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Advertising 3% Conference Kat Gordon

A thousand words is worth a picture: women share how sexism in the industry has affected them


By Kat Gordon | Founder and CEO

August 11, 2016 | 7 min read

Nothing tells a story better than a story. And boy did the women of ad land have a lot to say in response to The 3% Movement’s “Elephant on Madison Avenue” survey about sexism and gender bias in the industry.

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In case anyone has lingering doubts whether sexism is a “thing of the past,” or “an isolated case”, 500 women told in excruciating detail that it is neither.

Here’s just a sampling of unedited responses from our July survey:

Sexual Harassment/Toxic Culture

“I've been sexually harassed at 4 LA agencies and was fired at one prominent agency for not complying to the advances of the CD and Account Services Director. After 9 years of being asked to train juniors and covering for every ACD and CD, the reason they gave for dismissal was incompetence.”

“I once started a list to note how many times their dicks were mentioned in a day. It was a lot.”

“I got my ass smacked by my ECD and no one said a word.”

“I have been sexually harassed by a colleague, he continued to sexually harass women of all ages in my department until he was fired, not for sexual harassment but for trying to steal clients from the company.”

“I was propositioned not once but twice to go to bed with the CMO of a major Fortune 500 company. After I said no twice, we lost the business the following month.”

“They think I’m the chill girl who gets it. No, I’m the normal girl who buries it.”

Pay Inequity

“I’m making $15K less than my male counterpart and I’m doing 90% of the work.”

“I know that most of my career I was seriously underpaid. It constituted an act of (and I quote my then CEO, who made an attempt to correct the imbalance): 'corporate misogyny.'”

Lack of Opportunity/Visibility

“The last agency I was at treated me like a little girl. I was a 43-year old Creative Director who had worked on global accounts around the world. I was told that ‘the boys’ would handle it (concepts, etc.) on a regular basis.”

“I have been in a room full of people more senior and more junior but all male, and asked to please get the coffee.”

“It's exhausting. To love what you do, to know in your heart that you're good at it, but to have to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to excel at it.”

“I am ALWAYS asked to ‘help with’ (aka, be solely responsible for) the extracurricular office projects, whether it's coordinating a volunteer event, drawing chalk art on the walls, awards submissions, planning any kind of office party, you name it. It is so ridiculous that in a group of 12 men and ONE woman (me), you'd think the odds would be in my favor NOT to be chosen for these extra tasks, but of course not.”

“I was on a video conference call where I was on one end with a male director. My male client was on the other end. The client moved the camera and cropped me out of the meeting.”

“Before being promoted to CD, I was told I had to perform most of the duties first to prove my eligibility. A male colleague was promoted without having to do that.”

The Motherhood Penalty

“I was told I needed a doctor’s note to work normal hours when I was pregnant.”

“People assume you won't stay late for a pitch without even asking. People assume a flexible work arrangement means you are doing less work. People assume your perspective doesn't hold as much value. All those assumptions add up to a very bleak reality [for moms in the industry].”

“I still remember being told that I ‘lost my fire’ in the months after returning from maternity leave because I was tending to my sick, hospitalized child. Even after returning to work and working my ass off to demonstrate I hadn't, I was still judged and passed over—‘well you have (your child) now, I'm not sure we can count on you like we did before.’”

“My boss acknowledged consistently that I was doing an amazing job, and I received nothing but positive feedback in reviews. I was told that in order to be promoted, I would have to relocate to a different country, and I expressed my eagerness to do so. After I had a child, I was told, ‘Well, since you have a family, that's no longer really an option.’ Meanwhile, male colleagues in the exact same situation have been relocated all over the world by this company, along with their families (and in at least one case, their child's nanny!) without question.”

This is just a sampling of the hundreds of stories we heard. The themes that emerge show a troubling pattern of women’s talents being underutilized and under-appreciated and their presence being in a service mode to men, no matter how senior or competent.

The 3% staff will present the full findings from this extensive study on the stage at Advertising Week on September 27 in New York City. We’ll contrast the ad world to the tech world whose “Elephant in the Valley” survey was the model for our survey, plus host a panel with industry leaders to uncover how their agencies are handling gender bias and sexism.

One final comment from our survey: “The fact that that shit still happens is infuriating.” We agree.

Kat Gordon is the founder and CEO of The 3% Conference. She tweets @katgordon

Advertising 3% Conference Kat Gordon

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