The treatment of women in agencies

The Mad Men era of agencies is over. Or is it?

On this episode, Chip and Gini explore the ongoing issues that women face when working at agencies — from advancement to harassment (and worse).

The topic was inspired by a tweet by Katie Robbert who shared an article by Zoe Scaman along with some of her own experiences.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin

Gini Dietrich 

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

and today we’ve got a serious topic. So we’ll hold the topic until after the break instead of doing our usual witty banter as we go into it.

Gini Dietrich 

Before we begin ship, I have something to say,

Chip Griffin 

oh boy,

Gini Dietrich 

happy birthday.

Chip Griffin 

Folks, listen to this. I will be well past my birthday. But as we record this,

Gini Dietrich 

it’s tomorrow.

Chip Griffin 

We are a mere less than 24 hours away from my birthday. Why not

Gini Dietrich 

just say that a Friday birthday is good, because you can spend the whole weekend celebrating.

Chip Griffin 

Sure. Yeah. I’m not a big birthday person. I don’t I’m not big on holidays, birthdays. Really anything fun?

Gini Dietrich 

I actually know that about you. You. You are a fun killer.

Chip Griffin 

Everybody knows that about me. So I’m okay with that.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, you are a fun killer. I agree.

Chip Griffin 

I know you say like, have fun all the time. I don’t think you need to have forced holidays and Hallmark holidays. Last

Gini Dietrich 

your birthday, the day you were born. You don’t want people to celebrate you

Chip Griffin 

allegedly. I mean, I don’t remember it.

Gini Dietrich 

Fair.

Chip Griffin 

And that’s not just because I’m old.

Gini Dietrich  

No comments.

Chip Griffin 

Well, so we’re gonna, we’re gonna make a hard right turn from that birthday. Happy birthday. And into to a more serious topic. And this is one that came to my attention. Kay robear tweeted about it in early July. And it was an article on substack by someone named xo or Zoe, I apologize. I don’t know how to pronounce her name. But the title was mad men, furious women. And essentially, it is about the mistreatment of women in the agency world, particularly ad agencies. But, you know, certainly it’s something that can be extrapolated other places. And what what Katie wrote in, in sharing it was that she says, I have been sexually harassed, verbally abused, undermined, undercut, and undervalued in my career to name a few. So essentially endorsing the point of view being expressed by the author of air and, and we’ll include a link to this in the show notes. It is worthwhile to read it, but I think it is, it’s an important important topic to discuss both the treatment of and the role of women in agencies. And of course, I am only mildly qualified to speak on this subject. But fortunately, I have a co host who is far more qualified and you have a story from your own agency in the naming of your agency that that you that you regularly tell along these lines as well. So with that, I’m going to do the smart thing and shut the heck up and hand the floor over to you for the moment.

Gini Dietrich 

Well, I will first I will say that men who understand that this is an issue and are willing to help fix it, it’s that’s really important. So thank you for that. Because there, there are many men who don’t think it’s an issue. And one of my very favorite things is my small one is now eight. And she goes to a very progressive school. And they are teaching them like you stand up for yourself. You don’t allow to be you don’t allow yourself to be interrupted, you don’t allow you, you, you, you make sure that you’re standing up for what you believe and who you are, and your values and all those kinds of things. And if we’re at dinner, and we’re having a conversation, and she gets interrupted by her father, she will call him out. And it’s kind of amazing, because it’s really cool to see it from that perspective. And he’s he I mean, he’s not something he does on purpose. And he’s definitely not like he’s huge feminist. But sometimes, you know, he’ll be like, eat your dinner while she’s talking. And she’s like, I am talking very quickly. But yeah, so yes, I will say that men who are aware that this is an issue and still a very pervasive issue and are willing to help fix it, it’s very, very important.

