Advertising’s #MeToo Movement Picks Up Speed

Amid a spate of high-profile firings, new lawsuits, and ongoing controversy over a snarky anonymous Instagram account that’s naming names of alleged perpetrators and offering no apologies, a group of 180 female executives in the advertising industry have banded together to launch Time’s Up Advertising, the first official industry-specific partnership with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
To kick things off, the group is hosting meetings in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto (plus an online forum for those outside big cities) on May 14 for people in the advertising industry. The goals of the meeting will be to discuss the status quo that has allowed harassment and discrimination to continue and to drive new policies that will encourage change.
“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,” reads a “Letter of Solidarity” on the group’s new website launched this week. “We think the best first step in this process is talking face to face with you.”
This comes at an interesting time for the industry that gave us Mad Men. Since December, at least five executives at major firms have been fired due to sexual harassment and discrimination complaints, at agencies from Seattle to London. Most recently, the chief creative officer at Innocean USA, Eric Springer, was put on leave after AdWeek broke news of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Springer and the agency for sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and wrongful termination.
Last week, Diet Madison Avenue, the anonymous Instagram that has been chronicling #MeToo developments in advertising, briefly went dark on the same day that a small cadre of women in advertising posted an open letter railing against the group’s tactics. “Diet Madison Avenue is creating a culture of fear. Men are afraid of ending up on a public list accusing them of sexual harassment without explanation,” Karen McKibben, one of the signers, wrote in an op-ed for AdAge. “Women are afraid of being bullied by DMA for condemning the account and its practices.”
It’s unclear exactly why the account disappeared briefly. Diet Madison Avenue said on Twitter that they think their account was hacked or disabled by Instagram for being reported, but an Instagram spokesperson told the New York Times that the company had no hand in disabling the account. Either way, the episode seems to have only spurred interest in their endeavor, as they’ve now grown to more than 22,000 followers.
It remains to be seen what solutions Time’s Up Advertising will come up with, of course, but for now, the initiative seems to be bridging the gap between those who support the radical project of Diet Madison Avenue and those who don’t.
“[We] are very excited this initiative has launched. We are in full support of the women and agencies leading the industry to bring awareness and solutions to dealing sexual harassment in advertising,” McKibben tells Refinery29. “I personally hope this eliminates the need for DMA. I hope Time’s Up Advertising resource gives both women and men a transparent process to resolve grievances without the toxicity of the trials by social media.”
“180 female industry leaders created Time’s Up Advertising. That’s incredible! And now it’s up to us, men and women alike, to show up and do our part… we support Times Up Advertising 110%,” adds a spokesperson for Diet Madison Avenue. “Times Up Advertising likely wouldn’t have worked 5 years ago. Even 1 year ago. But right now, in this very moment we all find ourselves in, it truly might.”
Both McKibben and the spokesperson for DMA say they will be at one of the May 14 gatherings.
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