Commentary

It's Time To Change #metoo to #nomore In The Ad World - And Beyond

If you think sexual assault or innuendo is exclusive to Hollywood actors and directors or politicians, think again. It’s everywhere. 

IPG just announced it has a zero tolerance policy in light of all the recent allegations and news reports in the wake of the Weinstein fallout; women can only hope that Chairman/CEO Michael Roth’s announcement is something he upholds and that other companies follow suit.

In the past, I’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace myself. I’ve reported it. And nothing happened. Absolutely nothing.
As a very young art director, I had a client try to get my blouse off. I managed to escape unscathed and reported it to my boss. I think he thought it was a joke because “nothing happened.” For years after, he would tell me the client was still asking about me. 

I could come forth now, like so many women are today and name names, but as women hear all the time, “It would be your words against his.” And even though it was decades ago, I’ve never forgotten the experience.

Those same words were said to my daughter after an on-campus college sexual assault, “It will be your words against his.” My daughter agonized about this for weeks as the young man continued to bully her. I finally convinced her to talk to someone at the university and, as a result, they had to take action based on Title IX. A restraining order was issued and she went public. 

My daughter graduated a little over a year ago and has since entered the agency business as a copywriter. Already she has experienced a co-worker (not at her current workplace) sending her Snapchat pics of his privates. No one should be subjected to his kind of behavior. I wish I could alert every HR recruiter about this young man and that he could get the help he needs now before his bad behavior escalates.

I don't know how many times over my almost 40-year career in the business I was falsely accused of sleeping with a coworker. After I left my first job out of college, I was told there were numerous rumors I had been sleeping with the creative director. I immediately made a “no hugs with male coworkers” policy. Despite my personal policy, I was still accused. I was literally told by an agency president I worked with, "I want to be next" after he listed three men I had supposedly slept with. And all too often, because my name was on the door it was assumed I was using my maiden name and that I was married to the other name on the door because that was the only way a woman could get anywhere in the business.

I recently met another female exec for lunch and she told me her story. Kerry Lyons, is the SVP of marketing for House Party, Inc. and I asked if she would add her experience to this piece: 

“Needless to say, the vast majority of women are not sleeping their way to the top — but it’s safe to say that most women at the top — and the bottom and middle as well — have been subjected to some form of harassment in the workplace. It’s not just Hollywood and it’s not just Madison Ave. It’s Wall Street, too — the New York Times recently published an article about “whisper networks” and The Glass Ceiling Club, a group started in the ’90s that gave women in finance a forum to commiserate and collaborate to make the workplace more hospitable which, in this case, pretty much equates to less fondling. Today, the whisper network is alive and well — in online forums and offline happy hours. 

“But the problem extends beyond Wall Street, all the way to Main Street and everywhere in between. Across the country and across industries, women are coming forward and sharing their stories. We all know someone who has been touched by harassment. Unfortunately, literally. Consider the #metoo phenomenon that swept Twitter and then Facebook a few weeks ago. The notion behind it? That the harassment of women has been— and is today — a prevalent, accepted societal norm. Yes, the problem runs deep. And it’s time to make a change. To speak up. 

“For me, it happened repeatedly. Unlike Holly and her daughter, I never said a word. I was afraid. I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I thought, ‘Oh well, that’s just the way it is.’ And I put up with it. Again and again. 

“As a young account executive at a leading New York ad agency, I was given tickets to a Broadway show and told to go with a visiting client from Japan and “make sure he has a good time.” Needless to say, there was no “happy ending” — just a few awkward hours in the dark with a man who didn’t speak English, but was hoping to connect via the language of love — all under the auspices of an organization and a boss who thought it was fair game to offer up a cute 20-something to an important global client.

“As a more senior account director, I had a client who would ask me to sit on his lap during meetings, who groped me at the agency Christmas party, who never missed the chance to make a lewd comment. My boss laughed. My colleagues laughed. And so, I laughed too. And I continued to think, ‘that’s just the way it is.’

“Well, now I have a daughter — and four sons, too. For them — and for all of us, it’s time to take a stand. Maybe that’s the way it was, but it doesn’t make it right and it’s not the way it should be or needs to be moving forward. 

“For my daughter, I want her to be brave; I want her to be strong; I want her to speak up and most of all, I want her to know she can and will succeed on her own merit, intellect and drive. For my sons, I want them to treat women with respect, as equals. I want them to speak up if they see something inappropriate. I want them to be on the side of what is right. Vocally and visibly. And for all of us, I want to change #metoo to #nomore.”

It’s scary how many stories are coming out across the U.S. and in so many industries. And I stand with Kerry, as I’m sure you will. It’s definitely time. #nomore.  

(It’s worth noting that today, both Kerry and I work for companies with a no-tolerance policy, where we are respected — not just as women, but as active contributors to the businesses we’ve helped build.)

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