Advertising Still Seems Like a Terrible Place to Work While Female

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Is any place really safe?
Is any place really safe?

In a world of many terrible workplaces for women, the advertising industry truly seems to take the cake for wholesale shittiness. Women only make up 11 percent of leadership positions in advertising (up from 3 percent in 2008), despite the fact that women influence 85 percent of purchasing decisions in the consumer market; the mostly male industry caters to men’s tastes and celebrates male talents.

The dark side of this situation showed itself again this week in a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by JWT chief communications officer Erin Johnson. Johnson’s lawsuit says that advertising chairman and CEO Gustavo Martinez made racist and sexist slurs, even after Johnson alerted heads of the agency of Martinez’s alleged discrimination. And she had the evidence to back her up. Johnson’s suit claims that Martinez had made numerous racist jokes about African-Americans and rape. AdAge reports:

Martinez addressed a group of approximately 60 employees for a global meeting to pilot a new agency method for generating ideas. The previous night, there had been a large party at the hotel’s night club attended by mostly African American guests. At the start of his presentation, Martinez described the hotel as ‘tricky.’ He explained that he ‘found … different and strange characters in the elevator.’ He further explained, ‘I was thinking I was going to be raped at the elevator,’ but ‘not in a nice way.’

When Johnson confronted Martinez about his derogatory remarks, he claimed that “American women are too sensitive” and proceeded to make light of her “sensitivity” over rape jokes:

After their conversation, approximately fifteen or twenty minutes later, Martinez walked toward Johnson’s desk, situated in an open seating plan directly across from the men’s bathroom. In front of numerous employees, Martinez told Johnson to come to him so he could ‘rape [her]’ in the bathroom. He then grabbed Johnson around the neck with his arm and began laughing. Later that day, Martinez interrupted a meeting among multiple female employees, including Johnson. Martinez asked Johnson in front of the other women which female staff member he could rape.

Johnson notified JWT’s head talent officer, Laura Agostini, about Martinez’s discrimination, suggesting that the agency institute sensitivity training but the suit alleges that, despite Agostini’s promise to speak to the CEO, nothing happened. Representatives for JWT say that they are currently conducting an inquiry into Johnson’s claims.