Black Women in Advertising: Overcoming Obstacles, Embracing Opportunities

As we celebrate Black History Month, whenever I reflect on my 25+ years in the advertising industry and the contributions the Black community has made. My thoughts immediately go to Black leadership, specifically the strides made by Black women in the advertising industry. Countless faces come to mind over the course of my career. 

In this fast-paced industry where I thrive, I’m reminded that Black women are not just making waves; they’re leading the charge, reshaping the industry and redefining what it means to be a leader. I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of Black women leaders in advertising, but I’m also reminded of the many barriers we’ve overcome, as well as the opportunities that open doors for future Black female leaders in this sector.

Power of Representation. Black Women Leaders
A key characteristic of Black women leaders in advertising is their ability to bring a unique perspective to the table. They understand the nuances of culture, the complexities of identity and the power of representation.

One example is AT&T’s Dream in Black campaign. This signature ongoing program highlights the influential leaders impacting the culture and amplifies the contributions of consumers making a difference in their communities. Michelle Jordan, AT&T’s Chief Diversity Officer and leader of the program, recognizes AT&T’s power in the advertising space to amplify the importance of access.

Countless Black female advertising leaders have developed me into the leader I’ve become — unspoken heroines who are just “doing what they know best” to take a young Black woman under their wing. I wouldn’t be here without the sacrifice and commitment of these women when I launched my career at Starcom (Chicago).

Misunderstood and Underrepresented.
The road continues to have its challenges, yet Black women persevere. I’ve been the only Black woman in a room on many occasions. As Black women, we recognize the weight of being the “voice” for all Black people. I’ve often had to endure the pervasive stereotypes and biases. Being a Black woman in advertising means being told your “tone” is standoffish or being described as “aggressive.” Peers sometimes look at me as if they’re unsure how to interact with me. Will I fit in? 

Yet Black women continue to redefine what it means to be a creative force in an industry that has often overlooked our talent and creativity while fixating on our “tones” and perceived actions. A constant pressure to conform — to fit into a mold not created for you — silences the courage you have to be authentically you. We navigate spaces where our ideas are sometimes dismissed or overshadowed, with little C-suite representation that understands the perspective of Black people (especially women) and culture. 

According to a 2022 survey by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), a mere 6% of advertising industry executives are Black. Despite this, Black women have arrived in advertising. We continue to push our seats up to the table in an industry that has often overlooked our talents and contributions. We are pioneers, trailblazers and game-changers.

Progress We Make Together.
It is a privilege to be a Black woman in advertising, and the industry has made progress to support and represent Black female industry leaders. We are rewriting the script, creating new narratives and challenging the status quo. We will continue to speak up, stand out and make our mark in this industry and beyond. 

As a community, we have a collective responsibility to use our platform to uplift others, advocate for diversity and inclusion, and be a voice for Black leaders who often go unseen and unheard.