Are we there yet? BAM Connection's CEO wears the 'b****' hat

Every week, we ask industry insiders across all job levels and titles to share personal stories about equality, diversity and inclusion in adland. We know we're not there yet, but we want to document the highs and lows as the industry slowly transforms for the better.

Maureen Maldari
CEO and co-founder
The BAM Connection  

Tell us one thing that happened that lets you know it is still a problem

Throughout my career, I have worn the theoretical "bitch" hat, because women who are assertive and pull no punches are often characterized that way -- usually by men who have a hard time with women with strong opinions. I’ve often experienced the "cut you down fast" technique, when an obnoxious comment is used to minimize or embarrass you so you quiet down. You spend your time in your head, feeling shocked or ashamed and the conversation moves by. Now the industry has been forced, rightfully so, to become more aware of those bad behaviors, but they haven’t gone away.

"Ignoring you" is the new and improved tactic employed by those men and it is alive and well today. You can’t get in trouble for ignoring someone, right? You can opt talk only to the men at the table and avoid eye contact in your responses with the woman. You can choose not to return phone calls. Sadly, it is a very effective way to minimize a woman’s role at the table and the greatest thing about it is no one can call you out without looking like they have the issue. It requires women to become even more present.

How about something that says we are making progress

In a recent meeting, when finances were being discussed, the focus shifted very purposefully to my male partner, the chief creative officer. Thankfully, he is a very modern man and told the table, "if you want to talk numbers, you need to do that with Maureen. I will only screw up." Self-deprecating for sure (he wouldn’t have screwed up), but his actions set him apart and changed the playing field. Men who defer to the value in their female partners and stand behind them are the best advocates for change.

What else needs to get done to get there

Women have a responsibility to come to the table and let their voice be heard regardless of the games at play. Each woman has a role to play. This, unfortunately, is not a group thing. While empowerment groups can be supportive, it lies within each of us as smart, driven individual women. I always say to the women I work with, "breathe and just say it" – that’s the only step. Men also have an equal responsibility to make room and listen. And most importantly, companies need to better train the workforce from the very top to the entry levels to be sensitized to the importance of recognizing the stereotypes at play and how to be smarter about not falling into those old traps. It’s that simple!

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