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Once blacklisted from Chicago’s ad scene, a creative pens a note of thanks to her liberator

Leone read the letter at the 3% Conference / Bronac McNeill

In 2016, Lisa Leone, a freelance creative director, published a timeline of her experiences with sexism and harassment in advertising. The response in her city of Chicago was frosty at best and disgusted at worst, and she soon found herself excluded from the ad community she had once lived and worked in.

Her redemption came in the form of Have Her Back, the scheme set up by Golin’s chief creative officer, Caroline Dettman, to support women re-entering the industry. At this year’s 3% Conference Leone read a letter of gratitude to Dettman and all that she did to help Leone find employment.

This is the note.

Dear Caroline,

On 6 July 2016, I wrote about my experiences with sexism and misogyny in advertising. It was terrifying, but I did it, and it went very public. In the days that followed, I received messages from women all over the world – every continent – messages of solidarity and thanks for coming forward.

In Chicago, the response was very different.

Through anonymous comments online, I was called a bitch. I was misquoted and misrepresented. People said I deserved the treatment I got, and one person even said they doubted all of this happened to me because “I wasn’t even that pretty.”

No one in Chicago would hire me. After almost two years, I struggled to pay my mortgage and buy groceries. Everything went on credit cards and I kept sinking further and further into debt.

Then, in March of this year, I read about Have Her Back. I knew someone who worked for you, and through tears I typed a message to him. I wanted to know how Have Her Back was different. How was it more than a series of memes and hashtags? What were you doing to help? Actually help?

He responded: “My boss, Caroline, wants to meet you.”

You don’t know this, but when we first met I felt ashamed. This thing I did, this thing I once thought was brave and could maybe help other women like me...I now thought was stupid because I didn’t help anyone and ended up hurting my family.

I was in a very dark place and thinking all of the dark things that come with it.

When we met, I was apologetic. I warned you that I was not very well liked. That I had a reputation for being difficult. That associating yourself with me might damage your reputation.

And you told me to shut up. You said: “Of course people think those things about you.

“You’re talented, you’re female, and you have a voice and an opinion. God forbid.”

You said: “Look – here’s what happened. You were blacklisted and it’s bullshit. And I want to help you.”

You put me on a panel, you introduced me to people, you gave me a gig.

Caroline, that was about seven months ago. I’ve only had two days off since.

That panel and those introductions and that gig led to another. And another, and another. I stopped apologizing for myself so much. I started believing in myself again.

You once told me I’m not allowed to thank you anymore. But, obviously, I’m not very good at following directions. You thought you were showing a simple act of support, but because of you, I didn’t disappear from this industry.

Thank you, Caroline, for having my back. Thank you for having me back. And I’m not just back for me. I’m back for us – for as many women as I can possibly help. Because you never know how much it will mean to that person, and how close they might be to giving up. You taught me that. Thank you.

With more gratitude than you may ever know –


Author's note: The original article that got me blacklisted was published on 6 July 2016 – the same day that Philando Castile was murdered, unarmed, in his vehicle, by a police officer in Minnesota.

Over the next few days, I chose to delay responding to any messages, tweets or comments about my article, because I felt that Black Lives Matter needed 100% attention, even the small amount that was directed toward me.

Toward the end of the 3% Conference last week, it was suggested that white women in advertising use their privilege to help women of color, and I could not agree more. For as difficult as it might have been for me, it is infinitely more difficult for them.

Please, extend any kindness and help you can to our BIPOC (black, indigenous people of color) peers who most definitely struggle more than white women can begin to comprehend. They need our attention now, even the small amount that is, once again, directed toward me. Thank you.

Lisa Leone is the former senior vice president and group creative director at Edelman. She is currently a freelance creative director and writer.

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