How MeToo and a 'depressing' Wacl event united industry to fight sexual harassment

timeTo code of conduct looks to tackle sexual harrassment

The momentum of the MeToo movement, catalysed by the charges against producer Harvey Weinstein and other titans of entertainment, helped motivate the UK ad industry to get its house in order, according to the chief executive of the Advertising Association (AA) before the launch of an industry-wide code of conduct called timeTo.

Companies in the marketing and ad industries have been invited by the AA, WACL and Nabs to adopt the timeTo code of conduct upon its launch today (Friday 29 June). The code was built upon the findings of a 3,580 person industry survey that unearthed that 26% of respondents have been sexually harassed in the workplace. There is a gender split, skewing to a third of women at 34% and 9% of men. 72% of complainants have been sexually harassed more than once, a quarter said more than six times. 30% also witnessed a colleague being harassed.

AA chief executive Stephen Woodford told The Drum how an evening on a panel at a Women in Advertising and Communications (Wacl) event in London, not long after the Weinstein revelations, forced the AA, Wacl and Nabs into action with support from the IPA and ISBA.

"I came away from it profoundly depressed by what we were hearing from the young women," he said. "They tended to talk indirectly from the perspective of 'a friend of mine's'. You would hear in the voice they were probably talking about themselves.

"There was an injustice in how many of them were harassed and then found that their company was not very sympathetic. Often, they ended up having to leave their job or get out of the industry, even though they are victims."

Still Happening

Today's findings show that abuse is not confined to the history books. A fifth of new female entrants to the industry aged 18-24 said they’ve been sexually harassed. Across all respondents who've been on the end of this behaviour, 69% said they’ve been harassed in the last five years. 28% said they have experienced it within the last year.

Kerry Glazer, chief executive of AAR Group and president of both Wacl and Nabs, also noted that the drive may not have existed if it was not for the bravery of those who stepped forward during MeToo. Reflecting on the event that sparked timeTo, she said: "Stephen was one of the five men that joined us that evening. It was one of the most sobering events that Wacl has ever held. It become very clear we couldn't just leave it there."

Although the nature of the report (talking to people still in the industry) could not substantiate it, Glazer believed sexual harassment was one of the reasons the industry was hemorrhaging female talent into different fields before reaching executive positions.

"We've saw a talent drain, we know we need more women and more equal board, up and coming young women need to see senior female role models," she said.

"You have to assume that if people's experience of the industry is negative in their early years – they may then go elsewhere. That's not good for business and it is certainly not good for women achieving equality in our industry."

The Solution

To tackle these issues, the newly released code hopes to outline what kind of conduct is – and is not – acceptable, with companies, senior figures and HR teams encouraged to sign up.

At Nabs, Glazer expects an uplift in calls regarding sexual harassment. The latest figures show that only 2% of calls handled by the body are related to the issue – but this does not align with timeTo's research which shows how widespread sexual harassment is. It is clear there is still a culture of silence on the subject matter that Glazer hopes will be dispelled.

She said: "I would be disappointed indeed if there was no an upswing in calls. Especially now that people can read the code and understand what constitutes sexual harassment – they know they can get confidential, free and impartial advice from Nabs."

There will be difficulties in rolling out the code, the pair admit, although they are not precious about how it is used by those in their sectors or beyond. Woodford said: "If people want to use the code in part or bring it into their own businesses, that's fine. I hope this is the first of 20 initiatives like this across society."

Glazer noted that brand uptake of the code may be the major hurdle to contend with. "The difficulty will be in getting brand marketers to tap into the code. If you are in the auto or financial sector, martketing is just a part of that so trying to get the timeTo code adopted across an entire corporation is a slightly bigger challenge, even if the marketers may want to adopt it. We have to find a way to make it easier for brands to support it."

On launch, the code has been widely embraced by more than 20 firms, including adam&eveDDB, BBH London, DCM, Havas London, Lucky Generals, ITV, Karmarama, Ogilvy and more.

Read the code on timeTo.org.uk. If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, Nabs is positioned to listen: No one should have to experience sexual harassment; anytime or anywhere. If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, contact NABS who can offer free, confidential advice, guidance and support on 0800 707 6607 or support@nabs.org.uk

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