First of all, a moment of pause that there are 180 women with C-level titles in advertising. Praise be.
Then another nod of affirmation that they joined forces to declare #TimesUp for harassment and inequality in advertising. Those who speak truth to power and attempt to fix things from inside the machine are unspeakably brave.
But what’s next? How do these female leaders eradicate harassment in an industry that’s been mythologized for its misogyny?
For starters, you don’t put an expiration date on this or force people to sit through mandatory training. You don’t silver-bullet the crusade or assume that linked elbows will protect you from bruised ribs.
In fact, you don’t do anything yet.
You get very quiet and invite others to tell you what’s going on.
I love that #TimesUp advertising is prioritizing this with its first action: a nationwide listening tour on May 14.
My team and I have pledged to participate in various cities and to share truth bombs we’ve collected on our seven-year crusade.
Let yourself feel pain
The things you hear will sting. No matter how far your agency is on the harassment-free journey, you’re a long way from the finish line. Everyone is. The stories from the ad community—especially from people of color, older creatives and eyes-still-open juniors—will make your heart sink into your stomach.
The women who signed the letter of solidarity are justifiably mad and that rage will only deepen as the movement progresses and the myriad ways our industry is broken are revealed. This kind of anger is good, because it mobilizes. It can penetrate the forcefield of male privilege and pierce the cloak of denial.
Keep your mind open
Admit to what you don’t know yet. Widen your definition of harassment. Be open to the many ways that harassment materializes, like a satellite of misbehavior radiating out from a “sleep with me or you’re fired” center. Discover “lookism” (aka the top five email scandal in the U.K.), client abuse and menacing behavior that disproportionately targets women of color.
Do a silent inventory of how your agency or holding company (and quite possibly, you yourself) may operate with blind spots that have unwittingly perpetuated inequity. This one is a doozy. I know because I’ve had my own personal reckoning with it.
Accept that this is the beginning of a long road
Truly shifting cultures is a long game. It takes sustained conversation in a world that favors fast fixes. It’s a one-step-forward, two-steps-back routine. It’s messy and human and imperfect. You can’t compliance your way out of it.
Dozens of women uniting and using their collective power to demand change—that’s a (huge) first step. How that looks in action will differ inside every agency based on many factors, including holding company involvement, client support, average age of employees, geography, agency legacy and more. It will take years to undo what’s been done, unlearn what’s been taught and reimagine a way forward to get everyone on board.
While there’s no one way to quickly turn the tide, the important thing is that these leaders have said the two magic words: Time’s up.