“Howe, join us for the pitch. We need some tits in the room.”
I’d been working on a big piece of business for eight years. When the rest of the account came up for grabs, I had a new boss – a guy, who didn’t want to put me in the pitch. I was the obvious choice, because I knew the business inside and out and was a seasoned presenter. But he was a good ol’ boy. You know the type. He filled the room with his pals. It wasn’t until the pitch consultant pointed out that half the client team was women and the pitch team should best reflect the client’s culture that my boss relented and summoned me to the table. We pitched. We won. I left for a better job, and a better boss, shortly afterwards.
So when JWT announced Gustavo Martinez was leaving the agency after a staffer filed a lawsuit alleging he made “racist and sexist slurs,” I felt outrage. But what I didn’t feel was surprise. And that is telling.
It was a mere 11 years ago when Neil French put the WPP network on the front pages with his misogynistic rant about how “women are crap,” they don’t belong in the ad business and they should just “go and suckle something.” He portrayed us as a group of slacker breeders who didn’t burn the midnight oil.
The suit against Martinez and his agency, filed by JWT’s chief communication officer Erin Johnson, alleges that Martinez “said that a female executive he disliked needed to be ‘hogtied’ and ‘raped into submission.'”
I am passionate about advertising. I was attracted to it because it’s supposed to be among the most forward-looking of industries, the leading edge. So the fact that we are so hopelessly backwards when it comes to our treatment of women is mystifying.
Whether the allegations against Martinez are true, the fact remains that very few women make it to the top ranks; in fact only 3% of creative directors are women. It’s ironic, given that 85% of purchase decisions are made by females. We have created a business of mostly men making the work that talks to mostly women. Putting more women in senior roles in the agency and especially in the creative department is a no-brainer. It’s just good business.
A few more stats lay bare the absurdity: 51% of the population is female, and 60% of university graduates are women. That is a pretty significant talent pool we’re missing out on. The question is why?
I’ve judged almost every major global awards show. The juries are overwhelmingly male. That was the impetus to get behind the 50/50 Initiative, an organization encouraging shows to appoint a 50/50 jury.
I’ve been denied a promotion because “you’ll likely have babies and it’s a big job.”
I’ve heard a client say, “women don’t understand beer.”
I’ve had a boss who had clubby, familiar nicknames – but only for the guys on staff.
My theory? Only the insecure men are threatened by strong, smart women. Men who are confident and intelligent welcome us as allies. Thankfully I’ve met and worked with many, many of those too.
On the uphill battle that women unbelievably still face in this industry, I quote Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin. They said it so well back in 2005: Women should be “outraged and act accordingly.”
A final personal footnote; I ended up going to an agency that championed women. I started a microbrewery. Oh, and the boss with the nickname thing? He got fired.
Karma. Sometimes it’s a bitch. Yes, I said bitch.
Karen Howe is the owner and creative director of The Township, and is a Cannes Advisory Board member.