Spring 2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Donald R. LaMagdeleine

Second Advisor

Kathleen M. Boyle

Third Advisor

Michael C. Porter


The purpose of this study was to understand how advertising agency culture affects the long-term careers of women account executives as they age. The primary research questions were: 1) How do self-image and cultural stereotypes affect the decision to enter the advertising business; 2) How do women navigate the male-dominated culture of the ad agency; 3) What strategies do women use to get ahead in advertising; 4) How do women survive long term in a culture that favors youth? Qualitative data was collected via unstructured, one-on-one, in-depth interviews with a nationally sourced sample 15 female advertising account executives aged 40 years old to 61 years old. Critical theory and the uncovering of power dynamics served as the interpretive framework for both the inquiry and analysis of this study.

Participants reported being attracted to the field’s glamour. They understood the habitus and looked and acted the part in the dramaturgical presentation of self. In their early careers, women enjoyed the high-energy atmosphere and intense camaraderie they encountered in a total institution-like atmosphere. Getting ahead required the accumulation of social capital, which meant demonstrating the ability to diffuse sexual harassments and give up one’s personal life in service of the job. Here, accepting the myth that clients require around the clock attention reinforced hegemonic practices, which ultimately forced women to choose between career and family. Among those that continued in the profession, many reported identifying as tomboys in their youth. They felt comfortable in a man’s world and performed as ideal workers with immunity from family work. The advertising agencies represented in this study were steeped in patriarchy. Standpoint theory explains why most women accepted the industry’s patriarchy as given, unable to envision alternative ways of being.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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