Shortly after #MeToo hit India's ad industry last fall, a group of industry women calling itself 'The Collective' said it planned to take action. Here, a member of the group, Tista Sen of Wunderman Thompson, explains the origin of the group and provides an update on what it is aiming to accomplish.
Often-asked questions when we women get together:
What do you women do when you meet? Do you order cupcakes and skinny latte?
What is The Collective? Another gaggle of women with time on their hands?
We are a bunch of women who love this industry and have given it our all. In 2018 we were driven to acknowledge the malaise in the advertising industry and started The Collective in order to help pave the way for younger women in the industry.
What started as an innocuous comment about harassment and bullying by a Bollywood star who bravely named her oppressors soon spiraled into something that made the world sit up awkwardly.
And the worst was the advertising industry. 'There are two kinds of India' is a popular refrain. Unfortunately, it was now the two faces of our industry. And the stories came tumbling out gathering momentum. Each one more horrific than the other.
In an industry that prides itself on a certain cool quotient and work ethic. Where bunking for the night is pretty much the norm, and where youngsters are encouraged to live at their workstations. And where work is really where the fun really begins. Really.
But under this perfect façade of glossing over and making things perfect—pretty much like the films we create—is a certain truth we needed to face and acknowledge and put on the table. The elephant in the room needed to be embraced.
We are a country of benign patriarchy. As women, we are conditioned from the get-go to be demure, not raise a voice and generally be the person who, while making strides in her career, does not draw attention to herself.
In a country with rich and diverse talent and an aesthetic sense of art and design, this industry has many young women who gravitate towards it and find in it a perfect haven for combining their skills and building a career they love.
Until you realize the workplace may perhaps be where it first begins to go wrong.
As a young woman, merely entering an environment that celebrates ideas and creativity, where creative bosses are worshipped liked demi gods, is intimidating. This is in sharp contrast to their homes and backgrounds. Finally, you are being noticed for what you bring to the table. Your mind is what the industry is interested in.
Or is it?
And the same upbringing, except with different consequences for the men. A male sense of entitlement that arises from their upbringing starts to trickle into the workplace. There is a sense of the ego and the invincible power trip of being a genius—and therefore everything is allowed.
As a woman leader I put myself in my 22-year shoes, fresh-eyed and big heart, straight from college and eager to conquer the world. What if the guidance went all wrong?
The incidents we learnt of ranged from sheer harassment to lewd comments to the most common type, where an office off-site turns into a series of permissible days to do as you please and to hell with the consequences. There would be none, of course.
And as women, we were outraged. Because every time we encourage younger women to join the tribe, we are hurtling into an abyss that was just so toxic and detrimental.
And then again what is The Collective?
We want to be their voice. We are there to listen. We are there to be the person you can come and talk to.
We first reached out to each other, and soon we were 12. We met and debated and argued. But we all felt the same outrage. This. Had. To. Stop.
So who are we? We are agency-agnostic. We have women creative leaders from both advertising and design. And we mean serious business.
Onboard is a legal advisor and a sexual harassment expert. We understand this is not an agony aunt session; we need the law and sometimes perhaps the police to lodge a complaint. Where we do not have the expertise, we get the experts on board.
Our endeavor is not to shame and name. we are there to help the victims. Man or woman. Senior or junior.
We understand sometimes it is difficult to talk within a work environment, and that’s where we come in. We are developing a website that is in its final stages of completion, carrying a list of all the POSH (prevention of sexual harassment) committees in the industry and a step-by-step guide to what you should do as a victim. This includes access to pro-bono lawyers, counsellors who will partner with us on this journey.
While #metoo has a life on social media, we can see the consequences for real in the industry. Perpetrators named have been asked to leave. Just like that. Zero tolerance. Agencies have taken their internal committees dealing with this vey seriously. More workshops. More self-awareness sessions and more openness to listen. There are initiatives where you can write in even if anonymous and be rest assured somebody will take it up and pay very careful attention.
We are not here to be victorious. We do not do a high five when we get closure. Neither are we judge or jury. What we are is passionate and committed to making this industry, where we breathe lungsful of creativity and inspiration every day, to be the same for everyone. Every day.
Tista Sen is regional creative director of Wunderman Thompson South Asia.