom one bonds can,
and often does, define one’s creative career (Grow & Broyles 2011). For women it appears
that bonding within the ‘boys’ club’ is significantly constrained.
Gender and creativity
Creativity, in and of itself, ‘is not gender specific’ (Grow & Broyles 2011, online). However,
there is some evidence that women score higher on tests for openness and divergent
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thinking (Rogers 1959; Helson 1967; Runco 2004). Divergent thinking is helpful for
problem solving (Runco 2004), while openness is essential to the creative process and
correlates highly with divergent thinking (Helson 1967). Though neither of these attrib-
utes causes creativity, both may make creative accomplishments more likely. Thus, it is
ironic that ‘while women are more inclined toward openness and divergent thinking, they
frequently are not accomplished in the advertising creative arena’ (Grow & Broyles 2011,
In advertising, in particular, creativity is also associated with originality (Koslow &
Sasser 2003). Of course both creativity and the authorship of original ideas are influenced
by the creative department’s cultural environments, which as discussed, are highly mascu-
line (Hirschman 1989). Thus, the sheer existence of one’s gender implies greater or lesser
originality within a ‘gender-space dialectic’ (Pritchard & Morgan 2000, p. 116), which
privileges a masculine interpretation. This privilege of masculine interpretation of both
creativity and originality takes place at all levels – from within creative departments, to
awards shows, to industry press forming ‘a considerable block to women’s capacity to suc-
ceed’ (Nixon & Crew 2006, p.246). Further, despite women’s inclination to be open, they
are less likely to self-report creative accomplishments, which can have ‘dire consequences
for their career trajectory (Grow & Broyles 2011, online).
One strategy to level the playing field is gender identification. In environments where
‘the disadvantages of femininity and the privileges of masculinity underscore the necessity
of … gender identification’, women generally have two options: ‘active gender resistance
and conformity’ (Carr 1998, p.528). At one end is resistance and playing the role of tom-
boy (Carr 1998; Broyles & Grow 2008) and at the other end is the girly-girl who might
use her body as a ‘form of cultural capital’ (McLeod etal. 2009, p.1026). The tomboy role
might offer the ability to be one of the guys. Yet, while being a tomboy mutes one’s femi-
ninity, it doesn’t guarantee admittance to the ‘boys’ club’. On the other hand, using one’s
female body as cultural capital can get you ‘into places that a lot of the boy teams can’t’
(McLeod etal. 2009, p.1026). This too has its limitations. First, when it comes to getting
into or understanding female culture, the payoffs are far less valuable as female culture is
generally undervalued in advertising. Second, while the female body may have cultural
capital, using it also has the potential to acquiesce to the ‘male gaze’ (Mulvey 1989) or play
into ‘the politics of desire’ (Helstein 2003), both of which leave women more vulnerable.
The idea of leveraging one’s understanding of femaleness has another disadvantage.
The more women use their femaleness, or their understanding of it, the more likely they
are to land in the pink ghetto. The term ‘pink ghetto’ was first coined in 1983 within
a study of American women and children living in poverty. It referred to the limits on
women’s career advancement within traditional low-wage jobs (Kleiman 2006). In adver-
tising the pink ghetto means being assigned to work on female products (Koslow & Sasser
2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; Mallia 2009; Roca & Pueyo Ayhan 2011), which rarely win
awards or industry praise. Kleiman’s (2006) work suggests that women may be relegated
to the pink ghetto for two reasons. First, there are preconceived notions that female
product accounts reflect women’s work and are thus of less value. Second, the women in
management roles, within the pink ghetto, are often there because men aren’t comfortable
Grow.indd 6 14/06/2012 17:21:49
working on these brands. Not surprisingly, the pink ghetto is also associated with lower
salaries (Kleiman 2006; Martín 2007; Mallia 2009). While salaries in advertising are, in
part, linked to billable hours and face time at the agency, they are also contingent on the
awards and industry recognition. And so the circular loop that traps women in the pink
ghetto comes full circle, keeping them at lower salaries with less recognition.
Further, if you are a woman with children it appears your career trajectory is far less
robust than your male counterpart – even if he also has children. Having children for
creative men seems a non-issue. However, for creative women having children is often
viewed as a lack of career commitment (Mallia 2009; Grow & Broyles 2011). Studies have
shown that top creative men generally have stay-at-home partners. Top creative women
also have stay-at-home partners or nannies. Yet, because of the double standard, when it
comes to how one’s commitment to work is viewed, some women simply choose not to
have children (Mallia 2009; Grow & Broyles 2011).
Finally, we come to the ultimate output of the creative process – the work. Most
industry creatives speak of the work as the key to success (Mallia 2009; Grow & Broyles
2011), yet the literature suggests that advertising creative is shaped and judged within a
masculine paradigm (Hirschman 1989; Nixon 2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; Martín 2007;
Gregory 2009; Mallia 2009; Pueyo Ayhan 2010). The reality is, advertising is an ‘incestu-
ous and … small community (McLeod etal. 2009, p.1031). Further, some have suggested
a tendency for creative directors to hire in their own image (Ibarra 1992; Pritchard &
Morgan 2000; Foster 2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; Gregory 2009; McLeod etal. 2009), just
as signalling theory suggests (Spence 1974). In the context of a system that has institu-
tionalised gender inequity, hiring in one’s image is not surprising. For, as Nixon and Crew
state, gender is ‘written into the creative cultures of advertising’ (2006, p.129).
Organisational research methods are still evolving with respect to gender, using both
quantitative and qualitative research based on ongoing criticism to create social change
(Calás & Smircich 2009). This investigation helps forge new ground in the global adver-
tising arena by merging parts of two broader long-term studies exploring gender dynamics
and creativity within advertising creative departments. The results of this specific study are
based on interviews with 15 top creative women in the United States and 20 top creative
women in Spain.
Sample selection
The initial list of American female creatives was derived from women featured in the
Wall Street Journal Creative Leaders Series and from the Creative Skirts website, as well in
other articles in trade publications such as Advertising Age. The list was then adjusted to
reflect geographic diversity by pooling names regionally into three categories: East Coast,
Mid-America and West Coast. The original list was derived for a larger study including
Canada. For this study, only data from American women were used.
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In Spain, the names of senior creative women were initially selected from the Club de
Creativos database. From there women at two types of agency (top award winners and
top earners) were selected to create an initial pool. There were only 14 senior women on
the Club de Creativos database – which included Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia – and
not all those women could be found. Therefore, a snowball technique was used to iden-
tify more senior creative women. All of the Spanish women interviewed were based in
Data collection
Each participant was contacted for an initial screening. In the United States the screening
was conducted via email. In Spain the screening was done via telephone and email. The
screening allowed the investigators to assess if each participant was at the level of Creative
Director or above. At the same time the women were informed about the parameters of
the study, including time commitment and possible publication. American participants
were told that any quotes attributed directly to them would be cleared in advance or they
could choose to remain anonymous. In Spain the women strongly preferred anonymity.
Thus all respondents are quoted anonymously.
All in-depth interviews were conducted by one of the three principal investigators.
