Co-Cultural Communication in the Advertising Industry
Racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the advertising industry. While Hispanic/Latino persons make up nearly 19% of the U.S. total population, they represent only 10% of advertising and public relations professionals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Similar unequal representation holds true for Black/African Americans in the advertising workforce.
However, research shows that diversity in the workplace can enhance learning, stimulate creativity, and improve outcomes. A lack of diversity in the advertising field impacts what type of ads are produced and what we, as consumers, see promoted.
It also impacts the work environment for people of color. Advertising practitioners from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds must navigate a predominately white workplace (81.6% white). This means underrepresented professionals are a co-cultural group (i.e., a marginalized culture co-existing with a dominant culture) in the workplace, which creates specific challenges in need of studying.
To fully understand their workplace experiences, a team of researchers at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, sought to examine how people of color communicate in their co-cultural work environment. Doctoral students Noura Ibrahim and Lincoln Lu and Advertising Associate Professor Kasey Windels explored the communication strategies that co-cultural advertising professionals employ as they interact with the dominant white group. The team interviewed 25 diverse practitioners about their experiences working as an ad professional.
The researchers used co-cultural theory as a framework for their results. Co-cultural theory provides a typology for how marginalized members may approach organizational communication based on their preferred outcome (assimilation, accommodation, or separation) and their communication approach (nonassertive, assertive, or aggressive). Findings demonstrated that co-cultural advertising professionals engage in communication practices from all three preferred outcomes. Assimilation-based practices included developing positive face and extensive preparation, while accommodation-based practices included intragroup networking and confronting. Findings presented only one separation-based communication practice which was avoiding.
The researchers also discovered several new forms of co-cultural communication practices. First, ad professionals engaged in assertive assimilation in the form of “reframing bias as a learning opportunity” and “externalizing racism by noting its historical context,” both of which were characterized as rationalizations. The researchers also found one new form of assertive accommodation — “covert persuasion” — and one new form of aggressive separation — “exiting the organization.”
Generally, these findings illustrate the challenges that people of color face within the advertising field, uncovering how they work either to conform to the dominant culture, enhance the organizational culture to reflect diversity, or separate themselves completely. The authors note that the higher frequency of assimilation and accommodation practices over separation practices suggests that diverse advertising professionals are attempting to fit in or make a change within their work environment. Further exploration of minority groups’ experiences within the advertising industry is needed to support co-cultures and diversify advertising voices.
The original article, “Examining the Ad Industry’s Race and Ethnicity Problem: Application and Extension of Co-Cultural Theory,” was published online in the Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising on May 1, 2023.
Authors: Noura Ibrahim, Kasey Windels, Lincoln Lu
This summary was written by M. Devyn Mullis, Ph.D.