Cindy Gallop, diversity advocate, advertising consultant and founder of IfWeRanTheWorld, offers an international perspective on sexual harassment in the advertising industry
I’ve been speaking publicly about sexual harassment as a business issue for years, and about how endemic it is in our industry because nobody else was.
Three months ago, as the Harvey Weinstein saga exploded, I seized the moment and posted on Facebook addressing ad industry women and men, saying the time had come to name names.
I was immediately inundated with emails from women and men all over the world (including the Middle East).
“I am horrified at the scale and scope of sexual harassment in our industry. I always knew it was bad. I never knew it was this bad.”
I am horrified, appalled and disgusted by what is showing up in my inbox.
I always knew it was bad. I never knew it was this bad.
I am horrified at the scale and scope of sexual harassment in our industry (I hear from women for whom it started 30 years ago, and from 22-year-olds who cannot believe the industry they’ve joined). I am horrified at HR personnel and departments who are a disgrace to the profession. I am horrified at the quantity and frequency of settlements and payouts: agencies and holding companies have been buying women’s and men’s silence for years, and that silence has enabled serial sexual harassers to harass again and again.
I am horrified at the number of actual rapes – our industry contains many rapists who have never been arrested and prosecuted for criminal behaviour, and who have been enabled to rape and go on raping by agency and holding company cover-ups. And I am horrified at the names – men whom our industry has celebrated, lauded and awarded; men who have sat across from me telling me how much they champion women and gender equality; men I considered good guys; men I considered friends.
My inbox led me to revise my own thinking. The single biggest issue facing our industry today is not diversity: it’s sexual harassment, which keeps women out of leadership and creative leadership, manages women out of the industry, and prevents gender equality, diversity and inclusion from ever happening. I spoke in detail about the business implications for the whole industry in my 3PercentConference keynote back in November.
I have partnered with industry trade press around the world, who have committed to doing the same patient, sensitive, empathetic investigative journalism to break these stories of sexual harassment in our industry that The New York Times deployed to bring Harvey Weinstein to justice.
Women of the Middle East ad industry, please email email@example.com with your own stories, naming names, agencies, holding companies and client brands. Whether you choose to go on the record publicly or to be quoted anonymously, this is our chance to end sexual harassment in our industry once and for all.
Men of the Middle East ad industry who were complicit, who stood by, who witnessed, who participated, who laughed, who joined in, who said nothing – this is your chance to set that right.
The most important thing for all of you to know is: there is nothing to fear.
I’m horrified by the level of sheer fear manifesting in my inbox, from both women and men. That’s because the men doing the sexual harassing in our industry represent themselves as the gatekeepers – to jobs, promotions, pay raises, awards, careers, fame, fortune.
Know this: they’re not. They’ve been able to behave as appallingly as they have done in the past, because they were confident nobody would ever speak up. That’s no longer true. When enough of you come together to speak up, and we are able to break these stories, and they are finally out in the open and public knowledge, there can be no retaliation. In fact, quite the opposite. The punishment goes the other way – where it is wholly deserved, and long overdue.
For all of us who love this industry – let’s make it the industry we want to work in, where we can all thrive, women and men alike. Please speak up, for all of us.
Contact Cindy Gallop on ifwerantheworld.com