Because all Spanish participants were in Barcelona, interviews were conducted face-
to-face. In the United States geographic and financial constraints were a consideration,
therefore interviews were conducted by telephone.
Set scripts were used in each country to ensure the in-depth interviews would be
consistent. American and Spanish investigators used questions with parallel cultural
construction to ensure accurate data analysis. Though there were linguistic variations, the
content of each question remained consistent. Follow-up probes were used to encourage
elaboration. This structure was designed for more nuanced replies and consequently more
substantive data. The interviews lasted approximately 45 to 60 minutes. All interviews
were recorded and then transcribed.
As a cohort these women spent 8 to 35 years in the advertising industry. In the United
States the time spent in the industry ranged from 15 to 35 years. In Spain the time spent
in the industry ranged from 8 to 27 years. Altogether, the women’s ages were 29 to 58. In
the United States the age range was 29 to 58, while in Spain the age range was 29 to 46.
Titles ranged from Chairman to Creative Director. In the United States the titles
included Chairman, Chief Creative Officer, Executive Vice President, Associate Creative
Director and Creative Director. In the United States all but three worked for global
multinational agencies. Of those three, two operated their own companies (an advertising
agency and a consulting firm) and the third worked at a small boutique agency. In Spain
the women’s titles included Executive Creative Director and Associate Creative Director,
with the majority at Creative Director. At the time of the interviews, 17 of the women
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were employed in advertising agencies. Ten worked for top-earning multinational or
domestic agencies, four worked in award-winning creative shops and three ran their own
small agencies. The remaining three women freelanced. One year after the interviews were
completed, all of the American women were still employed. However, one-third of the
Spanish women were let go in the intervening year.
Finally, the women in both countries worked across a wide range of product categories.
All worked on classic women’s brands such as shampoo and feminine hygiene at one point
in their careers. Some worked on these products for extended periods of time. However,
only three women – all American – discussed working with the premier ‘male brand cat-
egories of beer and automobiles.
Using verbatim comments the co-authors used qualitative thematic analysis. The analysis
involved a three-step process. First, Spanish and American investigators analysed data
separately determining thematic clusters. Second, investigators compared the American
and Spanish clusters looking for cross-cultural patterns and trends. Spanish verbatim
quotes were translated into English by the Spanish investigator. Third, the categories were
re-analysed allowing similarities and differences to emerge from within thematic clusters.
Across both cultures three thematic categories emerged: (1) gender and the creative
process ; (2) gender and project assignment; and (3) factors related to leaving advertising
creative departments. Overshadowing all three categories is gender and, more specifically,
the masculine cultural environment of creative departments. The voices of these Spanish
and American creative women, in the form of key quotes, exemplify the essence of each
Voices of Spanish creative women
In terms of gender and the creative process, five key factors emerged. The selection of
creative solutions, or the ‘Big Idea’, is usually done by men. ‘[Executive Creative Director]
can always say this idea is not going to be presented or needs a change at the last minute. So I
present many things nobody ever sees.’ The bigger the project, the more significant the role
of men becomes.[Female creative director] and I had the feeling that they [men] had the best
accounts. But our ideas shined … They are good. They are not worse, just different.’
1. Women favour a democratic process when selecting ideas or creative solutions, but did
not always experience that process within the male creative culture. ‘It’s far from demo-
cratic, everything we had done was worthless.
2. Women are often marginalised or isolated, especially when it comes to presenting
work. ‘I was the only woman in the meeting. And, yes, I noticed some discomfort when I
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had an idea. I am convinced that if presented by a guy everyone would laugh, but as it was
presented by a woman they did not laugh … I felt very tense in that environment.’
3. Many, though not all, creative women tended to avoid overtly expressing discrimina-
tion, even when the evidence of promotion and retention made it evident. ‘I have not
experienced sexist episodes or felt discrimination against [myself ] as a women … I think it’s
your attitude.’
In terms of gender and project assignments, four key factors emerged.
1. Assignments are often based on one’s gender and the perception of the masculine or
feminine quality of the brand (men’s products versus women’s products). ‘They gave this
very cool account to the boy’s team and the principals were pissed off because we said, “Why do
they own it and we do not?”’
2. Spanish women expressed experiencing gender-based cultural codes, which often made
them more comfortable with women’s products. At the same time, this experience didn’t
prepare them to work with men’s products, closing doors to working on those accounts.
Look, I like female things because, of course, at the same time I am also the consumer.’
3. The women long to work on brands that allow them more creativity, which tend to
represent the biggest clients with the most creative potential, but feel that they can’t say
‘no’ to any account assignments.I will never be able to present a contest (award-winning
account) with the agency because the team has its star (a man).
4. Most of the women believe that the masculine/feminine division for product assign-
ment should not exist and is detrimental to the client and their own career advance-
ment. There are some products addressed to women, but women don’t necessarily have to
work on them at a creative level. I do not think so … Anyone is trained to do it, to get into
the role, right?’
In terms of why Spanish women leave creative, three key factors emerged.
1. Women choose career paths with less stress, often by opening their own agencies or
freelancing. ‘For me the big qualitative jump was to become freelance … You own your own
time … I just establish my own schedule.’
2. The women move because they feel there is an overall sexist cultural environment,
which leads to less pay than men and a lack of respect. The atmosphere seemed to be very
good … I had exactly the same position and they raised our salary [her pay and a man in the
same position] the same day – and I earn 100 Euros less.’
3. Women leave the workforce and return to family, though this is sometimes temporary,
and is usually driven by having children and the need for a more flexible schedule.
Priorities of women [mothers] change. Everybody knows this. She will care less about work.’
Voices of American creative women
In terms of gender and the creative process, six key factors emerged.
Grow.indd 10 14/06/2012 17:21:49
1. Humour is a highly valued creative attribute, and male humour, which tends to be
sophomoric and sexualised, is more valued. ‘There’s this single-minded pervasiveness about
the kind of humor that works. It’s for guys who are maybe 19 and 20. I’m really sick of it, my
husband is sick of it.’
2. Many of the women considered empathy essential to creativity. ‘Creative people have an
incredible power to empathise, the better ones can empathise with a greater range of things.’
3. Women expressed frustration related to the way time is used and valued, noting that
productivity is equated with the amount of time spent in the office, whether it is produc-
tive or not. ‘Guys play jokes, they play pranks, they spend part of their work time goof ing off
and most of the women don’t have time. We work, work, work so that we can get out of work to
be with our families … Then when they [men] stay late to make up time they look like heroes.’
4. Many of these women did not experience a level playing field at both awards shows and
within creative departments, seeing both as part of a fraternity culture that values male
creative ideas. ‘I think if there were a 40% rule (40% of the creative directors were women
and 40% of the judging panels of award shows were women), the business would be more
interesting, more diverse, have different voices, not all the same kind of work.’
5. Intellectual capacity appears to be a significant component of the creative process, with
women equally respecting men in this area. ‘I’ve worked with a lot of really smart people,
and it makes the work so much better.’
6. These women felt a strong need to be brave, to stand up and defend themselves and
their work. ‘Be strong and not be a girly girl … You need to be strong, you need to stand up
for yourself.’
In terms of gender and project assignments, five key factors emerged.
