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Women in advertising production. Study of the Galician advertising sector from a gender perspective
Abstract: In recent years, the advertising sector has been strongly criticised due to its sexist representation of gender. The messages in advertisements are the result of a careful manufacturing process, which reflects the values and attitudes of the professionals involved in their creation. The main research hypothesis of this article is that the persistence of sexist stereotypes in advertising is related to the absence of women in the creative departments of advertising agencies. In this sense, the objective of this work is to examine the situation of women within the Galician advertising sector, and particularly women’s participation in ads production. This study, which has been carried out from the production perspective, also compares the situation of women in the Galician advertising agencies with the general situation of women in the national advertising sector.
Keywords: Women; work; stereotypes; advertising sector; production; gender segregation.
Summary: 1. Introduction. 2. Women in advertising production. 3. Methodology. 3.1. Study sample. 3.2. Procedure. 4. Results. 5. Conclusions. 6. Bibliographical references.
Translation by Cruz-Alberto Martínez-Arcos, M.A. (University of London)
In the last decades various social and economic factors, including the massive incorporation of women into the labour market, have led to changes in the roles played by men and women in Western societies. These gender roles have been reflected in many aspects and areas of everyday life, including the advertising sector.
The treatment given by advertising to gender representations acquires special relevance in the case of women, which are often the object of prejudiced and stereotypical portrayals in ads.
The excess of certain female stereotypes in advertising acquires greater importance if we consider the socialising role of advertising. In fact, as López-Lita and Bernad (2007) indicate, advertising messages are relevant in the social identity configuration of women and men. This influence in the process of identity formation has attracted the interest of citizens, associations, public authorities, and the scientific community.
The growing concern for certain advertising contents has increased the “criticism towards advertisers’ lack of sensibility to reflect social changes” towards gender, despite the fact that the ‘sexist’ representations of women have decreased to a moderate level” (Bigné and Cruz, 2000: 166).
As a reflection of people’s growing sensitivity and concern, every year many advertising campaigns are accused through the competent authorities of being sexist. This mobilization was reflected in 741 complaints sent to Spain’s Women’s Institute, in 2007, against the same advertising campaign (Observatorio de la imagen de las mujeres, 2009: 12).
However, despite the many criticisms against advertising, this activity is not an abstract entity, but is the result of a careful production process carried out within the advertising industry. “Commercial communication is a powerful force that has repercussions on the mental construction of the world, and reflects the values and perceptions of those who produce it. Advertising messages communicate in a subtle and sometimes unconscious way who and what is important, and who or what should have status or power” (García-González, Domínguez-Quintas, Doval and Piñeiro-Otero: 2008)
In this sense, the initial hypothesis of this work is that there is a relationship between the use of sexist stereotypes in advertising and the low presence of women in those departments directly involved in the finished art or in the decision-making process (such as the creative and management departments, respectively).
This hypothesis positions this study in the production context, i.e. in the stage of conception and creation of advertising messages by different professionals. “Given that the added value that advertising provides [sic] to products and services is linked with their workforce’s intellectual skills, it is necessary to make research on the professionals of this sector to know who is responsible of these messages, who is creating them and who is reflecting its values, roles and attitudes to society” (Hernández, Martín-Llaguno and Beléndez, 2009: 277).
This approach to advertising’s treatment of women and men constitutes a different perspective in gender and communication studies. While there is a significant volume of research in gender representations in advertising, “there are relatively few studies that have systematically examined the relationship between the gender of media producers and the type of media content they produce” (Kivikuru, 2000: 16).
The literature review revealed that there is a small number of works on the representation of women and men in the process of advertising production.
“In contrast to what happens in the journalistic sector –where in recent years communicators and sociologists have examined the phenomenon of the ‘glass ceiling’ in an attempt to eradicate gender favouritisms from the public messages- up to this day, in our country, academics have not studied the structure or work force of the commercial communication sector (and much less from a gender perspective)” (Martín-Llaguno et al., 2007: 11).
In Spain, since the 1980s, several scholars undertook research projects focused on the participation (and situation) of women in information companies (e.g. Fagoaga and Secanella, 1984; Fagoaga, 1993; García-de-Cortázar and García-de-León, 2000; López-Díez, 2002 and 2005; Vera-Balanza and Ballesteros, 2004; and Soriano, Canton and Díez, 2005).
However, the first -and only- study focused on the Spanish advertising industry (by Martin-Llaguno, Beléndez and Hernández-Ruiz), was not undertaken until 2007.
This literature review of works on the media and advertising processes in Spain highlights the significant difference in terms of research volumes. Based on these studies, we will further examine the situation of women in advertising agencies and their presence in the departments linked to the finished art and the decision-making process.
