"Pale, stale, male" advertising executives claim that they are victims of discrimination

18 December 2018

by Martin Malone

Think of the TV series Mad Men and you will conjure up the image of high-flying testosterone filled salesmen living up to almost every imaginable stereotype of a world that was and to some extent still is. However, the world is definitely changing, no more so than in 2018, with the burgeoning #MeToo movement, and a sense that radical action is needed to achieve real equality in the workplace. However, and stick with me on this one, is there a tipping point beyond which targeting and redress can be taken too far?

J Walter Thompson (now generally referred to as JWT) is an enormous global advertising agency and widely thought to be the inspiration for Mad Men. News has emerged over the last few weeks of something of a putsch against what might be regarded, to coin a phrase, as its pale, stale, male employees.

As reported in The Times (behind the paywall), the groundwork for what was coming could be detected when JWT’s creative director, Jo Wallace (introducing herself as a gay woman), spoke at a diversity conference in May about her determination to “obliterate” its reputation as an agency full of white, privileged, straight, British men. She pledged to address a “horrible” median gender pay gap of 44.7%, saying that the disparity in pay put:

…a rocket up the arse of all the diversity plans at JWT

Jo Wallace, creative director, JWT

Unsurprisingly, some of those who appeared to be in Ms Wallace’s firing line were concerned about their futures at JWT in light of what had been said. They approached the agency’s HR department and, according to a report in Campaign magazine, were sacked days later. Having taken legal advice, they are now reported to be bringing discrimination claims based on gender, race, nationality and sexuality. How is that possible, you might ask?

It is a commonly held misconception that the equality legislation operates exclusively to protect minorities. While that is undoubtedly applicable in the vast majority of cases, in fact, the protection applies to all who are subjected to discrimination relating to any the protected characteristics, which are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership (in employment only)
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

So, if you are singled out on one or more of the above grounds you have a potential claim. In this type of context it is sometimes referred to reverse discrimination.

While there is a tendency for people to be very forthright about their opposition to discrimination, particularly on social media, there are times, places and contexts. I think that it is reasonable to assume that Ms Wallace is now regretting that she was as uncompromisingly direct as she was.

When asked about the case, JWT said that:

Its not appropriate for us to comment on individuals in an ongoing process. Any redundancies at J Walter THompson London are handled fairly, lawfully and without any form of discrimination

Sourced from The Times, 13 November 2018


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