I applaud their efforts. But I wonder if the members of this Coalition to Stop Sexual Harassment will go beyond developing ads to look deeply and critically into the industry's own corporate and creative practices.
I wonder if the moguls of Madison Avenue first will look to themselves-and to their clients-at the way women are portrayed in print and on the screen: Superwomen. The "waif look" fashion models. Women as victims. Women managers as bitches or, worse, as mini-skirted vamps. Blonde jokes. Trophy wives. "You've come a long way, baby." And myriad others.
Images of women in the media shape what others perceive women to be in the office and at home-and too often influence what women of all ages think of themselves. These images are as distorted as the reflection in a funhouse mirror, yet they surround us daily and pervade our lives.
I wonder also if the coalition will examine the financial practices of the industry for pay inequities. Advertising Age has reported that in marketing and advertising, women still draw salaries 5% to 20% less than men per position, and men still hold the majority of executive positions.
So a word of advice to Madison Avenue. Clean up your own shops and then, as you create the ads, consider that sexual harassment encompasses more than the overt actions behind closed doors that have resulted in the increasing number of lawsuits reported during the past year. Sexual harassment is more than "Tailhook" and more than nude photos hanging on company cafeteria walls. And, alas, sexual harassment is often far more subtle than Newt Gingrich's public concern for feminine hygiene in the ditches of war.
There are many subtle ways to discriminate against executive women that are just as damaging-and that have caused too many talented women to abandon their executive suites. On the surface, these can be anything from jokes at staff meetings, comments made at business presentations and demeaning skits at office parties, to the way companies entertain clients. However petty they seem, the cumulative impact of this hidden corporate culture on a career can be devastating.
I was an executive VP and general manager of a major medical communications firm in Chicago. One September day in 1993 a group of senior male executives referred to my staff of predominantly professional women as "uppity." I went home that night painfully realizing that despite all I had achieved during my 13 years with the company, I was still the company feminist, climbing a hill made slippery by the thick ice of a hidden corporate culture. I chose to leave my corner office to launch my own company.
How do we level the playing field? It will take a lot more than relying on the sudden awakening of Madison Avenue. It will take ridding the media of the stereotypes it has created of women as executives and corporate managers. And it will take bringing the feminist movement back to its roots: back to fighting in the courts, in our writings and in the office for equal opportunity and pay for women in the workforce. When that happens, all women will be better off, whether they choose to be homemakers, mothers or executives-or to fight in those ditches in which Newt Gingrich thinks we are not biologically suited! M
Ms. Gold is president of Marion Gold & Associates, Scottsdale and Chicago, a marketing and communications company. She is currently writing "Decision-Points," a book profiling women's career decisions.