In 20 years of advertising, I can be accused of many grievous evils but certainly not sexual harassment. Most men I know are like me, passionate professionals who pursue personal passions outside of work. Yet, each of us is responsible for all of them, consciously abetting their abusive instincts through our irresponsible behaviour. The bad men of industry are created by the good men of industry and only we can stop this menace.
The disease starts with conversations, usually at the fag end of a typically unproductive day, at a location like the terrace of 30 Bondel Road, my alma mater. It is aided by a nip of rum or a swig of beer, the fatigue leading to men becoming boys yet again. A comment passed about a lady trainee or a pretty old-timer, which rapidly moves from simple appreciation to complex analysis. This quickly becomes habit-forming behaviour, such loose talk extending to a larger quorum, now including the senior men, studio operators coming to the party with street-side vernacular descriptors. The merriment extends to office offsites and parties, the celebratory occasions even more fertile for multi-sensorial abuse, fuelled by the urban legends of company stalwarts. Many newbies deeply in awe of the prolific ‘sleeper cells’ populated by senior-most management, some with a special fondness for fresh recruits during the annual orientation programme, careers ruined or created by the quality of reciprocity.
With the passage of time, junior men derived from this culture become senior men running this culture, group heads to office heads to country heads. Out of 10 who graduate, seven successfully manage to retain their equilibrium, assisted possibly by upbringing, marital status, education and sensible ambitions. Three, however, become spiritual converts, sincere practitioners of the culture of abuse, secure in the knowledge that nobody will dare speak out. Initially, at least, the good men know well who the bad men are, some encouraging them with a certain aspirational admiration, a destination secretly desired but not possible. The terrace conversations now graduate to scorecards and tallies, the heroes sharing their conquests with buddies and even, impressionable juniors. At some point as the protagonists scale the organisational peaks, the story-telling sessions stop, all that can be heard are corridor tales of recent campaigns. Till one day, everything comes to an end with the disclosure of a courageous whistle-blower or victim.
While lady vigilante groups have been set up and companies scurry to secure their regulatory processes, the culture of abuse can best be stubbed by the good men of this, and every other industry. For starters, ensuring that watercooler conversations are never allowed to surpass ethical decency with respect to female colleagues, whatever the provocation. Each time there is evidence of pornographic material being consumed in office, it must be decisively squashed, enthusiastic spectatorship a dangerous driver of the virus. A conscious drive towards productivity, in cahoots with the client, to ensure that the infectious evening hours are spent outside the workplace, at homes or pubs or gymnasiums. The deliberate demolishing of the corporate superheroes with an affinity for abuse, just as the once-titanic Nazis were rendered criminals overnight after the Second World War. During the recruitment process, every man instructed to demonstrate zero-tolerance towards any kind of harassment, the perpetrators to be reported just like common criminals. Finally, the men at the top to sign bonds declaring them abuse-free, any evidence to the contrary leading to immediate expulsion.
Cultures of any kind, abusive or positive, are best created or busted by the inmates themselves, not the imposition of strictures. The bad men of advertising are subsets of the good men, their bias towards criminal action encouraged by each of us through our actions or inactions. By laughing away at their stories of conquest or ignoring the obvious signs of predation, as per perceived code of conduct of a well-knit boy’s club. What will also help is the immediate sacking of the significant players with a proven, even anecdotal, track-record of such misconduct, no suspect allowed to remain a role model. There may be a few undeserving casualties, the victim of personal vendettas, but that is a small price to pay for the larger cleansing.
Many men I know personally would easily qualify in the list of MeToo offenders, with platinum membership status. However, they do not feature in any of the circulating lists, which amply proves the numerical strength of the thugs of Ad-land. Equally notably, they are usually at the senior management or even the CXO levels, which proves that it’s a boardroom crisis, not an open-office aberration. Only men can stop men from this senseless self-destruction, the good driving out the bad.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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