The Madison Avenue Project was born from remarkable research commissioned about the lack of Black professionals and managers in the advertising industry. In 2009, we learned that racial discrimination was 38% worse in the advertising industry than in the overall U.S. labor market, and that the “discrimination divide” between advertising and other U.S. industries had doubled from 30 years prior. The study found that Black people were significantly underrepresented in industry jobs—with a shortfall of 7,200 jobs—and that Black professionals in the industry were paid 20% less on average than white workers with comparable experience and education. See Marc Bendick, Jr., and Mary Lou Egan, Research Perspectives on Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry (Washington, DC: Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants, Inc., for the NAACP and the Madison Avenue Project, 2009).
The study generated significant press coverage and buzz in the advertising industry. Our firm subsequently represented several Black advertising professionals in charges of race discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Project shed light on the advertising industry’s most coveted media spots—Super Bowl commercials. We found that of the 52 professionally produced industry ads that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl, all of the creative directors were white, and only 6% were women. Clearly, the American advertising world has been dominated by an insider network of white men. The Madison Avenue Project exposed systemic racial injustice in the industry and aimed to dismantle it.
Ten years later, there is still significant need for racial and gender equity in the advertising industry. Data shows horizontal and vertical gender segregation, a glass ceiling for persons of color, ageism, and pay discrepancies for women and persons of color. New organizations such as 600 & Rising have taken up the charge to create lasting change on Madison Avenue.