Shavon Barua
Aug 31, 2023

Shavon's blog: Hello boys, do you plan to grow up?

Why is it so difficult to break the barriers, diminish the pay gap and judge only on meritocracy, asks the author

Shavon's blog: Hello boys, do you plan to grow up?
If we use the search toolbar well, enough, and more has been said, written even ranted about the dismal state of gender parity in the advertising world. Gender, sexism, and bias are quickly followed by words like diversity, and inclusion. Followed also by policies, committees, and zero tolerance to workplace harassment, and bullying. It’s not just a pattern. It has been systemised into departments, roles, and jobs with the agencies. 
All this took galloping steps post the call out of the #metoo movement and equally quickly got relegated to a mere ‘policy’.  Seems the leaders have much more important things to worry about, don’t they? These so-called ‘issues’ are for that committee to deal with/or bury.  
Yes, of course raking up the topic of equal pay, real roles for real talent, and overall check on the state of the ratio of women in business will seem rather unnecessary. Because it is uncomfortable as truth usually is.
Okay let’s try a little role reversal, shall we? Let’s launch an all-men agency that caters to specific brand communication for men as bullseye TG. How ridiculous does it sound? Or you may even ask what does it mean? But think about it, we are seeing women in the business forming collectives and collaborations, setting up women-led and catering to women agencies, and trying to build platforms and a variety of groups to be heard and seen. And no, it is neither odd nor ridiculous.  It seems progressive. 
The question to ask here is why. Why should women need to create these only for women spaces? The answer lies out there.
They are always getting pushed out. The constant battle to prove that she is worthy enough. Recently the rant in the film Barbie which essentially sums up the conflicts rather well had most women nodding away. Indian advertising continues to be Ken land. A little while back the Supreme Court of our country has recalibrated the age-old stereotypes that have distorted the depiction of women over ages. A very welcome move. It would certainly help our adland leaders, especially the league of extraordinary gentlemen, to get hold of a copy of this handbook. 
It’s easily available. Pour yourself a strong beverage of choice (trust me, you may need something) and read. More importantly, question yourselves. How often do you label? If there is a huddle that connects then it is easy to say slotting women colleagues would top the list.
It is mid-2023, but the smoke break jokes, beer, and boy’s jokes or even the elitist whiskey gent’s candour club jokes, pretty much still have a similar string, where much discussions (gossip is for girls) happen on ‘critical issues’ as it did in the Madmen era. Bash the Babes. Let us put them in slots. If junior she is either cute/hot/dumb and must be given a leery look at. If a counterpart she is untalented, whiny, complicated, dumb, on the wrong day, manipulative, teased and God forbid if she is the boss, she is shrill, unkind, untalented, dumb, over the hill and of course, undeserving. 
No, this has not changed. While the obvious objectifying may have become lesser, more out of fear than genuine change, the minute the mask is off, the boy’s jokes switch on. You may turn around and say this is yet another woman ranting. Really? 
Or it is simply showing the mirror. These ‘fun’ informal clubs are often the death knell for agency women. Networking, promoting from within, mentoring and blocking anyone who is not a part of it is common. Often toxic havens laced with sexist humour, allowing women in is a rarity. Women could start or already have their own cliques and groups and sisterhoods system of solidarity but will either of these groups help? Just like those ‘only women’ agencies? The fragmented fraternity of adland hardly sounds like a sad situation. 
While it certainly helps women support women. Encourage and mentor but gender equality is only ever going to be real with cultural change. Helmed by both women and men. It is everyone’s issue.  Last we checked, the advertising business is for creativity and innovation and most importantly equally engaging for women and men. So why is it so difficult to break the barriers, (glass ceilings included), diminish the pay gap and judge only on meritocracy kind Gents? Yes, your woman counterpart is different. She will need her maternity leave and no it's not a special thing, it is her right, like paternity leave is yours. She will have bad days with menstrual cramps and no she is neither faking it nor hiding behind it. Don’t judge her for it. Like she hardly judges you for constipation or whatever else you get occasionally.
So, is there a way out? Yes. 
Fortunately, there are some real men out there. The actual league of extraordinary gentlemen. Confident, unbiased, and interested only in capabilities. They surround themselves with the correct talent and leaders who are very often women. These agency groups are in the news for the right reasons and talent irrespective of their gender is making a beeline to be part of these progressive, happy places. Where real understating to maximise potential and opportunity is a philosophy. Perhaps, more of this tribe will grow and help the adland find a final resting place for the boys’ club.  That burial is long overdue. 
And as for the girls they need to keep bashing on, keep winning both awards and applause, scrutinise and scrunch those numbers, strategise, and strengthen the business and own what is as much theirs. They certainly make fantastic leaders. Do look at the current leaders who happen to be women in adland today. They run very successful agency networks and are certainly winning most of the prestigious awards, building brands and businesses rather effectively. Minus the lewd jokes or insecurities. It is totally possible to do it and do it well.
To wrap, one recalls, there was a cigarette called Virginia Slims meant for women with a tagline ‘you have come a long way baby’. Well, I love the rejoinder far more. 
‘I haven’t come a long way and am definitely not your baby’! 
(The author is an independent brand curator. In her last-full time agency stint, she was chief client officer, PHD India.)


Campaign India

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