2. Women in advertising production
Since the 1990s, the media and advertising industries have been immersed in a process of feminisation generated by the entrance to the labour market of the new generations of graduates in communication studies. “However, in parallel with this process, there has been a ‘standardisation and devaluation’ of the advertising work [...]. And we should examine whether there is a relationship between the degradation of the sector and the massive influx of women therein” (López-Díez, 2005: 50).
In any case, this would be a “pseudo-feminisation” of the sector, because despite the growing entrance of women to the advertising sector the gender composition of the advertising industry is still not equal. And this is more unfair if we take into account that the new female advertisers have, in general, higher qualifications and experience than their male counterparts (Martin-Llaguno, Beléndez and Hernández-Ruiz: 2007; García-González, Domínguez-Quintas, Doval and Piñeiro-Otero: 2008).
The study conducted by Martin-Llaguno et al. (2007), on the situation of the advertising sector in Spain from a gender perspective, underlined differences in the distribution of human capital within large advertising agencies. This study highlighted the existence of an excessively divided and pyramidal labour structure, which exhibited a gender-based vertical and horizontal segregation.
In regards to the vertical segregation, and despite the persistence of anti-bureaucratic ideals in advertising (Etayo and Preciado: 2008), the increasing incorporation of women into the sector has focused mostly on the lower positions. “Thus, generally, and without taking into account any other factor, men’s probability to occupy a directive position in advertising is twelve times higher than women’s” (Martín-Llaguno et al., 2007: 28)
On the other hand, in terms of horizontal segregation, the growing presence of women in the advertising sector is not distributed evenly across the different departments of the agencies. On the contrary, in the Spanish advertising sector there are departments that are clearly feminine: account services, public relationsand finance, while others such as the creative, editing, and design departments are considered male ghettos (Martín-Llaguno, 2007b).
This departmental distribution of women and men, particularly in the creative and design departments, is a reality that goes beyond the national arena and reaches international levels.
The low presence of women in the creative department is linked to the persistence of sexist stereotypes in advertising messages. This presence is in turn motivated by the existence of a number of stereotypes that are associated to occupational and personal attitudes related to gender.
In fact, although the people working in advertising companies do not consider that good creativity is tied to a particular social group depending on its age, gender, or race, i.e. “If the idea is good, sex should not be a factor” (Hartman, 1988: 4 et seq.), they do highlight the existence of some adequate characteristics to perform certain functions within the creative process (Klein, 2001).
Thus male workers are conceived as more ambitious and self-confident, which facilitates their promotions within the advertising industry, much more than the caution and empathy that are associated with women. “Convergence of cultural and organizational factors inhibits many women from climbing the creative ladder. First, there’s the pervasive masculine culture in agency creative departments. While some women can deal with it, research shows being an ‘outsider’ negatively affects careers and creativity. It’s an environment particularly hostile to female leadership as well” (Mallia, 2009).
As Hatfiel (1999) has pointed out, the prevalence of skills related to masculinity within the agency has led to the confirmation, by the labour force in the sector, of the difficulties faced by women who try to develop a career in the creative department (Hartman, 1988). “Creativity knows no gender, but agency creative departments sure do” (Mallia, 2009).
However, the weight of this male culture in advertising is striking because this profession had traditionally been linked to femininity rather than to masculinity (Alvesson, 1998). This contradiction becomes obvious when taking into account the fact that it is precisely this male business dynamics which limits the access of women to certain departments and their promotion within the agency (Baxter, 1990).
The “gender-and-age biased” operation of the advertising market involves the absence of transparent evaluation methods to select and promote employees (Martín-Llaguno, 2007a, 2007b).
The research carried out by Martin-Llaguno, Beléndez and Hernández-Ruiz (2007) is pioneering in Spain and provides relevant information on the situation of women within the advertising industry. However, despite the similarities with other advertising industries in the international arena, the description presented in the aforementioned study -given its focus on large advertising agencies based in Madrid and Barcelona- may be different from the regional advertising sectors.
For this reason, this article examines the Galician advertising market, in order to determine which of the conclusions drawn by the aforementioned study are applicable to the regional reality of Galicia.
The analysis of the Galician advertising industry focuses on the gender composition and distribution of its human capital. Along this line, the analysis examined the social, cultural and family situations of women working in advertising agencies -and their male counterparts- in order to establish if there was any relationship with the persistence of sexist representations in advertising.
