Elephants in the media room: women do it too

Mary Keane-Dawson, co-founder and CEO of The Truth Agency, is a one of the most well-known figures in the UK digital media scene. She has worked with an impressive mix of companies, including Redwood Publishing, SPAFAX (now part of WPP), Steak (now part of Dentsu), Reform Collective London and Trade Doubler’s incubator The Zoo Project. Most recently she held the position of UK managing director with Neo@Ogilvy.

In addition to driving the development of Truth, Mary is a non-executive director and executive coach working with the likes of BIMA, The Smalls and Tech London Advocates. She is also the founder of How She Made It.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

We are all considering a future where one thing is for sure – change is the new normal and we all have to get comfortable with it. One of the changes we’ve all become aware of is the new normal in the way women get treated in the workplace and how we are becoming better in calling out bad behaviour.

But I’m still troubled. Obviously, I’m still troubled by the concentration of negative stories about women being treated very badly, with disrespect, with threats and with physical and sexual menace by male leader managers and peers.

However, I have a newsflash for you. Women can do bad things too. In fact, although I recently wrote about people in power sexually harassing many women and men in the advertising industry, I’m now calling out senior women leaders who are paid huge salaries and bonuses who treat their teams like shit. Yes, you read that correctly, like shit. It’s one of our industry's many guilty secrets and it’s very hard to bring it up and call it out and I’m pretty sure I’ll get plenty of criticism for bringing this up.

When female CEOs tell us that they are promoting diversity, female empowerment and parental rights in their organisation in a public way, we read these policies with delight and support their efforts. But what if it’s just diversity for PR’s sake? What if this is just another stunt dreamt up by the marketing department, another facile LinkedIn post meant to show what a caring member of the sisterhood you are? What if when you get back into the boardroom with those leaders, what they say and do is completely at odds with their public persona? I’ve seen it too many times and in too many places. Women can be bad managers too.

And let’s look at the organisations which purport to promote the interests of women. Some do great work. Some only seem to exist the promote the interests of their senior members. They won’t help you if you are a young account executive because you cannot hand out a cushy NED role to one of the girls.

Please don’t misunderstand me – there are many amazing women leaders in our industry, women who truly want to change the ratio and change the way our industry looks. There are many brilliant women who will build and rebuild businesses in media, advertising and technology. They activate change for the better. They grow their teams, develop their talents, give their very best to their clients and their staff. They genuinely take an interest in the young talent in their business and make it their mission to develop it.

But, there are also senior established women leaders who say one thing, and behave in a completely contrary way. They will not protect you, they will not support you, they will only look after themselves. Just because you are a woman, you don’t get a pass. We’ve seen one senior media leader shown the door in recent weeks because he acted in a way contrary to the values of his company. Well let’s be very clear, values are not gender specific. Being sympathetic, empathetic, inspirational and respectful are human traits – not gender specific.

It’s time to call out bad leaders whatever gender they come from.

Are you ready?

Mary Keane-Dawson is chief executive of media agency Truth, part of The Marketing Group.

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