Chip Griffin 

It is it’s a significant issue. It’s an ongoing issue. It’s been an issue for as long as I have been in the agency world. And I’m sure we’ll get to it. But I’ve seen some really horrendous things over the last 30 years. And you know, that it’s, in some ways, it’s gotten better, but I’m not sure in as many as people think.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I don’t know that it has gotten better. I can’t decide if it it, if I’m just more aware of it. And that’s why it feels like it hasn’t gotten better, because I think early in my career. I mean, I’m of the age where you just took it you just shut up and you took it in. I have a very bad I had a very bad experience with a former agency that I was sexually harassed by a client, and he would come to my hotel room, and bang on the door in the middle of the night, when we were traveling together, it was very bad. He it was it was really, really bad. And I went to my boss, and they didn’t, he didn’t do anything about it. And so I went to the sea to the owner of the agency. And I said to him, this is what’s going on. And he said, I fully support you, but I need you not to do anything about it, because they’re our largest clients. And at the time, I was like, I don’t think that’s right. But we weren’t in today’s age where, you know, I would have would have been like, an indie nail, you know, today, I would have probably sued for that. And, and back then it I didn’t, I didn’t really realize that I could, or that it was an issue that should have been brought to the forefront. And instead, I quit. And I started my own agency and all those kinds of things. So ended up ended up being good for me, but I am of I am of the age where, and my point is, is that I I have had several instances throughout my career where that stuff is happening if I just let it go, because I didn’t know, I didn’t know that I could stand up to myself. I didn’t know what was wrong, because that’s just the way things were done. And so my point is that, I don’t know if it’s gotten better or worse, but it feels like it’s worse. Because it is so pervasive. I mean, I just had something happen the other day where I was mansplaining about cycling, and I was like, dude, you only ever been on the peloton, I actually raced a bicycle, like, Don’t blame me about that, right? And it just happens all the time. Right? So I don’t know if it’s more pervasive, or if it has gotten better, or we’ve taken two steps forward and five steps back or whatever it happens to be, but it definitely still happens.

Chip Griffin 

Well, I think I think the latter point is probably a good one, because I think it certainly has changed over the 30 years. It is, you know, I think that there are more steps taken to probably the best word is covered up. Yep. And so, you know, I think, you know, one of the evolutions was that I’ve seen at least was that 30 years ago, when I first got into the workforce, it was much more overt. And all the time there.

Gini Dietrich 

Yes,

Chip Griffin 

that is fair. Now. There’s a tendency to, you know, to look around and say, you know, who’s around before I say something, right. But that doesn’t make it. Okay, know, that you knew you’re not going to get caught. But I mean, over the course of my career, I mean, I have seen places where summer interns were hired off of their photographs. Yep. Right. I mean, not even a pretense of looking at the resume. It was literally just off of, and this is for, but this is not for, like, you know, positions where it matters, right? For models or actors or, you know, screen talent or any of that kind of stuff. You know, I’ve seen workplaces where they rate the summer interns?

Gini Dietrich 

Well, didn’t that just happen at work that just came out at base camp where they were not necessarily rating the interns, but they were reading customers?

Chip Griffin 

I hadn’t I had not heard that one. Yeah. I mean, I, you know, I people know, I think that I’m in the world of sports officiating. You see a lot of Oh, yeah. A lot of that. Yep. And it’s, it’s difficult. Because it is, to the extent that people try to hide it more, it makes it a little bit more difficult to root out, sir. Right. And I think that it’s one of the reasons why things like this that, you know, are a an ongoing reminder of what’s going out there is important, right? I mean, I you know, I think that if, if if everybody’s sort of handling things, one on one individually, that’s not really solving the problem, you really have to look at it more broadly, and do the one on one.

Gini Dietrich 

You know, one of the things as you’re talking about this, I’ve been thinking about is Bill, Bill Cosby being having his sentence negated. That’s not the right word, but he’s out of jail out of prison. And when you think about that, and how challenging it is, in general, for women to come forward, and then you have a judicial system, that’s like, Oh, we made a mistake. So we’re gonna let him out. And then it makes it even harder. And how that at that very high level then starts to permeate through everything. It starts to permeate through business and it starts to permeate through life. And I mean, it permeates the whole society and culture of the country. And until we can get all those things fixed, and you’re right until we can figure out how to do it. So it is so that people aren’t just looking around doing it in secret, but that it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know what the answer is, I do know, like, I look at my nieces and certainly at my, my child, and the next generation is not going to take it like that, they’re not going to be afraid to come forward, they’re not going to be afraid to speak up. They’re just not. And so I do think we’re gonna see bigger shifts and bigger change systemically, you know, in the next 20 years, but certainly right now, it definitely feels two steps forward, five steps back.

Chip Griffin 

I think it’s also important to look at it in terms of, it’s not just the mistreatment or bad behavior, right. That’s the stuff that gets the biggest attention. But there’s also, you know, as Katie points out, the undervalued piece of it. Historically, in the agency world, particularly in PR agencies, we’re where you and I are from, historically, women made up a huge percentage of the the PR agency workforce. Yeah, but we’re dramatically underrepresented in the senior ranks, particularly the ownership ranks now that I have seen that shifting in recent years for PR agencies in particular, I think that it’s, you know, it’s still not where it needs to be. But there are certainly more women owners of agencies, at least that I’m aware of today than than I was when I got started. I mean, my my first PR agency was owned by a woman, and it was unique, back in the 1990s. Right, it was like, Oh, you know, you know, whereas I don’t think it’s, it’s, it doesn’t stand out at the moment in that space, but that we speak to the whole agency community. And once you move from PR into marketing, and particularly into digital and advertising, you know, then women are dramatically underrepresented, overall. And I wonder if you think, is there, is there, first of all, do you think that observation is accurate? And because it’s it is purely anecdotal, I don’t have data that speaks to this. But if indeed, it is true that PR agencies are a little bit different from that perspective, why?

