The fight for equality is not over; I call ‘bullshit’ on Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts

Following on from the suspension of Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts after he claimed there was no problem with gender diversity in the ad industry, Michelle O'Keeffe calls "bullshit" and says the fight is not over.

I am the CEO of an awesome digital agency in Sydney. And I am a woman. And to Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi chairman, and anyone else who shares his opinion, I call ‘bullshit’.

Michelle O'Keeffe

About a year ago I was having a ‘dinner debate’ with a very dear friend of mine, and successful author, about feminism and in particular her passion for the Bechdel Test and how women are oppressed. My response was to ask her to please not put me in a box, that I didn’t identify as an oppressed woman and I didn’t appreciate being told I was in this box whether I liked it or not.

But maybe it’s not all about me and my ‘box’? Maybe it’s time I realised that while I have experienced endless encounters of harassment and tried to not let it get in my way, maybe I should actually vag-up and call out the bullshit that women experience.

But firstly, a bit of context will hopefully help.

When I was 22 I had to go to these networking events (by myself), in an extremely male-dominated industry where everyone knew each other. But I would force myself to break into a group of older men, who would proceed to ogle and smirk at me, and I would tell myself I had about 10 seconds of their attention (usually aimed at various parts of my anatomy) to say something remotely intelligent.gender wars womans shoe mans shoe

Most of the time it worked, at least to the point where they visibly expressed their shock that I wasn’t a waitress and would consider doing business with me. I hated those events. But I also had an advantage over my fellow young male counterparts, or at least it felt like one to me.

At 25, after being berated by a founding partner of a law firm in my first week for more than likely being the latest useless ‘marketing girl’, I told him he could fire me himself if I didn’t exceed the set KPIs. I exceeded those KPIs.

Actually, dot points might be quicker…

Over the course of my career I have:

  • Been assumed to be a secretary when I wasn’t one, many times
  • Been called ‘pretty little thing’ by bosses and potential clients
  • Constantly being called out for my strong handshake
  • Been told that my period affected my ability to do my job well (by a woman)
  • Been bought jewellery by male bosses (that’s right, by more than one…)
  • Been offered an apartment and expense account to be ‘on call’ (this particular person was apparently not put off by the fact that I was married)
  • Been groped
  • Been verbally sexually harassed
  • Been expected to organise catering and clean up after meetings in boardrooms (not a task I enjoy in any area of my life).

I’ve put up with behaviour and treatment across many industries that I should not have been exposed to. And within the advertising industry, I have witnessed myself, and heard countless stories of other women being treated the same way.

So, do not tell me that there is no issue of gender inequality in the advertising industry.

Do. Not.

I put up with that behaviour because I saw it as an obstacle to doing the job I wanted to do. I never let it stop me from getting what I wanted.

I am the CEO of a digital agency because I am the best fit for the job.

And while I may not have let this behaviour get under my skin, I have come to understand that the ‘feminism’ box my friend was trying to put me in, was so I could fight on behalf of others who face this completely unacceptable and pathetic behaviour.

So to all you women out there who want to keep doing your work, or have a fair opportunity to reach senior management positions because that is what you want, I gladly add my voice to the fight, because the fight is not yet over.

Michelle O’Keeffe is the CEO of Engaging Communications


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