Daring to see things otherwise

When companies reward social similarity hit reset.



dissecting gender bias, aversion to age, & barriers to equity in advertising


“Everyone IS ALWAYS AND everywhere ... playing a role – it is in these roles that we know each other... and know ourselves”

Erving Goffman


We express ourselves in calculated ways. To make an impression. Elicit a response. It’s most acute in ad agencies where clients want to feel they’re in the hands of experts in creativity. It’s called looking the part. It’s called acting the part. In advertising, it takes on a life of its own. And, workers get commodified in the process.

My work dissects the advertising industry, its gender biases, its extreme aversion to age and its inherent barriers to equity. Based on my research, I offer you a female point of view on topics that disproportionately affect women, but until now have only been studied by men.



When success hinges on conformity, hit reset. 


Looking The Part


“...along with sexism, racism and ageism, 'lookism' is now offered as one of the key issues of the contemporary workplace.”

Chris Warhurst and Dennis Nickson

Lookism in the workplace is alive and well. Advertising is an image-driven business and stories of appearance bias are everywhere. In reality, hiring only those who look the part perpetuates stereotypes. It bestows privilege on those who fit the mold and resemble the power elite.

Consider this from an executive at a well-know, award-winning creative hot shop:

“It is done consciously. For a living we cast [commercials]. It’s about the haircut they have or the clothes they wear. We sell creativity. It is really important that the people who sell our ideas are consistent with our brand. It helps with the sell.”



If climbing the ladder requires changing who you really are, hit reset. 


Acting The Part


Men who manage reproduce themselves.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Acting the part sometimes supersedes looking the part. That’s because like attracts like.

Here is how it works. Uncertainty permeates the ad industry. Where will the next big idea come from? What brilliant campaign will clinch the winner-takes-all new business pitch? Hiring managers, use social similarity to reduce insecurity; assure future success.

Access is offered to those who live and breathe all things advertising. Those who exhibit passion for the field and can recite chapter and verse of the latest campaigns. They climb Kilimanjaro on their time off and adopt new technologies before anyone else.


If you’d like to make your agency a fairer place to work, I invite you to hit reset.




I started my career in advertising at the age of twenty-two. From the moment I entered the profession, I noticed an entry-level workforce of almost all women and executive leadership of almost all men. White men, of course. I also noticed very few people over the age of 40.

During my long career I have worked for five different agencies, some big and world renowned, others small and more boutique-like. These observations about gender and age held in each one.

Advertising is a boom and bust industry. After a new business win, agencies go on hiring sprees. After a client loss, agencies lay off workers. What would happen to me at the age of 50 if I was left standing without a chair when the music stopped?


In this world, there is one profession where white hair, age and experience amount to assets not liabilities. College professor.

Over eight long years, I chipped away at my doctoral degree to gain the qualifications to teach full time. I now teach marketing and communications in the MBA program for St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN.

My research focuses on the culture of ad agencies, a subject largely neglected by scholars. I provide a voice to an unstudied population on issues of critical importance to them and to me. This work empowers women to view the industry differently because as yet, only male researchers have delved into these topics and a female point of view has been sorely lacking. Until now.


Let's view the advertising industry differently.



Dr. Diane Fittipaldi

Scholar | Professor | Recovering ad exec.

Hierarchical ad agencies create issues for women, people of color. So, they leave. Where do they go? Many start their own ventures, reinventing the way work gets done. I know because I’ve studied what they are doing and I like what I see. If you’d like to make your agency a fairer place to work, I invite you to hit reset. Contact me to begin the conversation.

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