Originally published in LinkedIn.
As a middle-aged white guy in 2017, I by definition regularly find myself with the “What do I do” face. The one we tend to make when we’re smart enough to understand there’s an important conversation happening but not prepared to add anything, so we’re waiting for the conversation to end.
It’s the face I catch myself making too often when the subject is sexism in advertising.
It’s a daunting, complicated conversation. Even if you’re paying attention, you will struggle to find new points to make. But here’s the freeing thing: We, middle-aged white guys, don’t have to make a new point. In fact, it’s probably better if we don’t try. Better if we just listen and consider. Maybe think over situations past and present and instead of looking for an explanation where there wasn’t sexism, considering how there might have been. Or how past experience could have led someone to believe there was. And what part, even tacitly, we may have played in any of it.
I attended to the 3% Conference in 2016. I went in thinking I’d hear what an a--hole I was for a couple days. Instead, I was referred to as a “Manbassador” (which, to a writer’s sensibilities, is barely better) and came away convinced not noticing inequalities is a crappy alibi.
Advertising is a liberal business. It’s not hard for most of us to agree women should be treated equally, or that we’re stronger with diverse viewpoints. “Duh”, we say. But see, “Duh” is just not enough. It’s not enough just to agree. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard—one that involves doing, or maybe just doing more. Be conscious about it. Watch for inequities. Be a mentor for women, or help someone find one. Hear women, make sure they’re heard, ask why they aren’t being promoted. The 3% Conference has a smart list of micro-actions to aspire to.
It’s hard not to feel accused. It’s hard not to explain your personal innocence. It’s hard to talk about it without feeling the need to establish “Not me.” But this doesn’t have to be about us, and we don’t have to make it about us to act as champions for equality, rather than innocent bystanders. We can’t just wait this conversation out.
Listen. Consider. Then do.
We may not be the accused, but if we stand idle we are part of the problem.