IPG's Tough Stand On Sex Harassment

Interpublic Group is preparing to launch a mandatory online anti-harassment course for U.S. workers.

The new requirement was disclosed in an internal memo today from IPG CEO Michael Roth, who also took the opportunity to remind staffers that the company has a “zero tolerance policy” for all types of harassment and retaliation.

“We have all been reading about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, including in the ad industry,” Roth wrote. He didn’t cite specifics, but unless you’ve been in a coma for the past couple of months you’re aware of the reprehensible behavior that film and TV mogul Harvey Weinstein has allegedly engaged in. He’s under investigation by legal authorities on both coasts.

And of course the ongoing JWT sex harassment/retaliation case has been in the headlines since March of 2016.

 “It is therefore an important time to re-emphasize that one of our core values at IPG is to ensure that all employees can enjoy workplaces that are respectful and supportive. This is about more than violations of local laws – we strive to support a higher standard of inclusion.”



Roth did not get into the details of the online course that’s being developed, but presumably it will cover some of the ground mentioned in the memo and probably more. For example, Roth noted that “sexual harassment isn't limited to its most obvious forms – such as making inappropriate advances. It also includes any unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that creates a hostile work environment. You should not be subject to any such behavior by anyone that you come into contact with as part of your job – colleagues, managers, suppliers or clients. And the prohibitions are not limited to the office – they apply to off-site events and social gatherings – anywhere that you are with your colleagues or business partners.”

Roth also urged employees who believe they have been subject to sex harassment (or have witnessed it) to report it. “You can do so without fear of reprisal as we also have a zero-tolerance policy against retaliation, and will take steps to protect you.”

Roth said the online course is being designed “to help ensure that our employees are familiar with our policies surrounding harassment.” For now the course will be required just in the U.S., the holding company’s largest market, but may be expanded.

“Ultimately, we all perform best and serve our clients most effectively when we operate in an environment free from harassment and where behavior to the contrary will not be tolerated,” Roth wrote.

The missive follows a recent initiative by Adland veteran Cindy Gallop encouraging sex harassment victims within the industry to speak up and call out offenders.

Which is easier said than done as evidenced by the many years that some of Weinstein’s alleged victims (and Bill Cosby’s before Weinstein’s) took to speak up. And it’s understandable. I mean, you’re trying to get ahead in your career and assholes, with a lot of power, pull this shit.

Sadly, the “casting couch” has been around for a long time and in many industries. Weinstein’s fall from grace is evidence that when victims summon the courage to stand up for themselves they’ll get support that wasn’t there in there the past.  And with efforts like Gallop’s, support will grow stronger. 

And kudos to IPG for reinforcing its existing and appropriate anti-harassment policy.

Clearly the problem isn’t going away overnight and more needs to be done in this arena.

And more efforts appear to be in the works. Just today, actress Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation, in conjunction with A Call to Men (ACTM) announced plans for a new PSA campaign that highlights the importance of men's role in speaking up and supporting survivors of sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Such prominent actors as Andre Braugher, Tate Donovan, Anthony Edwards, Raúl Esparza, Dann Florek, Peter Hermann, among others are participating in the project. Have a look here at some of the creative work for the effort.


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