Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Abusive Men In The Advertising Business

When it comes to sexual misconduct, things were different up until a few years ago.  As a recruiter, I have heard stories which were dreadful and appalling about senior executives who brutalized and humiliated women; demanding that they sit on their laps, pinching, feeling and groping, verbally putting them down. They left these women with, for the most part, no choice but to accept it if they wanted to succeed or be promoted.

Somehow, when I was in advertising, I was unaware of all this abuse.  It was certainly nothing I ever did – my parents would have killed me and, besides, it was just not what I did or even thought of.  But as a recruiter, I started hearing the stories.

I heard about one creative director who would stand outside on the street in front of his office building and when he saw a woman who appealed to him, he would say that he was going to meet her.  He would stand in front of the building every day at the same time for days until he saw her again.  And he would approach her and, sure enough, somehow, about 80% of the time he was successful.  He would do the same things to women he liked in his office and, in those days, it was assumed that whatever happened was by mutual consent.

There was another creative director who practically attacked women. He was successful with some, but was rebuffed by dozens (literally), some of whom quit, others who sued the agency and received a substantial settlement. But the agency did nothing to stop it; his talent was valued above and beyond his persona.  He was so outrageous that someone I know who lived in his building would get off the elevator if he got on because she would not be alone with him.  He was totally a sexual predator.

Looking back at it all, it was repulsive. And worse, it was tolerated by management.

It is hard to realize that only fifty years ago there were few women senior executives in advertising, especially account management, creative and media.  I can only imagine what they had to do or go through in order to succeed. Mad Men was very accurate in that regard.

But just last week I heard a recent story from a former advertising person who told me that her boss constantly humiliated her by throwing or dropping things on the floor and asking her to pick them up so he could look down her blouse. What kind of man does something like that?

I once worked for an account guy who came to the agency business from space sales (Sports Illustrated, I believe). When he was asked what kind of skill his new secretary should have, he told the HR lady that he wanted someone who would sleep with him.  The HR person told me this many years later. She also told me she found him such a person.

I couldn’t believe that stuff like this really happened, but I know it did.

I congratulate the #metoo movement; it is about time that women feel safe enough to share their experience.  And, on behalf of the majority of men in business who would never do things like that, I sincerely apologize and hope that ad agencies (and, in fact, all businesses) put programs and processes in place to address this problem.   Yes, it is about time.


  1. Bravo to you for putting the issue on the table and inviting others into the conversation. This is pervasive and it will only stop if those who were victims, those who bore witness, those who enabled, and those who turned a (knowingly) blind eye stand up and stand together. This is not up to anyone other than every one of us.

    1. I can say that I encountered horrible abuse but not in the advertising industry. I was blessed with exceptional leadership.

      I did however to my embarrassment sign a non disclosure agreement for 10,000 when I was 23. This was in the import/export business.

  2. I am in violent agreement, Paul, and, in fact, wrote about this from another point-of-view, in a piece called, "Charlie Rose."

    If you're curious, you can find it by following this link: http://adventuresinclientservice.com/post/167952434986

    1. Good piece on Charlie Rose. It is also just terrible that someone in a position of authority, including in advertising, should abuse that privilege.

  3. This happened to me too. Exact thing. In front of a client. I don't think I responded again. Wonder if it was the same person? Last time I checked he was the CEO of an agency.

    But just last week I heard a recent story from a former advertising person who told me that her boss constantly humiliated her by throwing or dropping things on the floor and asking her to pick them up so he could look down her blouse.

  4. ...and here is where we are ALL complicit. Even those of us who could never even dream of some of the behaviors we've read about. (And when I say "you" I'm not singling you out - just that you spoke for all of us.) When you say, "I heard about..." you became an enabler, just as Billy Bush did when he recorded Donald Trump on the bus. It's sad that women are in this position. It's even sadder that they still need men to stand up for them. But until every guy says, "I won't stand for that and I'm calling him out" when we "hear about," then NO ONE is innocent.

