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Why women in ad land are working in a ‘toxic culture’


By Natalie Mortimer, N/A

September 27, 2016 | 5 min read

The furore around the comments made by former Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts that the gender diversity in advertising debate is “over” pushed the issue even further in to the limelight, and now new research has found that 91 per cent of women in advertising have heard demeaning comments from male colleagues.


Why women in ad land are working in a ‘toxic culture’

Conducted by the 3% Movement, the ‘Elephant on Madison Avenue’ survey, questioned almost 600 women working in the industry to find out the extend of sexism of gender bias that they are encountering on, in some cases, a daily basis.

According to the results 54 per cent of women have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances in their career that have impeded their feelings of safety and blurred appropriate boundaries with co-workers and clients. For those who had experienced unwanted sexual advances, the perpetrators were co-workers and these were not necessarily one-off incidents. Worryingly, 70 per cent of such instances came from a superior.

Not having a seat at the table was another issue. 58 per cent of women surveyed said that they have felt excluded from important business meetings and only 1 in 4 women in advertising feel they have had the same opportunities as men in their profession.

Interestingly women in creative roles felt more excluded. Speaking earlier today (27 September) during a panel at Ad Week New York, Laura Fegley executive creative director at Colle+McVoy said that this is due to there being less women in creative departments than others.

“It’s hard to feel inclusion when your numbers are so small. In the press, there have been a couple of notable douchebags that have cast aspersions on what leadership is at agencies but I think, for the most part, most creative male leadership is really well-intentioned but we tend to surround ourselves with people that are like us and a lot of male creatives just gravitate and feel more comfortable with other dudes like them and as women we feel that. So until get our numbers up significantly in leadership roles we will always feel like we are standing on the outside.”

Shannon Washington a senior creative director at INVNT, agreed and added that agencies sometimes find it hard to shake of the tradition of being run at senior leadership level by white men, in an atmosphere that was created for “personalities of men”.

“Think about how the advertising industry was built, it was all founded by white men, and we have creative departments that were essentially built around the personalities of men. I have always said that creative departments are like a free space for men, and that’s great but a creative department should be for everyone. But you can’t bump tradition and a lot of people hold on to that and that is fine because that is what you know, but it wasn’t necessary created for all of us. The more of us that break into these senior roles, we do have an opportunity and a responsibility to shift the culture of inclusion.”

To drive the change and achieve an equal balance, agencies need to start by hiring females into leadership roles said FCB’s global CEO Carter Murray, who said the agency’s work in recruiting women in to senior positions is a “work in progress”.

“We are not nearly where we need to be and we have to be clear about that. Being a CEO really opens your eyes to so many different points of view… I feel responsible to make sure that they [women] feel they can work somewhere that they can believe in.

“We are trying to get our house in order, and if we say 50 per cent of employees are women that is a bullshit excuse. When you look at the leadership of all the agencies the majority of executives are men… it’s crazy. It has to start with leadership… we have been working really hard and we have hired rock start talents who happen to be women and that is an important point.”

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