Gini Dietrich 

So I think I think you’re accurate at the what I would call micro botique. small agency level. It’s not that that’s not the case at the at the mid and large agency level, because women still are not represented there. I also look at things like the speaking stage, and keynotes and things like that, especially in the industry. And it’s mostly represented by white men. And I’ve had several situations where I’ve been asked to keynote, PR conferences or PR events, and they have said, they don’t have a speaking fee. And so I’ve turned it down. And then they’ve gotten a man and paid them their full speaking fee. So there’s that that kind of stuff happens. I mean, it happened two months ago, it happens all the time. But I think one of the as well, one of the things that happens, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last year and a half when everything just fell apart and is, even though there are lots of families today, where the men are spending as much time at home as the woman in terms of housekeeping and childcare and all those kinds of things. It’s still not balanced. And it’s still not fair. And what I think we all saw as a country in the last 18 months is, I mean, there’s a mass exodus of women from the workforce in December 100% of the jobs that were lost in December, were two women, not one single man in the whole month of December. And it’s because all of that stuff tends to and I’m not it’s a it’s a generalization, but tends to still fall to the women. And so when you have this house of cards that you’ve built, where you have daycare or school and you have after school, and you might have a housekeeper or somebody who comes in a couple times a week to help out or you have family that helps or whatever it happens to be, you build a house of cards, where you could create this opportunity for you to still be able to work full time, but have all this other stuff taken care of, well, when we couldn’t see our family, and we couldn’t have people in our homes, and we couldn’t have, you know, our sister in law or grandma babysit, all of that went to hell. And it, for the most part landed in women’s laps. And so I think part of the reason still to this day that we don’t see women in leadership positions at the at an agency level is partly because of that, and partly for the systemic reasons, but I think that you get to a point in your career where you’re like, I can’t do all of this by myself, I can’t do child raise kids and take care of a house and and and, and, and, and, and, and oh, by the way, run it, you know, multi billion dollar agency with 1000s of employees. That’s a lot to ask a human being. And I think that all came to fruition in the last year and a half but what I really like about and then I will stop talking and this substack article is, and maybe I can’t find it really quickly. But she talks about how this has all happened. And then we were all forced to go home. And and so you had people men who were abusers either either it was because they didn’t value or they over they talked over you or whatever happened to be in meetings. Now you have them in on zoom. And it’s so much easier to silence a person on zoom than it is in person. And you’re it’s more intimate because you’re in your home and you so now you have your abuser in your home, so to speak. And it’s it’s created even more havoc. So I think there’s a lot that goes into this. And there’s a lot that certainly needs to change. And I do think you’re right from the, you know, solopreneur up to say maybe a 20 person agency, that we are seeing more women, owners, for sure. But I would say that mid level to large, that’s still has not changed.

Chip Griffin 

So you’ve opened up a lot of good avenues to pursue there. I want to circle back to something you said early on, and Natha, which was about the speaking. Because I think that, you know, getting more diversity broadly, in speaking slots is important. And I’m curious, why do you think that they were not willing to pay you, but they were willing to pay a man. I mean, it, it strikes me that I would be surprised if they if their direct calculus was Jenny’s woman, I’m not paying her. so and so’s a man I’m paying him. Right. So. So what is it that is causing them to to behave that way? Or am I wrong? Do you think it is just that simple?

Gini Dietrich 

I don’t think I I would be surprised if it if it were that overt? Right? Um, I don’t think that people go, Oh, well, Jenny’s a woman social speak for free. I don’t I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think it’s either oh my gosh, she’s more expensive than I thought in and I think there’s a even though I might cost less or the same as my male counterparts, my fee might be the same or, or maybe even less. I think there’s the unconscious bias that women should I mean, women aren’t paid as much as men in general. So why would I cost as much as as my male counterparts? were men. I mean, it’s sort of like the the job salary negotiation thing, right? Men are always paid more than women. And men always negotiate more, and women don’t generally. And as a business owner, I see all the time, every man that I have ever offered a job to has negotiated their salary, every woman that I have offered a job to has not every single one of them to the point where I’m like, are you gonna negotiate this with me? Like, no, you can’t take the job. me so mad. Right? So I think there is an unconscious bias in it that either it’s I should I should do it for free, because it’s my audience, or I shouldn’t cost as much as people as I do, or I don’t know what it is. But it’s the idea that Oh, yeah, that’s a man. So yeah, I’m gonna pay Sure. Yeah. I mean, why wouldn’t we pay that?

