It’s been two years since creative director Lisa Leone published Ad Girl, Interrupted, a no-holds-barred diary of all the sexist, sexually aggravating and misogynistic behaviour she had experienced in over 15 years in the advertising industry. As a result of her honesty, Leone was blacklisted from the Chicago market and was sent a cease-and-desist letter from one agency, demanding she remove the work she created for it from her portfolio. Two years on, and it seems the industry that chastised her is catching up.
In March, US-based advertising agency Golin launched a #HaveHerBack campaign, announcing its continued support for women in the industry who report sexual misconduct and harassment, and on Tuesday evening it held its very first #HaveHerBack event.
As reported by AdWeek, the agency invited both employees and partners to the New York event to listen to a range of speakers, who spoke not only about their own experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace, but how everyone could help to support the women brave enough to report it. “I’ve been told that I am fuckable by a male colleague. I have been asked off a pitch because I’m told I come off too strong,” said Caroline Dettman, the chief creative officer at Golin. “I point these two out because those happened in 2018.”
But Dettman’s main message was for those getting tired by the conversation surrounding #MeToo. “I’m here to say changing culture is hard, and it takes patience, and it takes time, and this is just the beginning.” She’s right, but, as well as difficult, adopting a whole new culture of work is also absolutely vital.
As well as the campaign and event, Golin is also taking active steps towards helping the #MeToo movement. The $2,500 raised by the #HaveHerBack campaign will be donated to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, parent company IPG promised to continue its zero-tolerance policy towards all sexual harassment and promised to hire more women across the company – including on its board. Like the majority of companies across the world, IPG’s ratio of female-to-male employees is abysmal – CEO Michael Roth called the disparity “embarrassing” and “disgusting” – but it is at least taking steps towards learning.
To #HaveHerBack is an idea we can all adopt at work, whether we work in advertising, catering, the media, healthcare – the list goes on. As with most structural changes, it must come from the top
Of course, advertising is by no means the only sector with a sexual harassment and sexism problem – in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a professional industry without it. A BBC survey conducted in October last year, just as #MeToo began to spread across the internet, found that half of British women had experienced sexual harassment at work and just 63% reported the incident. Of the women who said they had been victims of harassment, the survey suggested that one in 10 had actually been sexually assaulted.
To #HaveHerBack is an idea we can all adopt at work, whether we work in advertising, catering, the media, healthcare – the list goes on. As with most structural changes, it must come from the top. Managers can create a working environment where employees feel comfortable and safe enough to report sexual harassment, no matter how “insignificant” they may seem. Those in even higher positions can codify an anti-sexual-harassment policy into official codes of conduct and contracts, clearly outlining the consequences for perpetrators. Consistent, regular training sessions on what sexual harassment looks like and how to tackle it for all employees – young, old, senior, junior, whether they’ve been at the company for five days or five years.
Employees with no direct control over company policy can tackle sexual harassment on the ground. If you see anyone else being sexually harassed, tell the victim they have your support. When the subsequent inquiry reaches you – hopefully – for comment, tell them exactly what you saw. Bring up stories of sexual harassment and abuse in conversations and express why the perpetrator was wrong. Speak up and call out the (alleged) actions of Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Larry Nassar, Dr Luke and the many, many more famous men linked to tales of rape, sexual assault, harassment and misconduct.
Leone spoke to those gathered at Golin’s event this week – an unexpected move, since she had previously contacted the #HaveHerBack campaign to ask them to stop encouraging women to report their harassment. “I was like, ‘Don’t encourage people to speak up’,” she said. “It’s terrible. I feel very isolated and let down by the very people who are saying to do more of this.” While shocking, Leone’s sentiments are understandable considering the backlash she received for her blog post – no one had her back. But now, two years on, things have begun to change. “It’s definitely better now,” she concluded. “Caroline [Dettman] has made me feel like I deserve a place in this industry.”
Leone’s story and Dettman’s moves to tackle the system of silence that got her there are proof that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do. We all have the power to #HaveHerBack.