More than 180 female senior ad executives put industry on notice

On Monday, more than 180 senior female advertising executives in North America — including the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi NY, the chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide North America Operations, and the CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies — announced the launch of Time’s Up Advertising, an anti-harassment campaign and legal aid fundraiser. It is the first industry-specific campaign to join the Time’s Up movement.

“As women in senior leadership positions in advertising, we’ve agreed that we have the power to change this business we love until it looks more like the industry we want to lead,” the open letter states. “Sexual harassment is not OK. Never. No exceptions. No amount of talent, missed cues, or being great in the room unchecks the No Sexual Harassment box.”

Time’s Up Advertising said that its mission is to fix policies “that have failed us” and drive new workplace policies that create “more balanced, diverse and accountable leadership; address workplace discrimination, harassment and abuse; and create equitable and safe cultures within our agencies.” The organization said it will host its first open forums for women in advertising on May 14 in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

‘Mad Men’ world is still alive

Recent examples show why there is a growing urgency for the “real change” being promised by Time’s Up Advertising. The “Mad Men” world of sexist men in advertising is still all too real. Just last week, a prominent ad executive for Hyundai’s agency Innocean, Eric Springer, was accused of using a “bullying and harassing management style” against female employees in a lawsuit.

In London, multiple ad agencies have admitted that male staffers still send out “top five” emails on their last day of employment to rank their female coworkers by attractiveness.

Outside of the formal structures of an initiative like Time’s Up, more private groups are taking their grievances online to shame alleged sexual harassers in advertising. Diet Madison Avenue, for example, is a popular private Instagram account run by anonymous advertising insiders that seeks to expose “sexual harassment & discrimination in ad agencies since Oct 2017, cuz HR won’t,” according to its bio.

Through the rise of external accountability measures, these initiatives are signaling that the current system is failing women in advertising, and the toxic problem is systemic.