1. Men tend to be assigned the types of accounts that win awards. ‘Don’t cripple really
talented women who could be doing work that is every bit as funny and cool and smart on
the marquee accounts – the beer accounts, the car accounts, those kinds of accounts that are
stereotypically headed up by men … It’s a self-perpetuating problem.’
2. Male-bonding experiences tend to be part of departmental environmental dynamics
and, because creative directors are predominantly male, this impacts the delegation of
assignments in ways that benefit junior men. ‘A woman can have as much merit as a man,
but unfortunately the man will have a better portfolio or he’s better plugged in with his boss,
who’s probably a man. He’s been able to fight more.’
3. Women tend to be less assertive about fighting for project assignments, which results in
the award-winning accounts often being assigned to men. ‘Sometimes women get held back
because they don’t know how to talk to men and that might interfere with their advancement.
4. Project assignment tends to be influenced by the masculine/feminine qualities of a
product, with women being pigeonholed into the pink ghetto. ‘As soon as something like
Stay-Free maxi pads or some equally undesirable package-good product targeted to women
comes up, they say “OK, we have to put a girl on it.” As soon as you get pigeonholed like that
it can drastically hurt your career … It’s a self-perpetuating cycle in which really talented
women get put on really crappy products. It’s a downward cycle.’
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InternatIonal Journal of advertIsIng, 2012, 31(3)
5. Women tend to trip themselves up by deflecting glory and accepting praise as a team
rather than as individuals, which negatively impacts perceptions related to their indi-
vidual ability to handle work. ‘Men are very decisive, they seem to have more courage. They
know they’ll recover from a mistake … We’re (women) so collaborative by nature we can easily
forfeit leadership positions … Women need to learn two words: “thank you.”’
In terms of why American women leave creative, three key factors emerged.
1. Women leave because of the ‘fraternity club’ culture that permeates creative depart-
ments. ‘I don’t see as many women being promoted … Possibly there are a lot of clients that
are part of the boys club too, so it ends up being a harder thing for women to get promoted.’
2. Women’s salaries tend to be lower than their male counterparts, yet they admit that,
as a group, women tend to be less assertive about demanding equal pay. ‘Men do better
at promoting themselves. They go in and ask for raises. They’re better at doing the political
navigating, of tooting their own horns so they get what they deserve. Women still sit back too
3. The work/life balance becomes crucial, especially once they have children.We lose so
many women because their definition of success has balance. I think we could make work
really attractive to those creative women that we’re losing by finding a way for them to con-
tribute even if it’s from home.’
Overall, there were some differences found between Spanish and American female crea-
tive professionals. American creatives tended to stand up and defend themselves and their
work while Spanish creatives were more accepting of the roles thrust upon them by their
culture. Spanish women also expressed feelings of discrimination indirectly, couched as
inequities, while American women were more direct. Spanish women rarely brought up
the topic of humour, while American women saw humour as a male attribute. Divergences
in project assignment are based on cultural codes in Spain, where some women didn’t feel
prepared to work on men’s products, while in the US gender is considered irrelevant.
There were many commonalities among creative departments in both Spain and the
United States. Creative decisions are highly influenced by men, who also dominate pres-
entations teams. Women in both countries tend to see themselves as more democratic
when working towards creative solutions. They are more empathetic and collaborate eas-
ily. Related to their collaborative nature, women deflect individual glory and prefer shared
accolades. Finally, these women feel they are better time managers and multi-task better
than men. As one of woman stated, ‘Once I had kids it made me more efficient when I’m
at work. I don’t just goof around.’
There were also common factors in reference to assigning accounts whether in Spain
or the United States. Cars and beer are considered male accounts, and those assigned to
these accounts are more likely to be honoured with prestigious awards, often determined
by juries dominated by men. Both Spanish and American female creatives felt disdain
when relegated to female accounts in the pink ghetto and wanted to work on more crea-
tive accounts that would bring them recognition. Though divided by an ocean, women
Grow.indd 12 14/06/2012 17:21:49
from both cultures recognised the ‘boys’ club’ mentality that gave the better accounts and
more significant work to men. They spoke openly about the ‘fraternity culture’ and ‘cosas
de chicos/tíos’ within creative departments.
For the discussion the authors collapse the first two thematic categories into one – gen-
der, creative process and project assignment – as creative process and project assignment
have much overlap both theoretically and in practice. The last thematic category – factors
related to leaving advertising creative departments – will be discussed separately. The
discussion is framed using the dimensional model of national culture (Hofstede 2001;
de Mooij & Hofstede 2010) and signalling theory (Spence 1974). Signalling theory,
as previously discussed, suggests the importance of seeing others like oneself within
an organisation, while the dimensional model of national culture offers an assessment
tool based on five dimensions: power distance, individualism versus collectivism, gender
dimensions, uncertainty avoidance, and long- versus short-term orientation.
Gender, creative process and project assignment
Power distance
This is both significant and variable. Both Spanish and American women suggest that
the Big Ideas of male creatives are often prioritised. Yes, it is true there are always more
ideas chosen from men than women. But perhaps it’s also because he [the CD] has a man’s val-
ues, said a Spaniard. Another way the power differential is articulated is through silence.
Said another Spaniard, Something you hear very often is silence because all the power is highly
concentrated (with men at the top). Additionally, men often get the plum accounts – the
accounts within categories that tend to win awards (Nixon 2003; Jordan 2009; Mallia
2009). Just as we have seen in previous studies, there appears to be an unlevel playing field
(Hirschman 1989; Nixon 2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; Martín 2007; Hernández et al.
2008; Gregory 2009; Mallia 2009; Pueyo Ayhan 2010). Thus, these women saw the need
to be brave and fight for their work.This is a really difficult business. It’s unforgiving … You
have to be able to fight for your ideas constantly. You have to be able to stand up to criticism,’ said
an American. Virtually all of the women favoured an open or egalitarian creative process.
On the ideation level it often appeared egalitarian, yet at the level of selection, it appears
that gender was at times an influence. As one Spaniard put it, ‘I think the gender issue is seen
in other things but not the ideas … Yet I have the feeling that they treat me differently because
I’m a girl.’ Finally, it appears that Spanish women experienced the power distance more
acutely and were, ironically, less willing to go on the record about the discrimination that
accompanied this. Said one Spanish creative,Please don’t tell anyone I’m complaining.’ This
may be influenced by a more machismo Spanish culture, while Americans tend to inter-
nalise the mythology of meritocracy. Whatever the influence, ‘many creative department
are like male fraternities, housed in agencies that have men’s names on the door’ (Broyles
& Grow 2008, p.4).
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InternatIonal Journal of advertIsIng, 2012, 31(3)
Individualism versus collectivism
In the creative realm creative women tend towards collectivism. That is, they desire to
be accepted as part of the in-group – the fraternity. However, women’s full acceptance
into the creative in-group was fleeting across both countries.Why should I bang my head
against the stupid Plexiglas – it isn’t a glass ceiling. Glass you can break through. Plexiglas
ceilings are unbudgeable – and why should I do that?’ said an American. Further, in both
countries the women felt they were often treated as tokens, especially in presentations.
