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‘The only women to benefit from #MeToo are black dress designers,’ media exec tells conference

Update: Lou Barrett has contacted Mumbrella to clarify her stance. Her statement can be read at the bottom of this article.

Women are holding themselves back and need to “just get on with it” in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, News Corp’s managing director of national sales, Lou Barrett, told the the Advertising Week conference in Sydney.

The Female Power Players panel was also sceptical about the idea of quotas as a path to equality, with Barrett saying “I don’t feel like it’s any man’s job to create me as an equal or have me as an equal”.

(L-R) Alexandra Sloane, Nicola Lewis, Kim Portrate and Lou Barrett with B&T’s Daisy Doctor

Barrett said she had never felt there was a big divide between the genders and implied the #MeToo movement – which was ignited when women began sharing their stories of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination – had gone too far.

“I think the only ones that have done well out of the Me Too movement are the black dress designers,” she said. “I’m probably saying the wrong thing [but] just get on with it, you know? Don’t worry about it. Just get on with it.”

She said men have never gone out of their way to derail her career, and it was on women to demand more and get their own seat at the table.

“I think we’re our biggest enemies in that respect, because we don’t actually go ‘We’re worth more. Pay us more’,” she said.

“It’s like the Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams story,” she said – referring to news out of Hollywood that Wahlberg had been paid $1.5m to reshoot movie scenes in the wake of allegations against Kevin Spacey, while co-star Williams pocketed just $1,000.

“Well he got paid $1m to reshoot that movie or reshoot certain scenes. She got $1,000. But did she ask [for more]? No. She was quite happy to go back and do it for what they asked her to do it for.”

Women, she said, are putting too much onus on men to solve the problem.

“Women hold themselves back. They’re the ones that hold themselves back. It’s not because they don’t want to go into the C-suite or advance in their careers. They just choose motherhood instead – and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.

The solution, is a “great support network” at home, she said, which will enable women to do more in the workplace. In the absence of a strong family unit or supportive husband “then it’s finding yourselves great day cares and great nannies and things like that”.

Barrett and fellow panellists – Think TV’s CEO Kim Portrate, Group M’s chief investment officer Nicola Lewis and Facebook Australia and New Zealand’s head of marketing, Alexandra Sloane – agreed that quotas, which instruct an organisation to employ a certain amount of women at a certain level, would not work.

Portrate and Barrett

“A bit like Lou [Barrett]. I’ve never really felt like I’ve come up against a gender problem throughout my career,” Lewis said.

Indeed the most gendered problem she has experienced, was when she was appointed to chief investment officer, and people assumed it was as a result of a quota, she said.

“I found it a relatively offensive comment, but only in the sense of, I felt I got the job based on merit,” she said, noting instead she was the best person for the job.

“I generally don’t think it’s about quotas. It has to be about the best person in the job, doing the job you want them to do now, but also into the future… I fundamentally don’t agree with having a necessary quota in any business.”

Sloane was also not for quotas in media, but said other sectors, including engineering, had a long, long way to go. Instead, she recommended ‘goals’ for companies to aspire to.

“I think goals are good. If you have a goal, and then have strategies to get there, under which these meritocracy rules apply [it works much better]… There are strategies that you can put in place that can get you to a goal that might mid to long-term to help the environment.”

Portrate agreed quotas were not the answer, but said both women and men need to make space for other minorities and be aware of their privilege and bias.

“Age, race, sexual proclivity, boy, girl – I think the whole diversity question needs to be opened up. And in some respects, it’s a bit sad that it’s 2018 and we’re still talking about girls and boys. I think it’s really important. But as an industry, we are predominately white and we don’t create shared cultural spaces for those who are not like us… it’s something that’s really important.”

UPDATE 6:20pm: At 4:47pm on 1 August, Lou Barrett sent a statement to Mumbrella to clarify the intention behind her comments. It can be read in full below:

There are several issues wrapped up in the #metoo messages and I was addressing the ability of talented women to advance in their careers on their merits.

In no way was I being dismissive of women whose careers have been held back by gender bias or the appalling instances of women suffering at the hands of sexual predators.

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