Exposed: Australia's Shame
By Anonymous Creative
In 2013 I began my advertising career. Five years on, three agencies later and a life upheaval to California, I’ve been asked to examine the differences between the two countries.
If you go west of the USA, west of The Wild West, all the way across the Pacific Ocean, you hit the land of advertising in Australia. The other Wild West. In some ways, its agility and tendency to break the rules leads to innovation and other creative victories unmatched by many other countries. In other ways, it’s stuck in the past with storylines mimicking the 19th century.
Let’s set aside the cheating of results to win sacks of gold, the coke found on the front desk on a Monday morning, and the Campaign Brief comment section shootouts, I’d like to focus on the damsels who are constantly being distressed by the cowboys.
Gather round the fire y’all, it’s story time.
It’s the last night of my first internship. A group of us are out for drinks. My mentor, a senior copywriter (20 years my senior) had apparently been observing me for months. He articulately described my body as “filthy” and “sexual” before promising to grab me (physically) before the night was out. I never spoke to him again, until he became the creative director of the next agency I went to.
A year on. Another group is out for drinks. Another senior. Another “mentor” told my partner at the time she should loosen up by getting laid, but not without letting her know her value. Which was a 6/10.
A boozy Friday night at the agency. A freelance GAD (married), thought it would be fun to spend the night proving how powerless I could be by repeatedly picking me up and throwing me down onto a couch. But it was ok, because even though I resisted, it was in front of 20 other people. So he wasn’t doing anything wrong. My insistent verbal rejections and avoidance didn’t seem to be working so I decided to call it a night. He followed me to the door and offered to walk me home, “to protect me.” I told him I had studied self defence for 10 years and I would be fine. I walked home alone and safe.
An end of year production company party. South Melbourne. Great, massive cheese boards. Wooden barrels of cocktails. A dance floor that spills out onto the street, you know the setting. Another senior who I worked with was dancing with me. But it was ok, because his girlfriend was there. So he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Until his hands found every part of my body and before I could move away, his sweaty face pressed against my ear and told me he needed “to go home with me.” He immediately left to do the same thing to my partner before his girlfriend apologetically took him home.
The balcony of our agency. It’s off limits, but if you’ve been at the agency long enough someone will teach you how to shimmy the lock. Knowing how to do this earns you a thousand cool points and is a great way to impress newbies. This knowledge inappropriately fell into the hands of a junior art director we colloquially call the “sex pest.”
We call him sex pest because his dick inappropriately falls into his hands whenever he’s out on the balcony with a girl.
After the first incident, I told our boss, a few of us notified HR but they said they couldn’t do anything unless the women who were targeted spoke to them directly. This man was punished with keeping his job and the opportunity to keep harassing women — which he did. I’ve heard the same story multiple times from multiple girls — always junior, always on the balcony, and it’s always the same pest. This man is still employed and becomes more threatening as he moves up the ranks in his career.
If a junior can expose himself to another junior, what could an ECD do? What could a Partner do?
A year ago, I moved to the original Wild West, California. It seems that time has certainly progressed here and people behave differently than they did 150 years ago. I’m now at large agency with an ambition to build inclusivity into the DNA of the agency. It’s relatively new, and since its inception it has never tolerated that kind of behaviour and never endorsed those types of people. This attitude is applied to everyone: our production partners, the clients, the delivery man.
At the peak of the #metoo movement, all the employees were invited to a giant “open hour” that gave us a safe space to check in with each other. It started with women sharing their stories and concerns for the future, and thoughts on how to make it better. Towards the end of the session, quite a few men vulnerably admitted to feeling on edge, unsure of what they can and can’t say to their female colleagues. One man was torn up and “freaking out” because he complimented the MD’s dress. We had a big discussion about it and everyone left feeling a little more heard, and a little more insightful.
American agencies also have so many more female, diverse leaders.
Take a quick survey of who’s in the “people” section on your agency website, now see what your American counterpart looks like. Though America is still far (FAR) from equality, there is a drastic difference between the two countries. Having women in leadership positions does so many things for the culture of the agency- but perhaps most importantly, they help command respect for all the women of the agency. I wonder if we had more women in power at my other agencies if all those junior girls would have been seen as such an easy target? And would they have kept quiet if they had someone to go to.
Open discussions about sexual harassment
+ A culture that doesn’t tolerate shitty people
+ A culture that empowers you to speak up
+ Women in leadership positions
= I have zero stories about sexual harassment here
I’m not saying it doesn’t occur in America, it does. But it is clear actions have consequences out here. Sexual harassment is taken seriously and in turn, we feel safe. They feel accountable. Companies can no longer hide in the shadows. The earth keeps spinning and eventually Australia will fall under the same unforgiving light like the rest of the world.
Australia has a very unique ad culture. Through its informality can come an infectious, fun energy. We are a prankster culture, we have a laid-back-but-work-hard mentality, we’re playful and we constantly reinvent the rule book for the sake of creativity. How do we preserve these amazing parts and lose the shitty ones?
We are so grateful to our anon author for sharing her story. It’s tough to put this stuff out there. So, thank you.
When we read this, we can’t help but think that it shames advertising in Australia that these stories still emerge. As an industry, we haven’t yet reckoned with this aspect of our culture. It’s not good enough to say it’s not you, to turn a blind eye, to shrug it off, to question the veracity of the claim, to dismiss it as a bit of a laugh. Workplace bullying and harassment can be debilitating and any agency that doesn’t take it seriously is complicit in its practice.
We don’t know what the answer is. But we are willing to hear your stories, if it helps. Email us at email@example.com.