Opinion

Why The Gentleman’s Gin Club is not just ‘a group of mates having a drink’ but a symbol of the industry’s woes

The tone deaf example set by industry leaders with The Gentleman’s Gin Club is yet another own goal for an industry struggling to get to grips with issues around diversity, argues Mumbrella’s Alex Hayes.

It pains me to have to write an explainer piece on where the dozen or so senior men in the now infamous ‘Gentleman’s Gin Club’ went wrong – but once again it appears sadly necessary. 

If the picture of the chaps getting together had been posted on Facebook with the caption ‘great night having a blazer fitting for our trip to the Sydney Carnival’ it would have been the usual Facebook filler.

The Gentleman’s Gin Club has sparked debate about equality and political correctness in the industry

But by posting a picture of some of the most influential people in the ad tech universe locally, alongside arguably the most influential voice and buyer of ad tech in the country in GroupM’s Tim Whitfield, the title ‘Gentlemen’s Gin Club’ inevitably caught attention.

It smacks of deals being done behind closed doors, ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ and other such Machiavellian dealings. Knowing some of these chaps I’m sure that wasn’t what was happening or the intention, but perception makes a big difference.

And even then it could have been explained away as a throwaway headline with a simple explanation to someone who is clearly Facebook friends with one of the chaps pictured, explaining this wasn’t a formal group but a blazer fitting for a trip to the races.

After all that’s the narrative that is now being spun, but quite clearly that’s reverse engineered.

All of the comments under the original post point to the intentions for this to be a regular event.

When is a club not a club?

Indeed Adam Furness describes it as “the club’s inaugural meeting”, adding they will be “meeting quarterly, and part of the meetings will be having guest speakers on various topics”.

If it looks like a club and is described as a club, I’d say it’s a club.

Now as a bloke I do occasionally get together with male friends for a drink. Usually this comes around a sporting event we have a mutual interest in, and some of them even work in the industry – although that’s extremely tangential to my hanging out with them outside of work hours.

At no point have I or any of them looked to call it a club, make sure women can’t come, or decide it’ll be a quarterly meeting where women can come and try to pitch to us why they should be allowed into the club and what we can do to help them.

Again I’m sure many of these men support and promote women in the industry, and are aware of the issues. Which is what makes the conscious decision to exclude women from the group all the more puzzling and frustrating.

And that’s the difference here, as clearly explained in the exchanges on Facebook by members of the group themselves.

Then there’s the argument that there are heaps of women-only clubs, so why shouldn’t there be male-only groups?

There is a male-only group – it’s called the leadership ranks in the vast majority of the industry, from creative agencies to media and of course ad tech vendors. Seriously, how many times does this have to be pointed out?

These female groups exist as a means to help provide mentorship for women in these sectors, and allow them to learn about negotiating what I can testify from first-hand experience is a male-dominated sector.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of these events and that’s exactly what I saw happening.

What I didn’t witness was some huge feminist conspiracy to do down with men and take over the world. If that’s what’s going on, they’re clearly not doing a very good job of it.

While things are now being talked about and some schemes put in place for women in the industry – and in workplaces in general – there are still a lot of barriers, especially when it comes to having children, childcare etc. We can’t change biology, but we can change the way people are expected to work. That’s something that will need to come from the men at the top. And that’s not something that will happen if they only talk to each other about the problems.

Lastly, at a time when the ad tech industry is struggling with perceptions around transparency and diversity, how can a dozen of the ‘leading lights’ in that sector seriously have thought creating a men-only group and then publicising it on social media was going to go uncommented on?

At best it is tone deaf and unaware, at worst it’s downright arrogance and stupidity.

Really though it’s weird to see the newest part of the industry adopting such an old-school mentality and practices.

This isn’t some PC whine – this is someone looking at the industry and telling you there’s an issue.

Make sense?

Alex Hayes is publisher – Live & Bespoke at Mumbrella

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