Paul Wells
Sep 30, 2021

Men have to take responsibility for advocating for women’s safety in adland

Outrage is no longer enough, especially if you are a man. The key to change is male allyship.

Men have to take responsibility for advocating for women’s safety in adland

In the UK, the tragic murder of the 28-year-old teacher Sabina Nessa has highlighted, once more, the fact that women are not safe on the streets.

I’m outraged by this horrific attack, as I am at the murder of Sarah Everard, and of the hundreds of other women murdered in England, Scotland and Wales each year.

In the year to March 2020, 207 women were killed by men in Great Britain. The Femicide Census states that across the UK, just under 1,500 women were killed by men in the decade leading to 2010. That’s about one murder every three days.

Meanwhile, rape conviction rates in this country are appallingly low; a pitiful 1% in England and Wales.

I’m outraged, yes. I’m sure you are too.

But outrage is no longer enough, especially if you are a man. It’s time for action. And there’s plenty of work to be done to make our industry a safer place for women.

TimeTo research into sexual harassment in the advertising and marketing industries reveals that nearly a third of our industry have been sexually harassed, and 72% of those more than once.

A fifth of respondents had been harassed in their first job – a shocking introduction to our industry. Meanwhile, just under half of the respondents to our most recent survey are concerned that sexual harassment will be even more of an issue when we start returning to offices.

It’s not good enough and it needs to change.

The key to change is male allyship. I’m talking about active allyship, where we show up every day to call out sexism and misogyny and do what we can to elevate the safety, as well as our collective respect, of our female colleagues.

There can be no change without men’s involvement. Men need to show up and do what it takes to create a safer industry. There can be no change without men’s involvement. Harassment and discrimination are not women’s issues when the majority of this is committed by men.

Proactive male allyship is crucial when it comes to turning our industry into a safe and supportive place for women and, in turn, everyone.

We can change the status quo and demonstrate to women that they have allies who will not stand by and watch misogynistic "banter" go unchecked. We can lead the way for other men in our spheres of influence to examine their behaviours and attitude. Together as active male allies, we can help transform our culture into one that is safe and equitable. Surely that’s a minimum standard for our industry.

The work starts with us. Examine your actions and attitudes. Ask yourself what you’re doing to contribute to or eradicate systemic injustice in our workplaces. It’s plain wrong to deny that sexism and misogyny are happening. They exist, and the only way to stop them is to recognise and speak out against them.

Let those around you know that you are an ally. Show your stance. This is work that needs to be shouted about. Tell your colleagues and clients that you’re a male ally and that you have a zero-tolerance approach to sexism and misogyny, inside and outside the workplace. And then act on it.

Listen to what the women around you are telling you and believe them. You should not expect them to educate you, but you must hear them when they describe how they’re treated and what they have to live through. It’s then your job to educate yourself on this subject. TimeTo’s website has some brilliant resources for male allies that you can tap into.

There’s strength in numbers. Talk to other men and bring them on the journey with you. You could consider creating a male allies group at work, where you can support each other in this brave and challenging work. But always make sure you are consulting with your female colleagues on your approach. Women have been fighting discrimination and harassment for years, so respect their wishes and take your cues from them when it comes to planning how you can best support them.

Call out everyday sexism. The comments, the jokes, the casually sexist attitudes, all add up to create a culture where sexual harassment and violence against women and girls can continue to exist. It’s crucial to speak out against these comments. If there are opportunities for you to immediately disrupt inappropriate or dangerous behaviour, then do so.

Recognise that our industry can be even less safe for women from underrepresented and minoritised groups. The intersections of gender, race and sexuality heighten the danger posed to too many women in adland. The effects on wellbeing are stark; look at the results of the All In census, where mental health issues were visibly higher among women, LGBTQ+ and disabled people.

This is constant and vocal work. It has to be. It might feel uncomfortable and difficult. If you work in a particularly toxic environment, you may worry about how speaking out will affect your career. This is where you need to support your own wellbeing so that you can build resilience and continue to show up. The fantastic team on the Nabs Advice Line are here to give you a listening ear and some time to recharge and reflect, so give them a call whenever you need.

This work is too vital to ignore any longer. I’m a male ally. Are you?

TimeTo's resources for male allies can be found here. In the UK, for help and support with any of the issues mentioned above, call the Nabs Advice Line on 0800 707 6607 or email [email protected] 

Paul Wells is director of wellbeing services and culture change at UK-based media and advertising support group Nabs.


Campaign UK

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