One American woman referred to herself as ‘the vagina in the room’. For women in
both countries, there is a sense of marginalisation and not being on a level playing field
with men, of being excluded from the in-group. Koslow and Sasser’s (2003) work sug-
gests that this marginalisation and lack of acceptance with the in-group impacts both the
women’s intrinsic motivation and the support they receive to develop original work, which
is so crucial to success in advertising creative. As one Spaniard simply stated, ‘Equality
is a lie.’
Gender dimensions
In both countries gender dimensions had significant impact in light of the highly mascu-
line advertising creative department environments (Hirschman 1989; Klein 2000; Nixon
2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; Martín 2007; Gregory 2009; Mallia 2009; Pueyo Ayhan
2010). As a Spaniard expressed it, ‘The world is male and with that I have told you every-
thing.’ Gregory’s (2009) contention of a hegemonic masculine culture would certainly
support this. According to the American creatives, male humour tended to be a domi-
nant way of expressing creativity. Male humour is also a way to support and maintain a
masculine advertising identity (Nixon 2003). Interestingly, male humour was raised only
fleetingly among the Spanish women. American women also viewed intelligence as para-
mount to the creative process, and they believe men and women are equally intelligent.
Additionally, both the Spanish and the American women spoke of the need for empathy
to enhance creative process. Speaking of her work, one Spaniard said,It takes a woman
because you know it [the product] as a consumer and you have empathy. Interestingly women,
indeed, tend to score higher on tests related to openness and divergent thinking, which
leads to empathy (Rogers 1959; Helson 1996; Runco 2004). Yet, in both the United States
and Spain, it appears the ability to empathise is not as highly valued as other qualities
such as male humour. Still, the American women especially viewed empathy as essential.
One went so far as to say, ‘The truth is men can’t write women’s ads … They’re just so nervous
that they’re going to offend that they overcompensate. Unfortunately, for the women who can
write with resonance to female consumers, the reward is often being relegated to the pink
ghetto where one’s career is at risk.They say it [women’s products] is a subject for girls because
we have more sensitivity. It is true, but it puts us in a jam,’ said a Spaniard. The advertising
industry’s institutionalised practice of assigning women to work on women’s products,
while excluding them from classic male products (such as beer and autos), is a practice
that truncates women’s careers by sending them to the pink ghetto (Mallia 2009; Grow
& Broyles 2011). As one American said, ‘The worst thing you can do is get stuck on women’s
accounts. It will kill your career.’
Grow.indd 14 14/06/2012 17:21:49
Uncertainty avoidance
In both countries, these women were, by and large, unable to avoid uncertainty and
ambiguity in the creative process. Uncertainty and ambiguity are not a gender-bound
variable when it comes to the creative process (Rogers 1959; Runco 2004). However,
it is fair to suggest that women’s level of uncertainly was higher than that of their male
counterparts. As one American women said,The higher up you go there is more fall out of
women.’ Within the creative environment, with its powerful masculine cultural codes that
often are reinforced by the male bonding experience, uncertainty is increased for women
who are generally excluded from these bonding moments (Grow & Broyles 2011). The
results suggest that the experiences of both the Spanish and American creatives are indeed
filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, but for women the uncertainty and ambiguity are
more extreme. One Spaniard explained it this way,Your credibility costs more, because you
are female.’
Long- versus short-term orientation
This dimension is particularly interesting as it varies across time. These top creative
women appear pragmatic and future orientated, a long-term orientation. ‘Advertising is
a business. You have to figure out how to get along so you can do your work. And oh, by the
way, I’m a woman, said an American. Nearly all spoke of the necessity of investing time
in their work to build a future and forget about being female. As one American stated,
Make your book great so that no one realises you’re a woman.’ For creatives, their work makes
or breaks their career. As another American put it, In advertising, it’s still who has the best
book.’ However, over time, building the book on an uneven playing field wore down both
Spanish and American women. One Spaniard put it this way, The idea should be there is
no discrimination in creative departments and, in fact, as a creative person I should have no
gender. But its not like that.’ This reality eventually changes the long-term orientation of
some women, shifting it towards a short-term orientation. This is particularly striking, as
shall be discussed, related to the factors that lead women to leave creative departments.
Across all five of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (Hofstede 2001; de Mooij &
Hofstede 2010), the significance of signalling theory (Spence 1974) is highly apparent
within the gender, creative process and project assignment thematic categories. Spanish
and American women alike long to see other creative women at the top,but there are
so few, said both the Spanish and American women. As one American advised, ‘Find a
mentor right from the beginning … Learn the business.’ Seeing women at the top and having
them as mentors appears especially significant when it comes to the creative development
of other creative women (Hirschman 1989; Bourne & Ozlilgin 2008; Mallia 2009; Grow
& Broyles 2011).
Factors related to women leaving advertising creative departments
Power distance
The power distance is very clear to these women. They see it in their salaries, which are
less then men’s (Mallia 2009; Pueyo Ayhan 2010; Grow & Broyles 2011). One American
Grow.indd 15 14/06/2012 17:21:49
InternatIonal Journal of advertIsIng, 2012, 31(3)
simply said, ‘We’re still low paid for what we do.’ Further, they see it in how their time
is valued – or not. They see it in the industry awards they rarely receive ( Jordan 2009;
Mallia 2009; Pueyo 2010; Grow & Broyles 2011). They see it in their everyday experi-
ences. As a Spaniard said,You have to swallow many things.’ While an American com-
mented, ‘You need to stop looking at yourself as a woman and they’ll (men) look at you as a good
creative.’ As the literature demonstrates and Nixon and Crew so aptly express, there is ‘a
considerable block to women’s capacity to succeed’ (2006, p.246). That block reflects the
unequal distribution of power in advertising creative departments and strongly implies
reasons for leaving.
Individualism versus collectivism
When these creative women initially came into the industry, and as they rose through the
ranks, they clearly had a sense of collectivism drawing them towards a desire to be part of
the creative in-group. However, as women advanced and observed colleagues, female and
male, that sense of collectivism begins to shift towards individualism. The shift appears to
be driven in part by the sexist experiences some of them had and/or which they observed,
which has also been discussed in the literature (Nixon & Crew 2006; Martín 2007; Dutta
2008; Hernández etal. 2008; Gregory 2009; Mallia 2009; Pueyo 2010). It also appears
to be driven by their desire for a work/life balance that they often don’t see (Mallia 2009;
Grow & Broyles 2011). As one American commented, ‘If someone is going to leave because
they have family obligations, I hope that if an agency really wanted them they would find a
way to keep them, male or female.’ While a Spaniard said,If you want to be creative and
want to be a mother, it’s inconsistent.’ The family factor appears to impact creative women
more than it impacts creative men (Mallia 2009; Roca & Pueyo 2011), most of whom
have stay-at-home wives’, according to most of the women. Despite this, many American
women saw the issue as impacting men too, especially the young men. If you can make a
workplace into a family friendly workplace for women, I think that you will find happier and
more productive men as well,’ said an American. It appears that, for Spanish women, the
issue of children and family may be more salient than for the American women. Recall
the Spanish women’s discomfort with sharing feelings of discrimination. Additionally,
perspectives on motherhood may be influenced by the more ‘machismo’ Spanish culture.
