I have always identified as a feminist. In the same way that I believe in fairness, self-determination, freedom of choice, Death Stars are bad, Jedi are morally superior to Sith and nobody wants to be Jabba the Hut.
These are the simple principles most men of the 80s grew up with and, for the most part, I assumed that I fell on the right side of this moral spectrum.
I therefore attended BloomFest, dubbed as a conference to address the ‘Naked Truths’ in the Media and Advertising industry with a slight sense of smugness. I believe in equality, I believe in equal pay, I believe in female leadership; I was already winning at diversity.
Not too long into the third session entitled "Inner bastard vs Inner Bitch" with Kathryn Jacob, chief executive, Pearl & Dean and Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer, MediaCom, I had a moment of dire self-realisation.
"Fuck. I‘m Lando".
As a white male in the media industry, it is easy to have a sense of moral superiority. I have never ‘grabbed a woman by the pussy’ or held interviews in my dressing gown. However, not sexually assaulting women is simply not enough. It does nothing to address the dire gender issues we still face in the industry. Not fighting the Empire is (nearly) as bad as being a Stormtrooper myself.
The "Glass Wall" principle talks about the things that men do which contribute to gender inequality in the work place. A lack of flexibility in working hours, a ‘’boys’ club’ culture, talking over (or excluding) women in meetings and a shockingly low uptake of parental leave all have a factor in creating institutional, societal, and unconscious bias. Personally, this has included the pub culture, gym, and football. On reflection, all things that have given me access to male leadership through my career – which my female colleagues have missed.
Although I do not believe that this has directly disadvantaged women I work with, I cannot help but think this has a negative effect on breaking down walls and generating the perception of being a ‘boys’ club’.
Like Lando, I needed a moment of consciousness. And they certainly came thick and fast at BloomFest, culminating in the "Naked Truths Confessions" panel. In the final session of the day, Harriet Minter and Emma Sexton of the Badass Women’s Hour and Nick Hugh (chief executive of the Telegraph) and Rachel Forde (chief executive, Spark Foundry) discussed the more shocking revelations which included:
"On my first day my boss asked me when are we going to fuck? What did you think I hired you for your ‘excellent’ strategy".
A conversation with another attendee really struck a chord. It was not about harassment or pay inequality, but a response to a question. Asked to share our ambitions during a workshop hosted by Shine, my partner told me it is to be managing director of her current company - before she proceeded to tell me a more modest ‘realistic’ ambition. When I asked ‘why is your ambition different from your realistic ambition’, she answered, ‘because I am a woman’.
I may not have the Millennium Falcon, but there are some things that I can commit to following BloomFest:
- I intend to take shared parental leave in the future, and will speak openly with other men - and women – about this;
- I will openly talk about gender diversity issues and break down the glass wall in my team;
- For too long, this conversation has been the domain of women. I commit to being part of this conversation and encouraging other men to be a part of it too.
Men of the comms industry; I urge you to ask yourself the same question: what can you do to do be a force for good?
Andrew Baldwin is associate global trading director at Wavemaker