An Open Letter to My Male Ad Industry Colleagues: 5 Things You Need to Do Now

An Open Letter to My Male Ad Industry Colleagues: 5 Things You Need to Do Now
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By Sandi Harari, EVP, Creative Director, Barker

There is an upside to today’s incessantly gloomy news cycle. A silver lining to all of this madness that begins with all of us.

Something is happening all around me that makes me feel hopeful and excited to get up in the morning: it’s a growing movement of empathy. Disparate people are coming together for a common cause. Introverts are turning into activists. Selfish people are looking out for others. People who keep to themselves are taking on causes that aren’t their own. And I can’t help but think: maybe this is THE time. Maybe now is when the crescendo around women's rights, equal pay and mutual respect will finally crossover from words into action. What was once a marginalized group trying to fight in small numbers is now a collective army of voice, solidarity, and resiliency. I think the most impressive and optimistic part of this moment in time is the inclusiveness men have in the movement. Husbands are marching arm-in-arm with their wives. Fathers are supporting their daughters. Women with signs are standing right beside the males in their lives. This is great news because men’s participation will make progress move even faster.

No doubt, I am one of the lucky ones. I work in a 70% female, independently-owned ad agency in lower Manhattan. I have an empathetic boss and creative partner who has always been relentless about giving women leadership opportunities. That being said, I’ve still struggled to raise two young kids and run a creative department. But, to be more accurate, I only have it easy by comparison. In my career, I’ve seen too many women throw in the towel or leave altogether because it felt like the deck was stacked against them. And it is for most of us.

It should come as no surprise that a number of issues still plague our industry: equal pay, harassment scandals, lack of women CEOs, and ultimately women not making it far enough to create the changes that are necessary. It’s a vicious cycle. We’ve been slowly climbing this ladder, but I’m tired of waiting - I’m advocating for an escalator.

So, how can we change things so that women feel appreciated, respected, and – maybe most importantly – equal at their agencies? In addition to the masses of women who are marching on, leaning in, and getting louder, I’m proposing five small, but powerful actions that men need to take now if they want to help propel those amazing powerhouse women towards their greatest potential. Frankly, this is not only good for our gender, but it is also imperative for business, especially in the ad industry where 85% of consumer purchases are made by women.


Give us praise and credit to our faces, behind our backs, and to our bosses. It’s been established that men overestimate their abilities while women underestimate their own natural talents. On average, we don’t sing our own praises like men, and that doesn’t get us promoted any faster. If you think the women around you are great, tell them. And then, tell everyone else.


The confidence gap between men and women has been clearly established. Men aggressively ask for what they want, and when they don’t get it, they ask again (and again). They are unafraid and can be downright arrogant about their careers. Speak up to your supervisor on behalf of a female colleague who is doing well and deserves recognition. Do you know how great that will also make you look? I do.


Women often feel guiltier than men and are hard-wired for empathy. Interestingly, empathy goes hand in hand with guilt. And social pressure around us doesn’t help. Stop giving working mommas “that look” at the end of the day, when they leave a meeting suddenly at 5:30pm to take care of their family. Trust me - we feel bad enough. And what you don’t know is that we will burn ourselves out working twice as hard to make up for it. Because, YES, research indicates women on average are working longer and harder than men. Need any more evidence that we kick ass?


Women with forceful leadership styles are harshly judged as being “a bitch” and yet if they aren’t aggressive, they are judged as weak. Someone once told me I needed to be "more of a prick" if I wanted to be a great leader. Yes, that someone was a guy. That “persona” may work for some people, but it wasn’t my jam. Women have lots of ways of getting things done and leading, but brute force and yelling isn’t always the answer. In lieu, women often combine skills like communication, empathy, perspective, and maturity to make effective leaders who outperform their rivals with a 66% higher return on invested capital, and a 53% higher return on equity. So there.


The loudest voice in the room isn’t always the smartest. Though a gender-neutral point, this does tend to affect women more than men. Having a seat at the table doesn't mean people will listen to you. Create a space for women to speak up at meetings. Make it easier for them to be heard and have the floor. When I present in meetings and another team member (man or woman) hasn’t said a word, I’ll start a sentence for them that I know they can finish. I want clients to hear them even if only for a minute. Some great mentors did that for me when I wasn’t expecting it (right in the middle of a pitch!), and I’ve been thankful ever since. Do the same for women in your workplace.

To all the parents out there: we are the group raising the next generation of boys and talking to them about respect and the power of what women can accomplish. Those boys will become men, who will look back with bizarre wonder at the state of the world today. When I was younger, many girls wanted to be boys, just to do the things that they could. But times are a-changin’ and women are exemplifying each and every day that we are strong and capable. We are moving in the right direction. Let’s just move (or march) a little faster.

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