  5. I certainly don’t condone stupid, disrespectful, blatantly offensive, or possibly illegal behavior from men toward women in business or elsewhere. But I must disagree with notion that it is, as so many now say, “pervasive”. Indeed, on a standard two-tail Bell curve, I’ll bet that only 10% fall into the “offender” tail; “saints” falling into the other tail; and the rest of us falling somewhere in the middle, to varying degrees of standard deviation, from the mean or median of acceptable behavior. That is … There are big differences between innocent or inadvertent flirting; unwelcomed advances; hostile harassment; coercion; and actual physical assault. What I don’t like now is everyone lumping them together as they were ALL the same thing. They’re not! As if most men were “predators” of some kind. They’re not! In fact, we have mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and yes, even some female co-workers, that we would defend to our deaths. So enough already in the media about the “bad guys”. For sure, if you see something, say something. But how about some more representative anecdotal stories on good men like IPG’s Michael Roth. Recently read a great feature about him defending women’s rights in Ad Age, but it never made it to the NYT, TV, or Facebook. And why is that, you ask? Because good news doesn’t sell papers, spots, or digital widgets. And why is that, you ask again? Because most people prefer salacious news! More titillating grist for the office or internet gossip mill.

    1. But here's another perspective: One man's "flirting" is another woman's "harassment." As men, we don't really know where the line is, and it's just wishful thinking that it's a bell-shaped curve.

    2. Hey PS ... Real men of character know where the line is. And you don't need a company training program, seminar, or media news article to find it. If it's more than a passing glance, smile, or polite greeting ... it's too much.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Bill, you are WAY off base. Harassment is indeed pervasive. And all people, men and women, should have company training. PS is right that people may not know where to draw the line. Flirting should not be permissible in the workplace. Women come to work. Period. One does not have to make unwelcome advances or physical assaults in order to be abusive. I once had a client, not that long ago, who insisted on calling all women "girls"; it was a put down because male executives were, for him, always men. He had no idea that he was being a chauvinist, but every woman knew she was being put down. Ask any woman you know and every one of them can tell you a story of harassment or outright abuse. Fortunately, things have changed in the last couple of decades. The good news here is that women have learned to speak up. That is why Time named #metoo as persons of the year.

    5. Bill, I completely agree with you. The notion that all men are predators is wrong and ultimately it's just as damaging to women as it is to men.

      It's an inaccurate and unhealthy train of thought that lacks nuance and sophistication. All sorts of gray areas crop up in the workplace and to state that coworkers will never enter into romantic relationships is a bit naive.

      It's an interesting issue because men and women working together in offices is relatively new when you look at it from a historical perspective. We are still figuring out the rules and I am sure there is a better, smarter way to be found. Gender bashing is not the solution, of course.

  6. Bill Crandall- As of mid-Oct there were over 12 million #metoo silence breakers. That was two months ago. I would have to say this is pervasive.

    Firstly, how can you state the issue is not pervasive? And how can you even know? Are you questioning the millions of women (and men) who are coming forward? And the possible millions more who are still fearful due to possible repercussions or not being believed such as in the Trump allegations.

    Thank you for breaking down the types of harassment. There is absolutely NO place for any of the above, including "innocent flirting" in the workplace. A women goes to work to do just that-work. Period. For the record, all advances in the workplace are unwanted. One can go to a bar if they want to get hit on.

    Clearly, there does need to be a handbook in the workplace, for the men of good character that still believe there is a "fine line". If you wouldn't say it to a male co-worker, than don't say it to a female.

    Lastly, suggesting some more representative anecdotal stories on good men at this time, is slightly akin to positive anecdotal stories about gun-wielding people after a mass shooting.

  7. I don't work in advertising, but I am a woman with a background in Human Resources. In my last role, I was a Director and ran an HR department. The handbooks I created always had codes of conduct and anyone who violated those codes (by acting inappropriately towards men or women) would be subject to disciplinary action.

    With that said, it's impossible to construct a policy for every single scenario. Believe me, I tried. There are countless gray areas and women (and men) would come to me with all sorts of stories. They varied in severity and some scenarios didn't strike me as particularly noteworthy but nevertheless the person coming to me felt upset. In each case, the complainant said nothing to the accused (did not call them out, did not say "I don't like what you just said to me," and did not indicate they were upset in any way by whatever had transpired).