Yet, over and over the authors heard the women speak of wanting flexi-time, the ability
to work from home, and many, especially the Americans, spoke of the desire for onsite
daycare. Across the board and over the course of their careers, creative women tend to shift
from collectivism to individualism.
Gender dimensions
Gender issues are at the heart of this study. So, too, do they appear to be at the heart of
why women leave creative (Nixon 2003; Martín 2007; Dutta 2008; Hernández etal. 2008;
Mallia 2009; McLeod etal. 2009; Pueyo Ayhan 2010). After many years, these women
have seen female colleagues come and go, and many believe that the sexist environment
was one the reasons their colleagues left. As one Spaniard put it, ‘It is very clear to me now
that I cannot compete.’ Looking at the literature, we are reminded that women, especially
Grow.indd 16 14/06/2012 17:21:49
those in sexist environments, are confronted with the issue of gender identification (Carr
1998). Do they resist or conform to gender stereotype? For these women, it appears that
neither offers a successful outcome (Carr 1998; Broyles & Grow 2008; McLeod et al.
2009). Rather, the challenging middle ground appears the most productive. As DiSesa
says, ‘It’s okay to be decisive, courageous, and focused as long as we are also somewhat
collaborative, nurturing, and empathetic’ (2008, p.211). Considering the more machismo
Spanish culture, Spanish women may bump up against the politics of desire (Helstein
2003) and the male gaze (Mulvey 1989), though sometimes in backhanded ways. A
Spanish woman explained it this way, ‘There are so many little sexist jokes [bromita]. There’s
patronage there.’ This is not to say sexist jokes don’t exist in the United States. They do. Yet
some women thought gender bias was less prominent than others or that it was mostly
a thing of the past. I do not think that it is more masculine than feminine. I think that it is
a legacy of the masculine past,’ said a Spaniard. While an American expressed it this way,
I don’t think there’s blatant discrimination.’ However, for most of these women, gender
dimensions loomed large in their experiences, and in the experiences of the women they
saw leave creative departments.
Uncertainty avoidance
Advertising is not for the faint of heart. These women clearly understood this. Yet, as
much as they appeared to push themselves, they often saw other women end up in the
pink ghetto – a place where uncertainly and inequity loom large (Kleiman 2006; Mallia
2009; Grow & Broyles 2011). Further, these women’s desire for less stress and a work/
life balance appears to mitigate their willingness to perpetually deal with the ambiguity
and uncertainty of working in creative (Mallia 2009; Grow & Broyles 2011). The stress
that comes with ambiguity and uncertainty, coupled with the excessive travel and long
hours, wore on them and their colleagues that left. For some women, meshing the gender
dimensions with the daily ambiguity of creative life led to creating exit strategies. We like
things to always agree. I think that is a weakness of women, said a Spaniard. Looking back at
the Spanish women, there are some striking demographics to note that suggested deeper
gender issues. The oldest Spanish woman was 12 years younger than the oldest American
women. Further, one year after this study was completed, one-third of the Spanish women
were no longer employed at agencies, while all the Americans remained employed. For
Spanish women, it appears that uncertainty and ambiguity are even more pronounced,
leaving them preparing exit strategies at much younger ages.
Long- versus short-term orientation
While Spanish women may have prepared their exit strategies earlier, it is clear that a
short-term orientation is on the radar of most creative women not long after they enter
the profession. Recall their desire for a work/life balance, along with the increased uncer-
tainly that they appear to face, causes many women to eventually shift their orientation to
personal stability and happiness. Said a Spaniard,At a certain age you have to leave to become
a mother and that’s it. For as much as advertising might sell happiness, it’s not an industry
that promotes happiness within its own ranks.
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InternatIonal Journal of advertIsIng, 2012, 31(3)
Spence’s (1974) signalling theory helps frame significant implications within this
research. As has been discussed, there are few women in creative and those who are there
appear to leave in strikingly high numbers (Klein 2000; Nixon 2003; Mallia 2009). At
the same time, just as signalling theory suggests (Spence 1974), there is the tendency for
creative directors to hire and retain in their own image (Ibarra 1992; Pritchard & Morgan
2000; Foster 2003; Nixon & Crew 2006; Gregory 2009; McLeod etal. 2009). This leaves
fewer and fewer role models for aspiring young female creatives. Further, as Bourne and
Oziligin (2008) suggest, organisations where gender bias is not addressed are at risk of
losing female employees. As one American stated, ‘It takes 30% of an average salary to hire
and retrain a new employee.’ Now consider the fact that one third of the Spanish crea-
tive women were no longer employed one year after these interviews were completed.
Then consider that the oldest Spanish woman in this study was 12 years younger then
the oldest American woman. It seems to be a costly, unending cycle that appears to be
Implications, limitations and suggestions for future research
Reflecting on the results of this study in the context of the literature, it appears that there
is a global advertising creative department culture – and it’s clearly masculine. That said,
there are also cultural overtones. The Spanish creative woman apparently experience
gender bias more acutely, perhaps influenced by the more machismo Spanish culture.
The American creative women, on the other hand, appear to have internalised the
American mythology of meritocracy, making them a bit more willing to stick it out and
be brave. Nonetheless, the differences between the experiences of the Spanish and
American creative women still pale in comparison to the striking similarities. When
comparing the experiences of the women in this study to the literature, it appears that
there is a global culture of masculinity in advertising creative. While there are individual
country-based differences, the masculinity in advertising creative departments is not a
unilateral issue. Simply put, gender bias in advertising creative departments appears to be
a global issue.
Gender bias in advertising creative departments matters significantly because it
impacts more people than simply creative women. The issues that have been outlined
in this study have implications for all creatives, men and women alike. In addition, the
issues have implications for the people who manage creatives, for advertising agencies
as a whole, for marketing managers and the brands they serve. Finally these issues have
implications for consumers as well. For, without the voices of women and the taming of
the hegemonic masculinity (Gregory 2009) that marks advertising creative, the advertis-
ing industry runs the risk of perpetrating stereotypes that have far-reaching and, by and
large, negative consequences.
The findings suggest that change may come slowly. However, structural changes
such as flexi-time, more opportunities to work from home and onsite childcare could be
catalysts for retaining more women in creative. More importantly, these kinds of changes
could create an environment that would enhance the workplace for all creatives – men and
Grow.indd 18 14/06/2012 17:21:49
women, young and old alike. Structural changes can take place only when the issue of gen-
der bias in advertising creative departments is acknowledged at an institutional level and
subsequently addressed at the executive level. Candid discussions need to happen within
the industry as well as inside agencies, and clients need to demand that more women
participate in bringing the voice of their brands to the marketplace. Agency-by-agency
commitments need to be made to retain female creatives with equitable pay working in
creative environments that offer a level – albeit tough – playing field. Finally, institution-
ally there needs to be a commitment to seek an end to the apparent, though perhaps
unconscious, practice of hiring and promoting in one’s image, which often leads to hiring
and retaining more men. This could begin with an industry-wide commitment to having
gender-balanced judging panels for creative awards.