3.1. Study sample
This object of study was difficult to address due to the complexity of the Galician advertising sector, which is characterised by an excessive fragmentation and the existence of freelance advertisers and other types of companies that are not dedicated to this activity but participate in the advertising world.
This complexity is similar to the reality of the Spanish advertising industry, which was described by Martin-Llaguno et al., who points out that the complexity to examine the advertising industry “is in part due to…. the absence of a census for the sector, which also suffers from a huge business morbidity and has a peculiar business model” (Martin-Llaguno et al., 2007: 11).
Faced with this situation, the sample selection was complex, especially due to the absence of associations of advertising agencies in Galicia, something that does exist in the provincial areas of A Coruña and Pontevedra due to the concentration of this type of businesses.
This research was carried out in three phases between April and November 2008. Each phase had a different methodology, sample and focus. To collect information, during the first two phases we used quantitative methodologies (like the survey), and qualitative techniques in the third phase (focus group and in-depth interviews).
During the first phase, which took place in May and June 2008, we phoned each one of the managers of the 182 companies listed in the guide to request their cooperation in this study. This first contact, which was responded by 156 agencies, highlighted the significant number of “intrusive” companies: more than 28% of the agencies (52 companies) were not dedicated to the advertising activity, and 4% (8 companies) were not advertising agencies per se.
Figure 1: Distribution of the universe of study
This questionnaire, answered by 71 companies, made possible a first approximation to the Galician advertising sector as well as the configuration of a second sample of agencies which, by their size, were more appropriate for the object of study.
In a second phase, developed between July and September 2008, we asked those agencies with more than 15 employees to encourage their employees to answer a second questionnaire. This questionnaire was sent in electronic format to the managers of the participating companies and they distributed it to their employees.
This second questionnaire was based on the one developed by Martin-Llaguno et al., and incorporated questions about employees’ identity (sex, age, location, education, qualifications), working life (work experience, previous employers, time in the current company, type of responsibility, working hours, department, and seniority therein), family situation (family type, civil status, number of children, and total home income), and a very basic level of perceptions (about what they associate with a higher remuneration and a higher position in the ranks of the company, and the extent to what the dedication required by the profession prevents enjoying family life).
The questionnaire included closed items, for the sex and education variables, and open questions, for the number of companies and the years of seniority. This design allowed the collection of certain data and facilitated their classification, especially in the case of questions on the perceptions of employees, in which a Lickert scale was used.
This second questionnaire was answered by a total of 128 employees, mostly female, belonging to 14 advertising agencies.
Figure 2: Gender of employees who answered the second questionnaire.
Finally, a third phase, carried out during October and November 2008, was based on a more exhaustive selection of people related to the advertising activity in Galicia: workers, business people, and freelancers. This third phase was carried out with two qualitative methodologies: a focus group and various in-depth interviews.
During the distribution of the second survey we included two extra questions asking about the availability of the subject to participate in a focus group, and their preferred time. This information allowed us to arrange meetings with the potential participants and to establish a focus group of nine individuals (5 males and 4 females). This focus group was held on 24 October, 2008, in the city of Pontevedra. It had the participation of six professionals from the advertising sector including executives (3), middle managers (2) and employees (2). Although we aimed to get a group with equal numbers of men and women, most of the female workers failed to attend due to job obligations, which led to the predominance of males (5 men and jus 1 woman).
Two types of data were collected from the focus group: quantitative data, through a form filled by participants at the beginning (about their sex, age, position in the company); and qualitative data from the various interventions, which were guided (and recorded) by a moderator based on a list of themes.
The thematic list led participants to address firstly certain issues about the status of the advertising sector in Galicia (turnover, business expertise, work organization, working conditions, etc.), and then the aspects related to the gender equality in the company (existence of “feminine” or “masculine” departments and/or age bias; the difficulty to get a job in an advertising agency depending on the applicant’ gender; the link between the feminisation of advertising programmes and the position of the sector, and the possibilities of conciliation between family life and work, among others). This organization of topics aimed to relax the group and divert its attention from the object of interest, the imbalanced representation of women and men in advertising production, in order to avoid bias in their participations.
The footage of this focus group was reviewed several times, and all the opinions that could serve to complement the results obtained from the second survey were transcribed.
Also, in order to avoid “male” bias in the qualitative part of this study, during November we conducted in-depth interviews to five women working in the Galician advertising sector. These interviews were conducted over the telephone and followed the same list of topics established for the focus group. These interviews allowed the incorporation of the perspective of a female freelance (which is a type of advertising that differs from the traditional agency).
Like with the focus group, we transcribed only the most relevant parts of the telephone conversations.
