A female advertising executive in the US has written a column about sexism in the industry, over at Adweek.
Essentially, Nina DeSesa is providing some advice for how to get ahead in a male-dominated industry and, while I vigerously disagree with much of what she says, it is nonetheless an interesting (and somewhat sad) read.
First of all, it’s not a level playing field, and we need to get over that. Stop complaining about it, stop getting irate and do something about it. And for God’s sake, don’t bash men.
I have noticed that the women who make it in these boys clubs have a few things in common. The main thing is that almost all of us were promoted and supported by men. The men we worked for and with felt comfortable around us. We learned to adopt some of the male traits that make men so successful, and in doing so, we reminded the men of the thing they admire most: themselves.
I don’t want to bash DeSera, who is obviously intelligent and successful, but I can’t help but think that if anything is actually going to change, we need more of the “irate” and less of the sickly pandering to men – seriously, that line about reminding men of the “thing they admire most: themselves”? Yuck.
And don’t even get me started on all that essentialist stuff about “male traits”. (OK, I have to quote this to give you an idea what I mean: “Throughout my career I have tried to help women get more in touch with their male sides by being more decisive, focused, competitive and shrewd about asking for what they want and expecting what they deserve. At the same time, we need to exploit our uniquely female traits like compassion, collaboration, intuition and empathy — things a man simply doesn’t want to learn.” I refuse to accept any BS arguing that women are ‘naturally’ indecisive, unfocused, uncompetitive creatures, or that men are ‘naturally’ lacking in compassion, unable to collaborate or intuit or empathise. And she tells the readers not to “bash men”!)
What she seems to argue is that women should just accept that men in these industries do not view women as equals and manipulate that for personal gain:
“I can’t figure this out and I’m exhausted,” I will say to one of the men.
“And if it’s not done by tomorrow, I’m dead.”
“I’ll do it,” he’ll invariably say.
But his rescue mission isn’t as satisfying to him unless I appreciate the sacrifice he is making on my behalf.
This is as crucial as saying “thank you.”
“No, no, you’re swamped, too,” I say.
“I’ll make the time for it.”
“Thank you. I love you.”
It’s like great sex. Everyone walks away feeling fulfilled.
First of all, I would have to dispute the comparison to “great sex” – surely that can’t be based on a fundamental lack of respect, or pretending that women are all weak and wibbly either.
This strategy may work to get a few women in top jobs in the ad industry. But what it’s never going to accomplish is the more fundamental objective: changing the industry so that women don’t have to “seduce” their male co-workers just to get the job done, and they don’t have to “manipulate” anyone to get even an iota of faux-respect from the people they work with.
Good luck to DeSera and all the women who have done what’s necessary and used the system in their favour. But it’s not the solution – it’s not even close.