Is The Ad Industry As Racist As It Was In 'Mad Men' Era?

Don Draper ad industry racismRacism is an unspoken given on "Mad Men." But while Don Draper and Sterling Cooper may provide a glimpse at the societal norms of a long lost era, it turns out that some things in the advertising business may not have changed much since the 1960s. At least according to a flurry of recent news reports.

Consider this:

  • On Monday, Interpublic Group was hit with a $50 million race-discrimination lawsuit from a woman who worked in IPG's general counsel office. Joy Noel claimed that she'd been passed over for many promotions and that the company's lead tax attorney warned her that IPG was "a difficult place to work" for black employees, according to Ad Age.
  • Last week, it also was revealed that Acura had requested a "not too dark African-American" to play the part of a car dealer in its Super Bowl ad. (The car company has since apologized.)
  • A new study finds that minorities have to work harder to advance in advertising. The study, conducted by Tangerine Watson, a consulting firm, was based on a questionnaire sent to 800 past and present ad world employees. Among the telling findings: one out of three respondents who left the ad industry said they did so because of a lack of racial diversity in the workplace, according to Target Market News.
  • The city comptroller of New York, John Liu, concerned about the lack of diversity, even has called upon the major advertising agencies to reveal how many people of color it employs.

IPG: A 'Difficult Place' To Work

Since the Trinidadian-born Noel began working at IPG in 1993, she was repeatedly passed over for promotions; in her lawsuit, she claimed that while she earns $70,000 a year, her white counterparts earn upward of $100,000, according to Ad Age. She also alleged that the company's lead tax attorney, Arthur Mason, warned her, "IPG is a difficult place to work. It is obvious that black employees are treated differently. It will be difficult to move up within the company. Maybe you should consider employment elsewhere."

Noel filed a complaint last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in turn sent her a right-to-sue notice.

In a statement reported by MediaPost, IPG disputed Noel's charges.

"We are saddened and disturbed by the allegations set forth in Ms. Noel's claim and are certain there is no basis for any of the charges she alleges," the statement said.

IPG, however, has agreed to open a "dialogue" with NYC Comptroller Liu. Of the four major ad holding companies that Liu had asked to release data back in November, IPG was the only one to signal a willingness to discuss the request. The Omincom Group has declined to participate, and has yet to even respond to the request, according to Ad Age. In response, Liu's office has targeted the holding company, and has approached the company's shareholders in a bid to try and convince them to approve the release of the diversity stats.

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