With the data obtained in each of the phases we performed a thorough examination of the Galician advertising market. Moreover, the qualitative research was used to exemplify certain aspects that were not reflected in the questionnaires.
Like at the national level, the advertising sector in Galicia is immersed in a process of feminisation provoked by the incorporation into the labour market of successive generations of females newly graduated in advertising.
This progressive incorporation of female workers into advertising is reaching its maximum values among the staff under 30 years of age, which represents an important boost to the feminisation of the sector.
If we look at the relative percentages, we can see significant differences between male and female workers depending on their age. In fact, almost half of females working in the Galician advertising sector are under 30 years of age; while only 26% of male workers are under that same age.
Also remarkable is the fact that in the category of employees over 40 years of age there is a higher percentage of female workers.
Figure 3: Distribution of workers according to age
This emerging feminisation of the sector can be linked to the unequal gender composition of the student body in BA programmes in advertising (with a ratio of 3 female students per each male student). 50% of female workers and 33% of male workers under the age of 30 hold a B.A. in advertising. This relationship between qualifications and company was addressed during the focus group: “... in the school I studied there were more women. There were only about 15 men and the rest, about 80, were women, and I think this reflects the reality of the sector” (fragment taken from the focus group).
However, the increasing incorporation of women into the labour force of the advertising sector has not been reflected in a balanced manner within the advertising agencies. In fact, the results from both surveys highlight the low presence of women in management positions, which confirm the existence of a significant vertical segregation in the Galician advertising agencies.
Figure 4: Distribution of managers in advertising agencies according to gender
Only 17% of the 71 participating agencies are directed by women. The percentage is very low if we consider the increase of female advertising professionals and the increased participation of women within the Galician business market.
The second survey investigated more about the various occupational ranks (by incorporating people occupying the middle management positions) within the sample of agencies, where there was a clear predominance of women (61% versus 39%).
The results are presented in the following graphs, which show a greater predominance of women in the low and middle positions (80% and 14%, respectively), and a low presence in the top managerial positions (6% of women compared to 16% of men). This figures may reflect the existence of a “glass ceiling” in the Galician advertising industry, which complicates -or prevents- the promotion of female workers to the managerial positions of the advertising agencies.
Figures 5 and 6: Distribution of female and male workers according to occupation categories
Source: Authors’ own creation.
The differences in the distribution of male and female workers within advertising agencies’ hierarchical positions increase when we take the absolute values as a reference. Thus, based on the fact that eight of the managers surveyed are men and account for 62% of the professionals for that category, the difference between women and men in management positions reaches 26%.
It seems that gender is a seen as a relevant factor for the task of directing an advertising company in Galicia. However, the sample of professionals working in the sector does not consider that gender is an influential agent in professional prestige. This reason makes it necessary to examine the characteristics of the female labour force in order to determine those factors that might influence their exclusion from managerial positions in the Galician advertising companies.
In regards to their education, and despite their youth, women working the Galician advertising sector are more skilled than their male counterparts.
Figure 7: Education of male and female personnel
As we can see in figure 7, the number of female workers with higher education is higher than that of their male counterparts (except in the Diplomatura+M.A. and M.A. variables).
If we take as reference the qualifications of the women working in the advertising sector we can see an increase in the qualifications, focusing in the professional profile (which implies the exclusion of strictly academics merits such as the DEA and Ph.D. degrees), of the different generations of women graduated in advertising. These qualifications are inversely proportional to the age of women, with the exception of female professionals of over 50 years of age, all of whom hold Diplomaturas.
The fact that women over 50 hold a Diplomatura can explain their persistence in an “age biased” sector (Llaguno et al., 2007: 33 et seq.). In fact, the results confirmed that age is a determining variable within the Galician advertising agencies: 89% of the sample of workers is under 40 years of age.
Figure 8: Qualifications of women working in the advertising sector, according to age
For its part, the work experience of women working in the Galician advertising sector turns out to be an added value to their qualifications. This experience is linked, among other things, to the number of active years in the labour market and the seniority in the current company.
As we can see in the graph, while the working life of professionals in advertising agencies is mostly between 5 to 10 years, there is a difference of up to eight percentage points between male and female workers (in favour of females). This situation is repeated, although with lower incidence, in the case of the professionals with more than 15 years of experience in the sector.
Figure 9: Work experience among male and female workers
Regarding the relationship between work experience and age, it is noteworthy that there is a significant percentage of women under 30 years of age with more than five years of experience (22% vs. 8% of males).
There are two possible explanations for the extensive work experience among females, which is reflected in the active years of women under 30: the rapid incorporation of women into the advertising market (which may be related, in turn, to better academic grades) and the discrete advantage of women holding a degree in vocational education among the workers under the age of 30.