Chip Griffin 

Right? It does strike me it. To me, it almost certainly is unconscious bias. Because I think that if you went to any conference organizer, just about it, they would tell you that, that they are that they want diversity that they are that they are, you know, not misogynistic, not racist, not biased and any wet, right? I mean, it is so. So it is likely to be subconscious. And so what really struck me though, was, it would be very logical to me if they said, okay, you know, we’ll pay you $100, but we’ll pay someone else 200. Right. But But zero to something that to me, just, I’m really I, you know, the the inquisitive part of me is really curious what the thought process is, that gets them to that, because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. You know, it’s one thing to say, okay, it was a negotiation, and, you know, we didn’t reach a number and, you know, whatever. But this is different than that. And so that, that just really sticks out to me as something that is interesting. And, you know, certainly if any listeners have, you know, better ideas as to why that specifically, maybe the dynamic and what you’ve seen there, I would certainly like to hear that, because it’s just, it’s, it’s different to me.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And it’s, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know what it is because it’s happened multiple times. And in one instance, I went back to the event coordinator, and I said, What happened here? She goes, Well, we got down to the wire. We didn’t have a speaker so we just had to pay for it. And I was like, why don’t you just call me back and say we found money or whatever. It happens to be right. And she’s like, I don’t know, I felt like an idiot. And I was like, well, you should feel like an idiot, because that was really terrible. Right? And not only it was a conference here, and they flew somebody in for it. And so they paid for travel and all that as well. We’re going to spend to do that with me. But

Chip Griffin 

okay. So I mean, that’s interesting. It’s I wonder if it’s, it is ultimately almost embarrassment on their part, right, that they said, We don’t have a budget. And now they have to come to you sort of hat in hand and say, turns out, we can come up with something. I mean, it’s To me, it’s still a silly explanation. But I wonder if maybe, you know, it’s because they went to you first, they were hoping not to pay for it or planning not to pay for it. You said, I do it for fees, not for free. And, you know, and so then it was it was that level of embarrassment to come back? and say, okay, we’ve we’ve now accomplished I don’t know, I mean, it’s just, yeah, that would be an explanation. Yeah.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, in that case, she was she did say she was embarrassed. And I was like, all you would do is say, Hey, we found some money, or we got a sponsor, like,

Chip Griffin 

it’s not that hard. It’s different than if you come to them and say, Look, you know, we booked you, we don’t have the money. So now, can you do it for free? Right, that would be an embarrassing conversation. But But coming and saying, you know, we can offer you something or more or whatever, there really shouldn’t be a reason to be embarrassed about that. But But you’d also raise the, you know, the last year and a half and the way that, you know, the nature of work, has obviously changed dramatically. But I think we’ve all agreed from the conversations that we’ve had on the show and elsewhere that that a lot of the changes will stick there will be more work, how much is still an open question. How does that over time, impact the dynamic? And does it help or hurt the role of women in agencies? Obviously, I think we, you know, we would all agree that last year was bad, right? But part of that was because not only were you working remotely, but kids were not in school. And so there were a lot of things that you would normally be able to do in order to free up time that weren’t there she had you had a double whammy in the dynamic as we get to a place where schools are hopefully reopened. And Jenny is no longer an elementary school teacher not happening, at least not for your daughter. I mean, maybe you’re still no school employees. But so, you know, what, what? How do you see that evolving? And does it does an increase in the amount of remote work help or hinder the drive for more equity in the workplace.

Gini Dietrich 

So you know, we’ve been remote for a decade now, which is still shocking to me. But part of part of what I have found, benefit wise is and I’ve talked about this before, but it’s the idea that we can hire the best person for the job no matter where they are in the world. And we have people around the world who work with us, North America, mostly North America, and Europe. And we have found that it breaks those those barriers and those walls down fairly easily. I think there’s also been research that has, and I’ve been, I’ve been studying up on this, there’s research that shows that from a diversity and quality and inclusion perspective, remote work is easier. Because you can include it’s easier to make people feel included. Whereas in the office is a little bit harder because you get clicks and you have water cooler talk and that kind of stuff that happens with people in general, and people felt feel excluded in person. What I found found interesting about this sub stack that Katie had tweeted about is that what I mentioned before is that she felt like she was bringing her abuser into her home. And so I think that’s that’s a different issue. But if you’re remote, maybe an end you you get to a point where employees have always been remote where they haven’t ever been together in person, you know, because the culture has shifted and hiring and firing and all that kind of stuff has shifted. Maybe it gets to the point where that’s not the case anymore, because you can’t you can’t hide that on zoom. Right? You can’t, you can’t do the one off, look around and see if anybody’s paying attention on zoom. The only way you could do that is if it were one on one and that’s pretty easy to change like you can’t you just be like I’m not having a conversation with this person on zoom by myself. So I don’t know I don’t know if it equalizes it. Some of the research shows that it will and that it does which would be fantastic. And you know, I’m a big fan of being remote. So I think Time will tell for sure.