    I dutifully handled each scenario because that was my directive. But in some ways feel I may have done the women who came to me a disservice. In instances where an innocuous comment was made and there was no clear policy violation, I wish I would have encouraged the woman coming to me to handle the situation herself. It felt like women were often being overly polite and felt that they needed to outsource their conflicts to someone above them for resolution.

    In my opinion, women have more power than they realize. If someone barks at you, you can clap back at them. If someone takes a tone that you don't appreciate, let them know. I don't care what level they are at; your everyday pedestrian bully will almost always fold when they are called out.

    It seems that successful people at work often have "hero" stories where they have slayed a dragon or tackled a seemingly insurmountable problem (and yes, sometimes those problems are people).

    But if women are constantly looking to others to save them or fix mundane miscommunications, how can they become heroes?

    To be clear, I am not talking about genuine cases of sexual harassment or retaliation for reporting harassment. It's easy to spot those cases and company policy should support handling those cases swiftly and with zero tolerance.

    I have to disagree on flirting in the workplace. We are flesh and blood humans and don't necessarily become steely robots as we swipe into work. A lot of people meet their spouse or significant other at work and I don't know if that's right or wrong; it's simply a fact of life. I have had women in hysterics because a coworker (a peer doing the same type of work) sent them a message saying they liked them and wanted to know if they might like to go on a date. The notion of saying, "thanks, but no thanks" had not occurred to anyone.

    I want equality for women in the workplace and equal pay as much as anyone. I'm a woman who works hard and I really want to be rewarded appropriately. But I think the #metoo campaign is harmful in portraying women as silently suffering victims desperately awaiting rescue. We are more than that and the lack of nuance in #metoo makes me cringe.

    Wherever possible, I hope women will become more willing to fight their own battles. Even if it's just calling someone out for being a jerk in a meeting or dealing with a conflict head on, it's a step in the right direction.

    *I have posted here before but I'm anonymous today because I recognize most of my peers in HR would strongly object to this line of thinking.

    1. Just, wow. I have to say this is an extremely disturbing point of view from someone in HR. I'm happy to respond not anonymously.

      Let's look at some of the reason womens don't come forward more, using your own examples. When they do, here's what may happen:

      -they are told to stop being "victims" and to fix it themselves

      -they are told how to feel, and that they shouldn't be upset because what happened wasn't a big deal/could have been worse

      -they are gaslit entirely

      -they are told that they are overreacting or being "hysterical"

      -they are told that equality and equal pay in the workplace will come from fighting their own battles (battles which, by the way, shouldn't have to be fought in the first place if HR was on top of these issues)

      -they know in their guts that the HR person is "dutifully" handling the situation, but not really truly supporting them because of his or her own implicit biases and patriarchal views of how women should behave

      -they are told that unwanted advances or flirtation from a superior isn't "genuine sexual harassment"

      -they worry that reported the issue and then experiencing one or more of these things will leave them with a compromised professional reputation that will hurt them in the long run.

      Not every infraction is the same; this is true. But every woman who has the guts to come forward, knowing that it may well cost her her job, reputation, and livelihood, needs to be heard, believed, and supported as a starting point.

      This entire comment makes me incredibly sad.

    2. Ms. Gumbinner, I respect your viewpoint and believe your sincerity in regards to elevating women in the workplace. This is laudable, but I can also tell from your post that you have never worked a day in Human Resources. It's obviously fine to have an opinion, but please note that things go on behind the scenes that you may not have much knowledge or insight into. I like your idealism, but unfortunately it does not match reality.

      No one is turning away or gas lighting women with actual sexual harassment claims (at least not in any company I worked for). For years I have watched women report mundane and harmless interactions with male colleagues that ultimately tarnished each woman's reputation because they were viewed as not being able to hold their own. This is not bravery; it is foolishness and lack of social savvy. I'm not talking about genuine instances of sexual harassment---I address that in my previous post---but truly banal interactions that should never have come across my desk.

