Tyler Turnbull is CEO of FCB Canada.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story and the subsequent outpouring of disturbing #MeToo experiences shared on social media, we've been left with an uncomfortable truth about many industries, including advertising – that many of our people have experienced the same sexism, gender discrimination and abuse throughout their careers at the hands of people in power.
We don't have to dig very deep to find a moment when an individual has demonstrated deplorable behaviour and the sad truth is that many of us – myself included – have been enablers of it.
It's time to acknowledge that this inexcusable behaviour still very much exists. This is a plea for all leaders to recognize it, call it out and address it to ensure the behaviour stops.
Stories I have read from former colleagues have been infuriating, and range from verbal abuse to recurring sexism, or worse. But the stories that resonate most are those that share a common theme – a night out with colleagues.
While the details differ, the context is the same: A group of people are out together when a male colleague makes an offside, sexual-in-nature joke to a female colleague, typically in the presence of others who laugh and move on.
For the many who have experienced this, the joke is a test – a test to see if there is room for more. If the targeted female doesn't respond, or laughs uncomfortably, the jokes continue. Through this escalation, the true motives can emerge over the course of the night: unwanted advances, inappropriate behaviour and, for some, sexual assault.
The joke is a first, devastating step that demeans the recipient in the minds of others. If there is courage to call it out in the moment or even the next day, the response is often played down or dismissed: "I was totally kidding," or, as a former colleague recently noted on her #MeToo post, the other guys in the group support the narrative, immediately jumping to the joker's defence.
These stories deeply resonate for one reason – a reason I'm ashamed to admit.
While working abroad, I became one of those "other guys." A co-worker told an inappropriate joke to a junior female colleague in a pub after a new business pitch and, in that critical moment, I did something inexcusable. I laughed.
At the time, the behaviour seemed harmless. In reality, my co-worker was testing our colleague to see if the door was open for further advances, an inexcusable behaviour that I was wrong not to call out. I regret that I did not demonstrate the leadership my colleague deserved. I also know that I'm not alone.
So, instead of idly standing by and silently rationalizing the behaviour we all know is prevalent across Canada's business community, my request of every leader is simple: Don't laugh. Don't be silent. Don't accept this behaviour. And don't be afraid to speak up.
This is the time for agency leaders to demonstrate that their employees and colleagues are heard and, more important, that their careers are safe. This is the time when whistle-blowers should not fear reprisal and instead know that we, as an industry, will always consider hiring those who speak out. This is still a continuing commitment at FCB.
Our business is filled with the most creative, most intelligent and hard-working people in Canada. If this talent is interfered with, and the offender's actions go unchallenged – if we stay silent, then we too are complicit in their behaviour. More important, we aren't the leaders we need to be, the leaders that our people deserve.