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Opinion and Insight

Change is Slow, but Don’t Lose Heart

LBB’s Laura Swinton on last week’s dramatic stories about Erin Johnson’s long-fought battle and the UK gender pay gap

Change is Slow, but Don’t Lose Heart

The industry may like to talk at length about diversity and inclusion but it is yet to match the volume of its sounding off with real change, if the news from last week is anything to go by. On the one hand we found that the UK ad industry’s gender pay gap was above the national average. Meanwhile, in the States we learned that JWT had settled with its former head of comms, Erin Johnson, after a needlessly drawn out legal suit that shows that there are still agencies that are reluctant to support and believe their staff when it comes to bullying behaviour higher up the food chain.

That’s why this week we’ve had an anonymously written article in which one (male) agency executive has felt compelled to speak to female colleagues and peers to share the lived experiences of many women in the industry.

Poring through the numbers of the gender pay gap statistics (you’re welcome) and reading these angry anonymous comments gave me pause. Despite all the positive stuff that’s happening – movements like Free the Bid, initiatives from Creative Circle and D&AD to broaden the industry’s reach and remove obstacles, platforms like She Says – real, tangible progress is slow in coming. There are still plenty of slugs who remain in their well-remunerated positions of power, in agencies that are fairly unbothered by serial sexual impropriety. 

But if all that makes you feel like giving up hope, don’t. Erin Johnson has become a source of enormous inspiration. Before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements made calling out sexist and discriminatory behaviour a socially acceptable thing, Erin was out there alone, fighting for what was right. She showed the sort of tenacity and bloody-mindedness that I – and many of us, I’m sure – could only aspire to. It’s been a tough and lonely slog as Erin was required to come into the agency every day even as she was fighting them in the courts, seated, so I hear, right by HR. But the fight was worth it.

Erin has said that she hopes that her actions will encourage others to speak up - and its an example that we all, male and female, can learn from. What I hope is that the industry sees and applauds her tenacity and gives her a new job. Can you imagine having such a determined strong-minded woman having your back and fighting for you?

It's easy and tempting to lose all heart and hope – and at times it seems like the only logical response. But the fight is far from over and, as Erin has shown, it is still worth fighting.