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It’s #timeto end sexual harassment in the advertising industry

November 2020

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How Time’s Up Advertising is turning hashtags into action #timeto

Content warning: This article includes information that may be triggering, including information about sexual harassment. If you have been affected by this article and would like support or information, you can contact 1800RESPECT (Phone: 1800 737 732). Details of sexual assault support services in each state and territory can be found here. You can lodge a complaint about sexual harassment with the Australian Human Rights Commission or your State or Territory anti-discrimination or human rights agency. 

In March 2018, following the rise of #MeToo, a UK-based campaign, #timeTo, released survey findings that showed sexual harassment was rife in the UK advertising industry.

The survey found that 34% of female respondents had experienced sexual harassment while working in the industry, as well as 9% of male respondents. Of those who had been harassed, nearly three-quarters (72%) had experienced it more than once, and a whopping 25% had been harassed six times or more. A further 30% had witnessed sexual harassment of other people. In total, 41% of respondents had experienced and/or witnessed sexual harassment in the ad industry.

Not only was the extent of harassment that was occurring a concern, but victims were also reluctant to report it. 83% of those who had experienced sexual harassment did not officially report it. Many victims said they distrusted their organisation’s reporting system and feared reporting would damage their career. 82% of those affected by sexual harassment were harassed by someone senior to them, with middle managers being the most frequent perpetrators.

What about the ad industry in Australia? 

We don’t have the same kind of detailed data on sexual harassment in the Australian ad industry. But we know that a staggering 81% of people working in the Australian media, information and telecommunications industries (including advertising) had experienced sexual harassment in the five years to 2018. This is significantly higher than the national prevalence rate of 33%.

The Agency Circle – an Australian industry body for creative agencies committed to diversity – has run diversity surveys in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Its 2017 survey showed sexual harassment within creative agencies had decreased from the previous year, but 15% of people still reported having experienced sexual harassment in their current workplace. And it also showed an 11% increase in reports of workplace discrimination.

The 2017 survey also found that one-third of respondents felt the Australian industry did a ‘mediocre’ job on gender equality. This isn’t surprising when you look at the data. Although nearly 60% of people in creative agencies are female, less than 30% of executive roles and less than 40% of creative and design roles are held by women. The industry also lacks diversity in race, age and sexual orientation.

Time’s Up Advertising Australia 

Following the establishment of Time’s Up Advertising – the US advertising industry’s response to the #MeToo movement, female Australian industry leaders teamed up to create a home-grown version.

“We want to show our solidarity and that we know that as senior women and leaders of businesses we have a responsibility to the people around us.”

– McCann Australia CEO Nicole Taylor and Clemenger Sydney MD Emily Perrett, Co-founders of Time’s Up Advertising Australia

Time’s Up Advertising Australia launched an industry-wide survey asking for feedback on what needed to change in the ad industry. The results pointed to a few key areas — a code of conduct outlining what everyone should be able to expect from their workplace, training for managers, legal advice and keeping the issue alive in the media.

More comprehensive data on the extent of sexual harassment and gender inequality in the ad industry is also needed. Only when we understand the problem, can we come up with effective solutions.

We owe it to the women who have had their health and careers damaged by sexual harassment in the ad industry to stamp it out once and for all.

Take the pledge to be the change in the ad industry. 

“The end goal is to help create a place where women and men are empowered to shut negative behaviours down and make this an industry that everyone is proud to be part of.”

– McCann Australia CEO Nicole Taylor and Clemenger Sydney MD Emily Perrett, Co-founders of Time’s Up Advertising Australia