In any case, the experience brought by women under 30 in comparison to their male counterparts, which is repeated in other age ranges but with more equal values, constitutes a high added value for the Galician advertising market.
If we look at the seniority within the company, the percentage presence of women in the 5-10 years band is remarkable, to the detriment of others (especially the 11-15 years band). This situation is repeated in the case of departmental seniority, in which contrary to what happens in the national sector there is hardly any rotation.
Figures 10 and 11: Seniority of female workers in their agencies and departments
Source: Authors’ own creation.
The few research studies on gender and advertising from the perspective of the production process, including the one carried out by Martín-Llaguno et al., have highlighted the existence of a gender-based occupational segregation in advertising agencies. This segregation, which affects the distribution of women and men in different departments and hierarchies of the agency, was noticed from the early stages of the research.
However, the study of the distribution of the workforce of the advertising sector across the different departments of the advertising agencies has been complex given the characteristics of these companies and their organization.
The small size of the Galician advertising agencies, mostly micro businesses, encourages a departmental distribution that differs from some structures to others.
In order to facilitate the examination of the distribution of women and men among the different departments of the agencies, after analysing the various companies with a multi-departmental structure, we classified them according to their similarity. However, the structuring of Galician advertising agencies is so heterogeneous that hinders any attempt of comparison.
Eventually we managed to restructure the majority of departments: creative, account services, finance, production, management, media services and research. This classification was sufficient to substantiate, even within the profusion of departmental typologies and functions, the existence of a gender-based horizontal occupational segregation.
Figure 12: Departmental distribution of staff according to gender
The results confirmed the existence of a number of departments perceived as “female” or “male”. However, due to the small size of the Galician advertising companies, in most cases the percentage differences between female and male workers in each department are not significant.
In this sense, we can consider the finance department as clearly female, as it accounts for 19% of women and only 2% of men. Men working in Galician agencies are mostly in the management department (which has 12% of men and 1% of women), and the creative department (which has 38% of men and 29% of women).
Other departments do not exhibit significant percentage differences to be considered “feminine” or “masculine”: production (with 13% of the women and 12% of the men), media, content (both with 6% of the women and 5% of men) and account services (with 26% of men and 25% of women).
The greater presence of men in the creative department confirms a national and international trend that discriminates women in the creation process of the advertising message. In the case of the Galician sector, the gender composition of the departments that are directly involved in the finished art, the creative and production departments (the first clearly masculine and the second “neutral” in terms of gender), confirms the predominance of men in this process.
However, in the account services department, which traditionally was a feminine department in the national advertising industry, the trend is not reproduced as clearly as we expected. The greater presence of women in the account departments, which was not reflected in the results provided by the survey, was ratified by the focus group participants: “... I’m very experienced in contacting agencies who hire us to carry out their promotional activities and it is true that the personnel from the account services and those who have to face the customers are mostly women” (Fragment from the focus group).
This unequal distribution of women and men in the different departments of the advertising agency is based on a series of gender stereotypes, which were confirmed during the focus groups. The predominance of women in certain departments of the agency was justified by the businessmen in the sector with allusions to characteristics associated to the feminine stereotype: “... women are over represented in some sections; some sections only have girls because we have verified that in that department they work better, because they are more organized, because they are more astute to deal with customers... The obtained results encouraged us to continue this trend.” (Fragment from a focus group).
Ultimately, this research has allowed us to confirm the existence, within the Galician advertising market, of a double gender-based occupational segregation. The vertical and horizontal segregation (the so-called “glass ceiling” and the segregation across departments) had already been identified by various research studies carried out in this area, such as the study of Martín-Llaguno et al. on the national advertising sector.
Our examination of the situation of women in the Galician advertising sector has enabled us to draw the following conclusions:
In conclusion, despite the fact that the female work force is more qualified, joins quicker the labour market, and has a more extensive experience, it remains excluded from the managerial positions (vertical segregation) and certain departments (horizontal segregation), particularly the creative department.
This low presence of women in the executive positions of the agency and the departments involved in the creation of the advertising message has deprived the Galician advertising industry from an enriched perspective in gender representations, which continue to exhibit a biased view of women and men, given that they are based –almost exclusively- on the values, beliefs and attitudes of the male personnel.
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García-González, A. and Piñeiro-Otero, T. (2011): "Women in advertising production. Study of the Galician advertising sector from a gender perspective", at Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 66, pages 505 to 525. La Laguna (Tenerife, Canary Islands): La Laguna University, retrieved on ___th of ____ of 2_______, from
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