Here’s what I find disheartening about the Kevin Roberts frenzy. We’ve come out in droves to bash someone for saying some very ignorant comments. But he’s just the lightning rod. A lightning rod makes the debate easy to engage with and just as easy to forget about.
For the record, I too found the comments insulting but I’m not that interested in jumping on the bashing bandwagon. I am interested in whether the industry has the power to channel all that outrage into something more useful. It’s good to react but it’s even better to act.
I get it, the controversy created a bit of soap opera style drama. Who doesn’t like that on a Monday morning? The story was easy to engage with. The battle lines were clear – he was wrong and we were right for calling him out on it. It’s not hard to point out all the things that were wrong and outdated about his comments. Criticism is easy. Putting real actions in place is much, much harder.
I know a lot of us are doing our part, in our little corner of the industry. Being role models for younger women, making diversity a part of agency culture and our hiring criteria. Clearly, it’s not enough. The problem is huge and complicated and very real. I would never downplay the individual strides we’ve made but isn’t it time we banded together to genuinely try to fix it?
Women still make decisions about their career with fertility and motherhood as major factors. Female reproductive anatomy aside, what’s that about? Before I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book I remember being annoyed at the suggestion that I was holding myself back – that I wasn’t leaning in enough. I was leaning in plenty, thank you. But having read it the thing that stuck with me most is not that she’s a superhuman but that she had a partner who did more than his fair share of the parenting. The decision she and her husband made together made it possible for her to pursue her career. That is a very real, very tangible thing. We need more of that, at scale, across the industry.
When you think about it, it’s crazy that women are simply assumed to be the main parenting gatekeepers. How many men take advantage of shared leave rights? Why aren’t they? Why is maternal a better instinct than a paternal one? What other archaic assumptions and behaviors exist that we need to challenge and break?
Can we agree to back one fundamental change across the industry and all commit to it? Like, let’s call it 'Family Leave' and make the policy the most generous and flexible of any industry? Let’s shake off our Mad Men past and move more swiftly into the future. I don’t have the right answer but I have a great belief in the power of our collective brains to solve problems, to change behaviour, to impact culture.
This is an amazing brief. And for once we don’t have to compete over it. Let’s invest our time and our people to crack it together.
Yelena Gaufman is strategy partner of Fold7