Awareness is the first step towards change and the #MeToo movement was extraordinary; it empowered women to speak out and revealed the extent of assault and abuse faced by women around the world. But #TimesUp is meaningful in two ways, transformative even. Firstly it changes the message to one of action and secondly, it quickens the pace of change. It makes clear that now is the time to end ‘sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace’.
Unlike #MeToo, the #TimesUp movement allows women to call for change without having to disclose their personal experiences. Above all, #TimesUp not only draws attention to the problem and the urgent change needed – but takes big steps towards making that change. Firstly, by partnering with equality advocates to improve and enforce laws, employment agreements and corporate policies and secondly by creating a Legal Defense Fund and encouraging women from all industries and backgrounds to hold those that have abused and assaulted them accountable. As Caitlin Moran points out – “the arrival of money and lawyers…is the advent of power” (The Times, January 20th) We are moving away from awareness and discussion to action & coordination.
I have always been a passionate active driver of gender equality - when running Maxus we created our ‘Walk the Talk’ progam which GroupM and WPP have now adopted globally. As both past President and active member of WACL I know many of us, have been lobbying for change for a long time, but the breadth, depth and resonance of the global #TimesUp movement has created a tidal change in broader public opinion. There is a loud and clear message - most eloquently and emphatically delivered by Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes two weeks ago, that says the time is now.
The outrage that ensued from both women and men about the behaviour described at the Presidents Club, and its subsequent shutting down, demonstrates the power of this message. WPP has apologised for attending and made clear, publicly as well as to all employees that that the behaviour described at The Presidents Club dinner has no place in our society, and WPP should have ended its association with the event a long time ago. I’m not proud we ever had a table there, but we acted fast and have had policies in place for many years with regard to harassment or discrimination of any kind. We have to keep ensuring everyone who wants to be part of the group lives up to them and that everyone feels empowered to call out any unacceptable behaviour.
We still need a more equal gender split in all forms of leadership; in the city, government and business - and more equality in how domestic work is shared. Looking internally, currently, 54% of employees at WPP are women and 48% senior managers. We are working hard to improve the balance further up the ranks: our women’s network Stella, the roll-out of ‘Walk the Talk’ which is now a global WPP program, and many individual efforts across our agencies, all designed to actively address the barriers that can prevent women progressing to senior levels.
WPP is also committed to tackling gender inequality as part of Common Ground – the marketing and communications industry’s commitment to support the United Nations Sustainability Goals. We have partnered with UN Women to develop a range of initiatives to empower women and girls around the world. For example, last year our agencies launched #RewritingTheCode with the children’s charity Theirword. The campaign aims to expose the hidden attitudes and behavioural codes that prevent girls and women around the world from achieving their full potential. It is by tackling the two together: embedded beliefs and male dominated spaces that we can work to really drive a change in society’s balance of power.
Inequality has raged long enough. This is a seismic shift. We all have to enforce the policies of fairness that hopefully any modern company has in place, make them live and breathe them. And personally, I’d love everyone to visit the #TimesUp website, read about what you can do to support the movement.
We can all Speak Up, Step Up and ensure that finally #TimesUp.
Lindsay Pattison is the chief transformation officer for WPP and a regular columnist for The Drum.