Chip Griffin 

So, you know, as we, you know, move towards wrapping up this conversation, because we’re almost out of time. If you are, if you are offering advice to folks who are interested in making a difference, whether that’s, you know, women or men or whomever, you know, what advice would you offer on how to make a difference here going forward as I mean, not just the basic Well, you know, don’t harass, don’t discriminate, you know, what are some practical things that you think we should be thinking about doing?

Gini Dietrich 

I think that there’s a couple of things and, and I think this is important with race equality, as well is read, pay attention, have conversations, you know, read up on the EMI and pay attention to what the experts are saying, have hard conversations, some of this stuff is really hard to read, because, or to listen to, you know, there’s some really good podcast, but really educate yourself just like you would if you were trying to figure out how to do email marketing or content marketing or, you know, run a business or leadership skills to say that it say the same thing applies here, do your professional development around this kind of stuff. And it doesn’t matter. If you’re male, female, or non gender, like you have, you have to do the hard work. Because I can sit here and say what it’s like as as a woman, and you can sit there and say what it’s like as a man, but would neither one of us have the experience of the other. So it’s important to have those conversations, and to really inform and educate ourselves. And then if you see something Speak up, say something they I know, that’s I know, I know, it’s kind of trite and cliche, but do it, because that’s what’s gonna make the difference.

Chip Griffin 

When I think I think that is the toughest part, but the most important part, right, I mean, you know, some of the things that I saw when I was a junior employee, and you know, are you going to say something to a vice president, when you’re a junior executive? Of course, you know, but the problem is that, that typically, it’s, you know, it is someplace where there’s an imbalance that you’re seeing these kinds of things happen. You know, if you’re an agency and you see it with a client, you know, are you going to call it out? Are you going to be? Are you going to pull your punches? Because you’re afraid of the potential revenue loss? I mean, a lot of these things, I think, go through people’s minds as they’re trying to figure out, where do I draw the line? How much, you know, how much can I allow a joke to go before? It’s not a joke anymore? And it’s actually, you know, meaningful behavior. I mean, so many different things. And I think, I think, for folks trying to figure out where to draw those lines, based on where they are in the power dynamic, is challenging as well.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I would agree with that. And I think it’s agency leaders or owners, we have to set the culture and we have to set the tone, that we don’t allow it. And if if that’s the case, then we make it so that it’s an open environment where somebody can somebody, you know, an intern, if they want or see something, that they feel comfortable saying something to their supervisor, or even to us, and bringing it to the forefront. And then we have to take action on that just like my the founder of the agency where I worked. Instead of saying to me, I support you, and I want this to change. But please don’t say anything, because they’re our largest client, that’s not supporting me. Right. So if if you support me, then something has to change with the client. And either it’s, we don’t work with that client anymore. You don’t, that client doesn’t travel with anybody from the agency, the client doesn’t travel with women from the agency, whatever it happens to be, there needs to be a change. And, and as owners, it’s our job to make sure that those things are done appropriately, and that we don’t stand for this kind of stuff. So that we have an a culture internally where people feel comfortable bringing it to our attention. Right.

Chip Griffin 

And I think that’s a great place to wind this up. Because there are a lot of things that we talk about on this show that you can, you know, bubble up from the grassroots within the agency, but but this is one of those things that I think really needs to be driven, top down owner senior leadership and and create that environment in which bad behavior is unacceptable, good behavior is rewarded. And if you don’t do that, it’s not going to change.

Gini Dietrich 

It won’t add people to your point will not feel comfortable bringing it up.

Chip Griffin 

So on that note, we will

Gini Dietrich 

that was a heavy pre birthday one.

Chip Griffin 

Yes, yes. But you know, we we can’t just be all fun and games every time sometimes we do have to take on some serious topics here on the podcast. And so we thank you all for listening. We encourage you to be part of these conversations within your own organization within the broader agency community and we’d love to hear you Your feedback on this episode as well to hear maybe what we got, right what we got wrong, what we overlooked or other suggestions and ideas. And so with that, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich 

I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  and it depends.

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