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We Need to Talk About ‘Walking the Walk’


Global creative director Cass Zawadowski spurs on the industry to stand up and do more for the gender debate

We Need to Talk About ‘Walking the Walk’
Last week’s announcement of Kevin Roberts’ resignation really rattled me. You see, like many women (and men) in the business, I, too, was disheartened by his remarks. However, maybe not for all the same obvious reasons you might think. In fact, let me share the following two statements:

“Advertising exec loses job over sexist insults.” 

“Saatchi Chairman resigns after gender comments.”

If headlines like these seem par for the course in the ad industry, you’re right. 

But perhaps what’s more shocking (at least to me), are the dates in which these headlines were published. The first made the Telegraph in October of 2005 after ‘A Night With Neil French’ took place in Toronto, Canada. 

The latter, was just published last week in AdAge on August 3, 2016. 

Surely I can’t be the only one who wants to know why, 11 years later, the headlines have not changed? Every day, in every way, the ad industry is shifting. Alas, one of (if not the) most important issues in this business (read: sexism) hasn’t evolved much at all. 

I (unfortunately) deem myself quite equipped to join the sexism conversation. Not only as the one who stood at that conference in Toronto back in 2005 and asked the question of Neil, but simply as a female navigating her way through the industry. 

Like so many other stories we’ve heard, I, too, have been reprimanded by senior male colleagues for not accepting their advances, been moved off briefs because ‘chicks don’t do beer accounts’, and been made to sit (quietly) in meetings so that the client can see ‘hey, we’ve got girls working on the business!’

Don’t get me wrong, we’re absolutely making headway with Kat Gordon and the 3% Conference. I proudly applaud her efforts and courage for rallying the industry to raise the ratio to 11%. And God bless Cindy Gallop for getting critical issues front and centre in the media with her quick-witted reactions. But the fact that two of the top men, from two of the top advertising agencies in the world, shared the same view, 11 (ELEVEN!) years apart, is not exactly what I call a coincidence. 

We all need to hold ourselves more accountable for the things going on in this business. 
The next time someone stands up at a conference or workshop and proudly declares that we need more senior female leadership in the business, ask them what they’re doing to bring about that change? Inquire about the number of females currently in leadership roles at their agency? Yes, I am absolutely suggesting you put them on the spot. 

It’s so easy to have an opinion about something. And we’re all capable of ‘talking the talk’ when it comes to gender representation in this business. Or any other topic, for that matter. 

But perhaps, if the headlines from last week (and 11 years ago) are teaching us anything, it’s time, now more than ever, to use our voices alongside action. 

Let’s absolutely keep talking the talk. But let’s promise to do one better, and hold each other to ‘walking the walk’ as well. 

See you out there. 

Cass Zawadowski is a freelance global creative director
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