This study had some limitations. It focuses only on top women, to the exclusion of the
perspectives of juniors and top male creatives. In addition, interviewing women from only
one city in Spain was a limitation, as was the fact that there were more Spanish women
than American women in the study. Ethnographic research could also have enriched this
study, adding visual dimensions to help contextualise the words of these women. Finally,
Spain and the United States represent only two countries. While they are global leaders
in advertising and culture, more research needs to be done to bring the insights of creative
women from across the world to the fore.
Stepping into the future we recommend that there be more studies to inform peda-
gogical practices and illuminate constructive discourse for both practitioners and scholars,
and for exploring the experiences of junior creatives and top men. Comparative studies,
across age and gender, could be particularly insightful. We also suggest expanding this
study to include more countries on more continents in order to gain a truly global under-
standing of the phenomenon under exploration. Finally, we believe ethnographic studies
of advertising creative departments could provide richness, enhancing our understanding
of the dynamics within advertising creative departments.
In the past, the norm was to remain quiet so as to not cause a stir, especially in terms
of gender issues. But now this topic screams to be heard. It is our hope that this and
other studies will make young professionals entering the advertising creative system more
aware of what appears to be global gender biases within advertising creative departments.
We also hope that this study, and others like it, will lead to creating an improved work
environment, bringing more balanced and successful work for clients. Finally, we hope our
work leads to changes that help create more hospitable, equitable and inevitably better
creative departments for all creatives.
While it would be nice to think that the days of Mad Men are long past, it appears that
Don Draper casts a long shadow. It is our hope that the advertising industry soon steps
out of this shadow and into the light of equity – for women and men alike.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Institut Català de les Dones
(Catalan Women’s Institute) of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government).
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About the authors
Jean Grow is an Associate Professor and Director of the University Fine Arts Minor at
Marquette University, Milwaukee Wisconsin. She earned her PhD from the University
of Wisconsin–Madison. Jean’s research explores the under-representation of women in
advertising creative departments. She has numerous scholarly publications and has co-
authored Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy and Design (Sage, 2010). Jean speaks to pro-
fessional and academic audiences, most recently on self-branding in Slovenia (Oct 2012)
and at the 3% Conference (September 2012). In 2007 she received the Dean’s Award for
Teaching Excellence. In 2011 she lectured on brand strategy in Rome and Barcelona. In
summer 2012 she taught an ethnographic Global Brand Tracking class in London and
Barcelona. Prior to joining the academy Jean worked as an artists’ representative. Her
clients included: Coca Cola and Kellogg’s as well as DDB, Draftfcb and Leo Burnett, to
name a few. She continues to consult, most recently working with Nike and the National
Hemophilia Foundation.
David Roca is an Associate Professor of Advertising and Director of the Interactive
Strategy and Creativity Master Degree at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Catalonia,
Spain). He earned his PhD from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Dr. Roca’s schol-
arly work focuses on advertising creativity, with his current funded research exploring the
gender dynamics in advertising creative departments. Dr. Roca’s published work includes
articles on: lack of women in creative departments, creativity in interactive agencies, crea-
tive briefing in advertising, etc. He has received grants to develop his research from the
Catalan and Spanish government. He is in charge of advertising and public relations
bachelor students’ training programmes at agencies.
Grow.indd 22 14/06/2012 17:21:49
Sheri J. Broyles <TO COME>
Address correspondence to: Jean Grow, Associate Professor & Director, University
Fine Arts Minor, Marquette University, Diederich College of Communication, Johnston
Hall 510/P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881.
Email:; Web:
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... In recent years the academy has begun to show an interest in studies related to the underrepresentation of women in advertising creative departments. However, the regions studied are generally limited to the United States in North America, and Britain and Spain in Europe (Cooper & Puxty, 1996;García-González & Otero-Piñeiro, 2011;Gregory, 2009;Grow & Broyles, 2011;Grow, Roca & Broyles, 2012;Klein, 2000;Mallia, 2009;Martin, 2007;Martín-Llaguno, Beléndez & Hernandez-Ruiz, 2007;Nixon, 2003;Nixon & Crew, 2006;Roca & Pueyo, 2011;Windels, 2011;Windels & Lee, 2012). These studies generally indicate a strong tendency toward gender segregation in advertising creative departments. ...
... In advertising agencies, men monopolize management and leadership positions (Gregory, 2009) while women are overrepresented at lower organizational levels. Additionally, research suggests that women have little chance of success in creative because their ideas are not valued (Grow, Roca & Broyles, 2012;Nixon & Crew, 2006). Research suggests that men in Spain are twelve times more likely than women to occupy management positions in advertising (Martin 2007;Retamero & García-López-Zafra, 2006). ...
... In-depth interviews were the chosen methodology because they allow subjects' experiences to be explored more intimately, thus producing richer and more nuanced findings. The interview guide was patterned after research done by Grow, Roca and Broyles (2012) exploring the experiences of women in Spain and United States. ...
Gender segregation begins early and is reinforced within the workplace. Advertising creative departments appear to have extreme gender segregation with women representing just 20% of all those working within creative departments worldwide. Yet, creativity does not depend on gender. Thus, the underrepresentation of women is particularly troubling. In Peru women comprise 3% to 10.4% of all people working in advertising creative, which suggests the situation for creative women in Peru is dire. In order to understand this phenomenon, and with the hope of finding solutions, this study uses indepth interviews to explore the experiences of Peruvian women working in advertising creative departments. The study investigates three primary aspects of Peruvian creative women’s experiences. First, it looks at relationships with colleagues and clients. Second, work/life balance is explored. Third, the study examines how the environment within creative departments constrains creative women’s employment and advancement opportunities. Findings suggest that Peruvian creative departments are strongly machismo environments where discrimination and gender segregation are staunchly entrenched. This machismo environment creates challenging relationships between creative women and their colleagues and clients, it negatively impacts creative women’s work/life balance and it leads to severely constrained hiring, promotion and retention of creative women in Peruvian advertising agencies. The discussion closes with suggestions to help creative women succeed in Peruvian creative departments.
... Según el Club de Creativos en España y la APG (2019), el departamento creativo está formado mayoritariamente por hombres (59,9%). A nivel global, se estima que la presencia de mujeres en los departamentos creativos es solo de 20,3% frente a 79,7% de los hombres (Grow & Deng, 2014); un dato que se opone a la presencia mayoritaria de mujeres matriculadas en los estudios de Publicidad (Windels et al., 2010;Grow et al., 2012). La agencia de publicidad es un complejo sistema social (Klebba & Tierney, 1995), en el que se debe considerar la importancia estratégica del departamento creativo y, en definitiva, del negocio publicitario (Miguélez-Juan, 2019), por lo que la ausencia de mujeres genera mayor preocupación. ...
... Esto se materializa en la adjudicación sesgada de las cuentas importantes -automóviles o cervezas-reservadas a los hombres con la excusa de la afinidad con el producto. Dichas prácticas han aislado a las mujeres creativas en cuentas de productos femeninos (higiene personal, maquillaje, productos de limpieza...), denominadas en la profesión y en la literatura los pink ghettos (Mallia, 2009b;Grow et al., 2012;Pueyo Ayhan, 2012). Al ser cuentas consideradas menores dentro del sector publicitario, tienen menos probabilidades de ganar premios publicitarios que, a su vez, son imprescindibles para promover a los creativos (McLeod et al., 2009;Alvarado-López & Martín-García, 2020). ...
