Gender relations took centre stage in 2018 as media faced MeToo scrutiny

Me-too. They are two very normal and small words. Yet, when they combine, they have come to evoke power. 2018 in many respects was a watershed year for the movement in India and for the advertising industry, in particular. Many allegations were made and many were proven too. The movement saw a few heads, including some prominent ones, roll as a result.


Sexual harassment has never been an easy topic to either discuss or dissect, leave aside tackle with sensitivity. In hindsight what me-too has done is liberate women to speak up about sexual harassment at the workplace, forcing stakeholders to take stock of the situation. It has quite simply given a voice, helping people in an organisation understand the issues from the perspective of the women grappling with the problem.


What I find interesting is that me-too has forced many to assess their own actions and ensure they are not, advertently or inadvertently, supporting workplace harassment. Employers can no longer look the other way when an individual is subjected to behaviour that makes her uncomfortable and she complains about it.


This is a big shift in my view and one that has tilted the equation in favour of women. They are now in a position to decide what behaviour is acceptable, or not. It is a liberating feeling. But for organisations it is even more imperative now to take into account all perspectives before deciding what is right or wrong.


It is therefore critical that every workplace has a committee and a redressal mechanism that is fair and just. Employees also need to be told clearly what they need to do in such cases so that there is no ambiguity in the process whatsoever.


While the movement has kept a lot of agencies busy with setting  up processes and framing a gender-sensitive policy, it also brings to the fore the importance of having women leaders at the top. This is a subject that is close to my heart and something that has me thinking all the time.


It is a fact that there are fewer women CEOs at ad agencies and something that we need to address urgently. Ironically, it is not an issue restricted to Indian agencies alone. International agencies too have been no different when it comes to women leaders at the top. There are not too many of them up there. To put it bluntly: The agency world still remains largely a male preserve with mostly men calling the shots.


Me-too in a sense has forced agencies to re-think their hiring policies when it comes to gender equality at the workplace. Are we doing enough to keep women going? Are workplaces safe? To me this debate is intertwined.


I've also noted that me-too has been a binding factor in the agency business, bringing women from across networks onto one table. How many times does this ever happen? Given the seriousness of the issue, at one level, I am not surprised. But the effort of coming together on one platform is laudable indeed. Even clients are on one page with their agency partners on this, not a common sight in the industry.


I am hopeful that with proactive measures, a renewed framework and policy, agencies are in a better position to deal with workplace harassment. Many have taken the right steps to make the workplace a safe environment for women.


I remain optimistic that 2019 will bear testimony to this effort and that we get to see more women at the forefront, confident and comfortable.  


Tracking the rage


  • The term me-too was first coined in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist. It  was used to unite people who had suffered sexual assault and violence
  • The term resurfaced in October 2017 soon after several women went public with their allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein
  • Actress Alyssa Milano opened up the floodgates when she posted on her Twitter timeline after the Weinstein affair: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet"
  • The movement took more than a year to come into India, beginning with an accusation against actor Nana Patekar by one of his former co-stars, Tanushree Dutta
  • Soon the accusations engulfed several big names from the worlds of advertising, media, movies and the corporate world
  • Over the past few months, the allegations have slowed down, but across agencies, there is greater engagement with the issues of gender and inclusiveness

 (The author is managing director of Publicis Worldwide, India)

Next: Partho Dasgupta, CEO BARC India looks at the big shifts in television viewership that are redefining content and brand behavior

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