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Elephants in the media room: calling time out on sexual harassment

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.

Mad Men

Exploring the elephants in the rooms of media businesses across the land, Mary Keane-Dawson, global chief executive for performance media at The Marketing Group, sets out to talk about problems those in media land are nervous about publicly confronting. In the first of a series, she covers the issue of sexual harassment in the industry.

Normally the subjects on my media mind are a pick 'n' mix from dodgy trading to the constant battle for talent and awful procurement practices.

Today, however, I'm compelled to confront a very personal and private elephant in the media room. This column is my response to the increasingly open conversations around sexual harassment at work and the phenomenal number of #MeToo hashtags on all social media platforms.

If you’ve missed #MeToo, I ask you to take a look at the hashtag to see how women, and some men, have taken the extraordinarily brave step to highlight the impact of being sexually harassed, compromised, and on occasion assaulted by people they work with and/or for.

We need to talk about how this plays out in our industry and let’s be very honest, it plays out every day.

We can kid ourselves that the ‘Mad Men’ days are over and we are all a big, happy, diverse and well-behaved media family. Or we can confront the reality that this has happened, is happening now and will continue to happen until we take a stand.

My social feeds are full of industry friends and contacts displaying the #MeToo hashtag. These are strong, brilliant and capable independent women, many of whom hold down top jobs. And I would suggest that for every woman brave enough to speak out, there are three who don’t want to rock the boat, are scared their boss might see it or are just to ashamed to tell people.

2017 is my 30th anniversary in media land. I can tell you plenty of tales about men in media offering me alternative ways to close a deal that included sexual acts... of men pulling their cocks out in meetings in an attempt to intimidate me during a tough negotiation... of grabbing my tits and arse at Christmas parties and passing it off as the physical equivalent of harmless drunken banter. Even very recently a particularly senior media legend asked me “have I ever shagged you?” (he couldn’t recollect and wondered if I did). I didn’t recall such an episode because, as I explained to him, he most certainly would have remembered if it had ever happened.

I let him off the hook using humour. Not OK.

I’m not naming and shaming any media men – you already know who you are and this is not the time for individual witchhunts. If you recognise yourself in this column then you can mail me to apologise, but I am calling ‘time out’. This behaviour in our industry is totally unacceptable. Totally disrespectful. Don’t deny it. Just stop it. Now. Respect the very brave men and women who are sharing their stories.

We’re very good at highlighting problems and issues in this industry. Sadly, we’re not always so good at doing anything about them. But on this occasion let me make a plea to everybody who reads this to do the right thing – because you can make the difference. This isn’t down to industry bodies or trade associations. This is an individual choice to be better.


Mary Keane-Dawson is the global chief executive for performance media at The Marketing Group

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