      Younger women arriving in the workplace are even more prone to this. Many of them were highly sheltered growing up in their suburban enclaves and their college/grad school university administrators and professors similarly coddled them. They are exceptionally quick to blow the whistle and seemingly incapable of holding their own in even the shallowest of waters.

      To me, this is a tremendous shame. I think women are incredibly intelligent and talented in the workplace (usually more suited to corporate life than men) but fail to realize their true potential because they lack a necessary toughness and deftness in handling male personalities. This needs to change if we are to obtain true equality.

      As I mentioned in my prior post, I am not a "he" but indeed a woman and I am not brainwashed by the patriarchy (patriarchy being a meaningless construct that I ascribe no significance to). I would like equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace and I set clear boundaries with male and female coworkers. I teach others how to treat me and quickly shut down any behavior I dislike. I have worked hard to mentor other women around me to teach them how to do the same.

      Your comment does not make me sad but helps me realize there is still much work to do. I think your perspective is a popular one, but I wish there was more common sense involved. We cannot cocoon ourselves from reality and expect to reap the benefits. The bottom line? As a gender, we have to take back our authority and learn to hold our own whenever and wherever we can.

    3. Dear Anon: Indeed, I have never worked in human resources. However, I believe you are blaming the victims. It is like you are blaming coal miners for getting black lung disease – if they didn’t work there, they would not get sick. There is no excuse for harassment, no matter how trivial or minor. This has nothing to do with toughness and deftness in handling male personalities. Men, and in fact all people, need to be trained and educated as to what is incorrect. It is totally common sense. Women should not have to “learn to hold their own”. It shouldn’t happen in the first place.

      I fear that your attitude makes you part of the problem rather than the solution. As an HR professional, you know perfectly well that there should be zero tolerance of any form of inappropriate behavior. I do agree that there are many men who do not know that is inappropriate and that they have to be taught what is acceptable. On the news the other night was a construction worker who excused his cat-calling and whistling at women as a compliment. He hadn’t a clue.

      Your attitude is why people are reluctant to go to HR.

    4. Thanks for giving me permission to have an opinion! After 25 years as an advertising and marketing executive, I'm thrilled to hear that I've earned one!

      You do understand that comments like women "lack a necessary toughness and deftness in handling male personalities" epitomizes patriarchy, right? Or maybe you don't.

      But then, like gravity or global warming, it doesn't matter whether you believe it exists or not. It is ingrained in our institutions, and in our HR departments, especially those staffed by women of previous generations who cannot shake an outmoded view of what other women should or should not have to tolerate in a professional environment.

      Indeed there is much work to do. That much we agree on.

  8. My last word on this … When I suggested that workplace harassment is not as “pervasive” as currently being reported, it was with the literal definition of “pervasive” in mind. To wit, the Cambridge Dictionary defining pervasive as … “Present or noticeable in EVERY part of a thing or place”, e.g., a pervasive smell of diesel. Merriam-Webster saying, “Existing in or spreading through EVERY part of something”, e.g., a pervasive odor. Which is to say, while there will always be some bad apples in every barrel, that doesn’t make them pervasive or representative of the majority in the entire crop. As for #metoo’s reported 12 million complainants (assuming duplication of complaints about any one particular individual), there are 127 million full-time workers in the U.S. according to Statista (see https://www.statista.com/statistics/192361/unadjusted-monthly-number-of-full-time-employees-in-the-us/). Again showing that 10% doesn’t represent a majority of the good 100%. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t know the literal definition of “pervasive” and think of it as a majority, which it’s not. That’s all I was saying. That no well-intentioned person of character, of either gender, wants a rotten apple in their barrel. And when we find one, we ALL certainly want to get rid of it.

    1. If your first instinct is to read about decades of abuse against women in myriad forms, and to defensively state, "not all men" then you are not really reading, you are not really hearing, you are not the ally you think you are, and you certainly aren't prepared to be part of the solution.

      Sometimes it's okay to LISTEN and not talk.

      Sometimes it's more than okay, it's what is required.

      I'll leave it at that.