... El siguiente testimonio resulta bastante ilustrativo: al mayor número de hombres, sino también con respecto a las oportunidades de su promoción frente a las mujeres; una cuestión en la que han jugado un papel fundamental también los clientes. Esta realidad, de acuerdo a los hallazgos de este estudio sigue imperando en España, de modo que las mujeres creativas cuentan con más dificultades para crecer que sus compañeros (Grow et al., 2012), quedando en muchas ocasiones relegadas a una serie de desempeños y cuentas específicos en una profesión caracterizada de por sí por una corta vida laboral. ...
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Esta investigación analiza la situación profesional de las creativas en las agencias de publicidad españolas y las barreras que ponen freno al ascenso de las mujeres publicistas en los departamentos creativos, con foco en tres áreas: pink ghettos y promoción, sesgos inconscientes, y maternidad. Se aplicó un cuestionario que fue respondido por 252 creativas de edades entre 21 y 59 años. Se observa, dentro de los departamentos, una adjudicación sesgada de las cuentas, esto es, un reparto no equitativo de clientes y briefings que las condena a trabajar continuamente con cuentas altamente feminizadas. Los sesgos inconscientes quedaron resumidos en términos de rechazo y exclusión, autoconfianza y competencia. Con respecto a la maternidad, se sigue constatando la dificultad de las creativas por conciliar la vida en familia con el trabajo, lo que hace que se suela decantar la balanza en favor de la trayectoria profesional. Se evidencia, en definitiva, que la creatividad es una profesión masculinizada en la que se necesita acabar con los sesgos de género.
... The advertising industry has been labelled as problematic regarding women's rights since the 1990s when the first studies started to appear on this issue (Broyles and Grow, 2008;Plakoyiannaki and Zotos, 2009;Windels, 2011;Grow and Broyles, 2011;Grow et al., 2012;Gurrieri et al., 2016;Mensa and Grow, 2019;Akestam et al., 2021). ...
Purpose This paper presents a sociological analysis of the advertising industry's leadership styles and role models in England using masculinities in behaviour (“blokishness”) as a concept. The paper particularly focusses on the experiences of the so-called tomboy women who were socialised with boys and embraced masculine behavioural styles and compares their views and styles with women who experienced a more common, feminine socialisation and spent time in girls' peer groups during early socialisation. The paper explores why some women are seen as role models and others are not. Design/methodology/approach Qualitative interviews were conducted with 37 women working in a variety of roles within the advertising industry in England, and from a variety of backgrounds, and views on leadership and role models were analysed with a particular focus on “tomboy” women and their behavioural and leadership styles, which is linked with role models and compared against views of the so-called feminine women. Triple coding and a thematic analysis were used to analyse data and make sense of concepts derived from participants' answers. Findings The findings suggest that tomboy women demonstrate masculine leadership and behavioural styles and are less likely to see themselves as role models along with facing disapproval from female employees they manage. On the other hand, feminine women demonstrate feminine leadership styles and are more likely to see themselves and become accepted as role models. Thus, the paper suggests that the perception and experience of role models depend on behavioural and leadership styles, which is different for the so-called tomboy and feminine women. Data suggest this is due to participation in early peer groups during childhood. The paper offers conceptualisation figures to inform future research. Practical implications The findings suggest it is not always formal structure that impedes the progress of women, but often informal ones linked to behavioural styles. Therefore, whilst many positive policies have been introduced to improve equality in organisations and society in general, this paper sheds light on how these policies could get undermined by informal issues such as behavioural and leadership styles. Human resource (HR) professionals should further internal policies to prevent situations in which only those “who are like us” can go ahead in their careers by diversifying the workforce and employment and promotions panels. Originality/value To the best of the author's knowledge, this is the first paper analysing role models, and leadership styles linked to the position of women in the advertising industry, focussing on blokishness in behaviour and comparing styles of the so-called tomboy and feminine women.
... Furthermore, Grow, Roca & Broyles (2012) identified an advertising structure marked by gender discrimination and machismo because agencies divide accounts into "men accounts" and "women accounts." The former, "men accounts" are responsible for products such as beer, cars, watches; and the latter, so-called "pink accounts," for diapers, sanitary napkin or facial creams (Mallia & Windels, 2011;Mallia, 2009). ...
By 2020, brands will invest half of their marketing budget on Internet advertising. The Internet has effective potential in advertising, and it can mold stereotypical roles for future generations of consumers. Social norms and beliefs towards respect and gender equality can be reinforced through digital advertising. This study compares empirical evidence of how women are portrayed in digital advertising on Facebook from Mexico and Chile. Samples were compiled by selecting forty fan pages with the most followers –20 from Mexico and 20 from Chile. 1600 posts were examined by quantitative content analysis method. Results show that Mexican posts use 10.2% more sexist stereotypes than Chilean posts. In a traditional role’s context, advertising emphasizes behaviors along gender stereotypes, where women are not perceived equal to men. “I love shoes” (97.5%), a Mexican company with the second highest number of followers and “Forever 21,” an American juvenile clothing brand (85%) in Chile, are the brands that portray women in mostly traditional roles. These data reinforce the theory that femaleaudience brands support sexist values in advertising. Both countries show women engaged in activities outside the home, but not professionally or as an authority figure. Summary, in many ways, evidence suggests a paradoxical approach to portrayals of women in Mexican and Chilean Facebook fan page advertising.
... Gender-based leadership differences (though not discovered in this study) form another important area of investigation. There are several scholars examining gender and diversity issues in communication industries (e.g., Grow, Roca, and Broyles 2012;Thompson-Whiteside, Turnbull, and Howe-Walsh 2020); adding leadership research to the mix would be both informative and instructive. ...
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Unlike the extensive scholarship on leadership in related disciplines, research on leadership in advertising is almost nonexistent. This study investigates practitioner views on attributes and styles of effective agency leaders in the US, UK, and Australia using GLOBE’s (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) Culturally Endorsed Leadership Theory. All three regions are part of GLOBE’s Anglo cultural cluster. The research examines whether the theory’s central proposition—that leadership in global contexts has universally endorsed elements but is also culturally contingent—is valid in an advertising setting. Using a mixed-method approach, data were collected from agency staff and leaders via 255 survey responses and 40 in-depth interviews. Findings indicate that the best leaders are seen as people-focused, collaboration-driven, and future-oriented. Integrity, vision, and inspiration are top leadership attributes, with collaborative and performance-oriented leadership styles considered the most effective. Views were fairly consistent across regions, with some nuanced differences. One interesting difference from main GLOBE findings is the emphasis on soft skills as a core component of effective leadership. Future research should examine this further, as well as the relationship between leadership and agency culture, millennial and gender differences, and leadership training challenges and also examine advertising leadership across other GLOBE cultural clusters.
