Men of color open up about gender equality and #MeToo

"If I'm not being proactive in advocating for gender equality, then shame on me," said Ogilvy's Jean-Rene Zetrenne.

Men often don’t know where to start when it comes to gender equality and feminist movements. The 2018 AdColor Conference put a spotlight on three male executives of color in the industry, asking them hard questions about their views on gender issues and what they’re doing to help make change.

Moderator Wade Davis, a former NFL player who is now a consultant, asked his panelists how they transition from their own issues around racial inequality to those that impact women.

"I’m a man, I’m Latino, I’m a child of immigrants, I speak Spanish. It’s the same for my wife. I’m self aware that they have it even harder than I do because they’re women; I have to be conscious of that consistently and keep it top of mind. I may have my own work ahead of me and things I’m dealing with, but for them, it’s that much harder," said Anomaly Managing Director Giovanni Villamar.

Jean-Rene Zetrenne, chief talent officer of Ogilvy USA, said he’s mindful that women "need a seat at the table and we are able to do better work with them at the table."

He added that it’s not about catering to women, it’s about making sure they’re represented and have a voice. "If I'm not being proactive in advocating for gender equality, then shame on me," said Zetrenne.

Bing Chen, co-founder of Gold House, said his companies go out of their way to make the leadership teams 50-50 men and women.

"We all know what it’s like to be at the table, but still not be heard. Even if you’re heard, we all know as people of color what it’s like to be talked over. Or if you’re a senior-level person, it doesn’t mean you’ll be promoted and if you’re in the c-suite, it doesn’t mean you’ll stay there," said Chen.

On the #MeToo movement, Zetrenne said he appreciates that it’s helped awaken men. "Men are beginning to understand the plight that women face," he said. "We’re at in inflection point in our society right now – not just in our organizations, but in our country – to make sure we provide as much support as we can to drive change," he said.

Villamar said the #MeToo movment "hit me like a ton of bricks that I don’t know everything that I need to learn and that what I thought was right or proper many times is not."

"I learn that from women in my personal life and women I work with. It’s a reality check. I can’t mansplain everything. It’s put me in check," he said.

Chen said he believes the #MeToo movement has also helped fuel necessary conversations around other important topics, like race and religion.

When asked about masculinity and manhood, Chen shared a very real response with the audience.

"I’ve never felt like a man or masculine because I don’t think that way. There are many reasons why I should feel effeminate or emasculated - I’m Asian, I was molested at 5, I’m sexually fluid," he said.

Villamar said he doesn’t think masculinity deserves a definition. "When you define, you start to put barriers and limitations. Masculinity means being yourself and being comfortable with yourself," he said.

Growing up, Zetrenne said the view of masculinity was around being strong or showing little emotion.

"We have to change what masculinity means, and society is starting to do that with various movements out there, but it's a collective effort - it's not just up to men," he said.

What it comes down to with all of the issues around gender, is that men have been running the world and it’s only going one direction," said Chen. "We need to be making changes to the world together. Do it for our tomorrow and our future."

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