    2. You are talking Fascism listen and not respond. I hope you are not ever in a position of power.

  9. I deleted an ad hominem personal attack. It attacked the writers rather than the issue.

    1. There is NOTHING wrong with flirting at work, Normal Human Interaction.

    2. What one person considers innocent flirting, another may consider harassment. I stand by my point of view.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Hey Blog Administrator, Chicken about hearing a challenge, Bup Bup Bup, Sqwawk

    2. Dr. Freud, Clearly, you are "chicken" about this topic or you would sign your name. I would be happy to have a productive discussion with you, but I will not allow you to use my post to attack me or my family instead of the issue. Abuse and harassment in the workplace is a very complicated issue. Rather than attacking, why not sign your name so we can have a vigorous discussion.

  11. You are right Gumbinner abuse and harrassment is and the operative word very complicated, but you are excoriating men for their natural attraction to women. To the men who are inappropriate no good, but I for one will never stop flirting and I fear your point of view and your daughters represent an Orwellian view of the world. I can say this if this becomes out of hand and men are punished for natural interactions, their will be a push back by men. Nuff said, will not post further as a respectful request to you, as long as you keep this posted, for people who have a different point of view of this issue.

  12. Freud: Nothing wrong with flirtation. Just not in the office. I am a beautiful woman and honestly, flirtation in the workplace becomes distracting from my primary purpose, which is work. I think the Gumbiner’s are not saying flirtation is wrong. Just not at work. And just not anytime unwanted. You have a right to say what you think, but if you want to flirt, maybe take it to your local bar, or library or a party. Nothing Orwellian here. I for one don’t like men flirting with me at work. Period.

  13. Ok, then let's get a drink at a local bar and get to know each other better just a bit a humor, these posts are getting too heavy, let's all lighten up and respect each other smile

  14. I've been in the advertising/marketing workforce since 1982 and seen a LOT. Mr. Crandall, yes it IS pervasive as almost every woman I've ever worked with has experienced it. And while most men don't do it, sadly too many tolerate it.

    Let me ask you a question: have you ever been with a group of guys at work and heard them discussing a female coworker's body? Or made a lewd comment? What was YOUR response? Did you point out that it wasn't appropriate, or did you laugh, albeit somewhat embarrassed, so as not to be seen as a stuffed shirt or killjoy? If you didn't speak up immediately, then your silence helped perpetuate it.

    Personal examples I've seen or experienced: a very senior client asking my boss about if I was single. That alone wasn't the issue, but it was him then saying "if yes, I'm gonna hit that." And then running into me at the gym I didn't know we both belonged to where he cornered me while I was on a machine, got uncomfortably close to me, ogled me in a very obnoxious way, and started suggesting we "get together" to discuss his account.

    The head of a small agency division insisting women sit on his lap at the company holiday party.

    A senior client calling one of my female coworkers unbelievably insulting things, including the "c" word while on a conference call so loudly that half the agency could hear it through the conference room door. After weeks of sexually demeaning comments he demanded the agency fire her with no severance. She couldn't find a job and he was blackballing her to the point where she ended up suing, but was told that as a result she'd never work in advertising again.

    Or how about the agency creative director who wouldn't let us hire someone because she wasn't pretty? He didn't want to bring an "ugly" woman to client meetings.

    These are 4 that jumped into my head immediately, but I could write pages and pages of my and other women's experiences.

    The ONLY way this will stop is if the men who are not perpetrators step up to the plate and make it clear to other men that it is not acceptable. It's not funny, it's not manly, it's not tolerable.

    Paul, thank you for bringing this up.

    1. Thanks, Anon, for joining the conversation. Everything you say is right.

  15. Hey Anon, I started in the ad agency business in 1982 at 20 right out of college and I think you paint a very accurate picture. Holiday parties with clients were a particular minefield. I remember distinctly getting groped on the dance floor at a party by the highest-level client -- one so important and feared we rarely saw him in meetings -- and when I scanned around and locked eyes with my boss over his shoulder, hoping for a rescue, all I saw was an expression that said "go along, and take one for the team."


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