The 'Elephant on Madison Avenue': Then what happened?

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As natural-born storytellers, we need to make a commitment to hold guilty parties accountable, writes the dean of Omnicom University and head of OmniWomen.

I read with outrage the selection of stories of harassment and discrimination that came out of the 3% Movement's "Elephant on Madison Avenue: survey."

And I kept thinking to myself, what happened next?

Personally speaking, 30 years ago when I started in this business and faced many trying and embarrassing moments, I felt as though there was no one to turn to or action worth taking that would defend me or rectify the situation.

But could that still be the case today in 2016?

So my question is, what happened next?

To the person that was fired from "One prominent agency for not complying to the advances of the CD and account services director," my question is "What happened next?" Lawsuits? Settlements? That can't be the end of the story, not in 2016.

To the person who "got their ass smacked by my ECD and no one said a word," my question is, what happened next? Did you not say a word? That can't be the end of the story, not in 2016.

To the person who knows for a fact that "I am making $15K less than my male counterpart and I'm doing 90% of the work," what happened next? Did you go to the chief talent officer, human resources, chief legal officer or to your boss? That can't be the end of the story, not in 2016.

And where are the men when this is happening? As Troy Ruhanen, Global CEO, TBWA stated on an Omniwomen panel session featuring each of our five network CEOs, "this is not a women's issue, this is everyone's issue."

Why are you not speaking up and coming to the defense of women who are unequivocally the subject of harassment?

As natural born storytellers, we need to make a commitment to finish the story, and hold those guilty parties accountable in the process. While many of us know that these incidents are by no means limited to our industry, we still struggle to flip the script on the "Mad Men" mentality.

As Wendy Clark, DDB North America's CEO, calls it "discussing the undiscussable." Tough issues shouldn't be tackled in the bathroom or hallway after meetings but right at the table and at the moment.

It goes without saying that sexual harassment and discrimination makes for a hostile, toxic work environment for everyone. It is time that the Band of Brothers start banding together on behalf of women so that we become the Band of Brothers and Sisters. You need to find the courage to be the guy that steps up and says, "I'll get the coffee" or "Dude, don't slap people's asses."

We need to become more comfortable with the uncomfortable by speaking up and supporting one another. If 2016 taught us anything, it's that having hard conversations is the investment that we make in our relationships.

There is nothing good about letting a bully get away with bullying. By being silent, you're as good as being the bully himself.

With that said, I continue to remain optimistic. I am heartened by the fact that nine Omnicom agency executives—seven male; two female—will be speakers at the 3% Conference this year. These individuals come from all walks of life, from different countries and from different areas of focus, united by their willingness to speak up and make their voices heard.

My point is that we are not victims unless we choose to be victims. I understand the seriousness of discrimination, but I also know the power of saying enough. It took a lot of courage 30 years ago to say enough, and I find it shameful that it still takes courage today to do the same.

Janet Riccio is EVP, Dean of Omnicom University and Founder of Omniwomen

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