Gender disparity continues to permeate the advertising industry, with only 11% of creative directors in agencies being women. This study uses textual analysis to examine how Ad Age’s Agency A-List annual award recipients’ websites are encoded with messages of deep-level diversity attributes (e.g., attitude, beliefs, values) despite lacking surface-level diversity attributes (e.g., gender) among the agency winners’ creative teams. Forty-eight agency webpages were analyzed using constant comparative data analysis, illuminating award-winning agencies’ communicative processes to position their advertising teams’ creativity on their websites. Themes included (a) positioning the team as experts; (b) championing disruption; (c) committing to change; and (d) seeking and rewarding grandiosity.
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Las actuales leyes y normativas existentes en España en lo relativo a los contenidos sexistas ha conseguido frenar la difusión de mensajes publicitarios que atentan contra la dignidad de las mujeres; de hecho, la autorregulación existente ha demostrado ser muy eficaz a este respecto consiguiendo que los propios públicos se muestren reacios ante eso, con conocidas demandas y quejas cuando las marcas se excedían en este tipo de mensajes. Sin embargo, en los últimos años han surgido mensajes publicitarios que dan cabida a los denominados “micro-machismos” donde, de una forma más sutil, se sigue identificando a las mujeres con estereotipos y roles inadecuados. En nuestro trabajo, desarrollado entre 2015 y 2019, hemos recogido mensajes publicitarios de las principales marcas que se publicitan en España con el fin de identificar los contenidos que pueden considerarse sexistas, logrando realizar una clasificación de los mismos concretadas en siete categorías: a) división sexual del trabajo; b) cuerpo femenino como espacio problemático; c) presentación de la mujer como sexo débil; d) responsable exclusiva del cuidado de los otros; e) limitación de acceso a los espacios de poder masculino; f) hombre como experto y g) mujer como elemento molesto. El análisis realizado ha permitido identificar esos problemas y, además, las soluciones propuestas por las marcas tales como la “equiparación” referida a la representación del hombre en lugar de la mujer, convirtiendo a este en un “hombre objeto” que no soluciona el problema de base o la “compensación”, realizando las dos versiones del mismo mensaje para contrarrestar los estereotipos femeninos. Sea como sea, el trabajo se presenta como una nueva revisión de un problema. La metodología de análisis de contenido se ha aplicado de forma rigurosa y contrastada, partiendo de los estudios previos existentes. En la actualidad existen bastantes referencias pero que lleva varios años parado, centrándose los estudios de género vinculados con la comunicación en cuestiones como la violencia machista, que cuenta con un reglamento específico.
The majority of investigations exploring gender issues in advertising agencies have focused on the barriers female creatives face. However, these challenges are not restricted to a singular department within an agency. This study examines how gender identity shapes women’s experiences in the advertising industry and seeks to understand why women are exiting the industry despite a growing number of women earning advertising-oriented degrees in recent years. Qualitative interviews with 18 female professionals from various departments within advertising agencies were analysed through the lens of Conservation of Resources Theory and Status Characteristics Theory to develop an appreciation of the lived experiences of female agency employees via a top-down (managerial) and bottom-up (employee) approach. Results revealed four key themes highlighting women’s experiences: Barbie Girls in an Advertising World, The Stepford Wives of the Agency, It’s a Girl’s Job, and Boys Will Be Boys. Implications for advertising practitioners and directions for future research are addressed.
Advertising still has a gender problem. Practitioners such as Kevin Roberts, the executive chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi, might argue that the debate about gender is “over” and chief creative officer of MandC, and Justin Tindall may well claim to be “bored of diversity”, but despite on-going discussions, women are still under-represented at the top of creative departments in all countries (Grow et al.,.International Journal of Advertising 31:657–679, 2012), accounting for less than 15% of all creative directors worldwide (Grow, J.M., and Deng,T.,(2014). “Sex segregation in advertising creative departments across the globe". In Advertising and Society Review vol. 14(4).; Wohl and Stein 2016). So, who is bored now?
In the wake of #MeToo, the ad industry is coming to terms with its own issues of sexual harassment. We therefore explore the institutional work of actors who are constrained by these gendered institutional arrangements and consider how they might be involved in changing the sexist attitudes and behaviours prevalent in ad agencies. We consider the work of Les Lionnes, a collective of women working in French advertising agencies, who form a boundary organisation to address sexual harassment in the French advertising industry. By conducting critical discourse of their 2019 poster campaign, together with a netnographic study of their social media sites and an interview with its founder, we identify how advertising is used to expose the sexist attitudes and behaviours embedded in discourse and challenge the continued legitimacy of institutional logics. The success of this work may be further enhanced when it is aligned with a wider social discourse, such as #MeToo. We therefore conceptualise the advertising undertaken by Les Lionnes as institutional work which seeks to expose sexual harassment and abuse within the ad industry. We call this novel form of advertising #Metoovertising.
The paper explores gender relations and genderidentity, based upon an ethnography of a Swedishadvertising agency. The organization is of specialinterest as it has a strong gender division of labor,where men hold all senior posts, at the same time ascreative advertising work seems to have much moresimilarity with what gender studies describe as"femininity" rather than with forms of“masculinity”. The paper discusses how gender is constructedin an organizational context. Emphasis on workplacesexuality is related to identity work of men in responseto the highly ambiguous and contested context of advertising work. Tendencies toward the“femininization” of the work and clientrelationships put some strain on (gender) identity formen, triggering a structuring of gender relations andinteraction at the workplace to restore feelings ofmasculinity. The paper problematizes ideas ofmasculinities and femininities and argues for arethinking of their roles in nonbureaucraticorganizations. Also assumptions about a close connection between domination ofmasculinity and of males are criticallydiscussed.
This study analyzed eleven years of Adweek annual issues in which the magazine’s editors identify the “best” commercials of the prior year, to evaluate the presence of women creative staffers in this industry accolade. The study examined issues from February 1996 through February 2006, which culled advertising from 1995 through 2005. This study finds further evidence suggesting that women are severely under-represented in advertising agency creative roles. This dearth of female representation raises serious questions about industry practice, for advertising education, and for persuasive appeals broadcast in a marketplace where women control 80% of household spending.
Although researchers have frequently examined advertising production from various functional perspectives, they have largely ignored its collaborative and processual aspects. Centered in the “production of culture” perspective, this paper compares six role-based models of the advertising production process. Propositions arising from these models deal with (1) the subjectivity of participants' perspectives, (2) the determinants of perceived authorship of the advertisement, and (3) inherent processual conflicts due to the varied personal utilities of the produced advertisement. Discussion focuses upon how these issues may influence the content and structure of the advertising message.
Through a critical examination of representational images produced by Nike and directed to female consumers, this article makes visible the politics and production of desire within Nike advertising to women. It begins by highlighting how Nike, through its association of knowledge, power, and truth, has and continues to publicize and authorize a particular notion of who or what counts as a female athlete. It proceeds by engaging in a careful psychoanalytic reading of Nike’s ideal of excellence for serious female athletes and athletics in combination with themes of emancipation within the most recent advertising efforts directed to women. The article illustrates that desire is constructed through political and cultural conditions, but it also invested with the power to authorize and normalize those conditions. Therefore, desire must be an object of analysis within critical readings of Nike.