How can the creative industries help tackle #MeToo?

As part of our series looking at sexual harassment within the creative community, we speak to the IPA’s Juliet Bawtree about what is already being done to address it, and what further steps need to be taken by agencies both large and small

It was in the first week of October last year when the first of a number of allegations came out about film producer Harvey Weinstein (which he denies). Since that week, Hollywood has continued to be struck by sexual harassment scandals, and movements like #MeToo have inspired people to speak out across other industries including fashion and theatre.

But what about the rest of the creative industries? In advertising particularly over the last few months, several senior male industry figures have left their jobs in undisclosed circumstances, while anonymous social media accounts such as Diet Madison Avenue have hinted at a cover up culture in some areas of the industry.


A recent, anonymous survey by CR looked at how deep the sexual harassment issue goes in areas such as advertising and design, and how the industry is reacting to it so far. The survey found that 60% of respondents believe sexual harassment is very or fairly widespread in the ad world. Of all the people who responded to the survey who had experienced sexual assault, just 17% reported it. And of those who did, only 42% of them saw action taken as a result, with trust emerging as a major factor in terms of how the industry could and should act in the future.

Nine months on from the first Weinstein allegations, and four months since a group of 180 women CEOs, chief creative officers, chief strategy officers and other top agency executives launched the Times Up Advertising movement, it’s clear that some agencies are already taking measures. Juliet Bawtree, Associate Director of Legal & Public Affairs at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, points out that the majority of its members have existing measures in place as a minimum, such as a policy that sets out generic anti-harassment and bullying principles.

“Most, if not all, of our members will have some form of policy in place. For some it will form part of their equal opportunities policy, some have standalone policies and many have gone the extra mile with the huge range of other supporting practices,” says Bawtree. One of the IPA’s network agency members, for example, has set up a confidential 24/7 employee hotline with lawyers who can provide counselling and assistance. Others have put in place management training to identify harassment issues, staff training on inappropriate behaviours and unconscious bias training.

However, Bawtree also admits that in the eight a half years’ she has worked at the IPA as an employment lawyer offering legal advice to its members, she can count on one hand the number of legal enquiries that she has had about sexual harassment. “In one sense it’s very positive,” she says, “but we could be facing a situation where if these policies are put into practice it will become easier to turn to employers, so they may in the immediate future end up dealing with more complaints. The upside of that is that people feel confident that they can report issues and deal with them.”


It’s as a direct result of the discussions around #MeToo that the IPA has decided to develop its own code of conduct for members, which launched at the end of May. Called the Code of Best Practice on Dignity at Work, it comprises a template anti-harassment and bullying policy that can be used by members as a means of reviewing their existing policy or developing a new one, and accompanying guidelines for implementing these policies.

“A lot of our members and employers in general may have a policy that exists in their staff handbook, but we wanted to say that now is the time to review that, look at making sure it’s properly utilised and publicised, and that people know what to do in the event that they unfortunately face an issue,” says Bawtree. “So they know they don’t have to dig deep into some dusty staff handbook, they know exactly where to go, who to speak to and that it will be dealt with.”

The code of best practice forms the basis of the IPA’s guidance for both large and smaller agencies, along with the employees that work there. “My overall advice would be the same, and that’s partly that no agency management team should rest on their laurels and think that harassment could never happen on their watch. Nobody is doing that, but I would say to them you need to take reasonable steps to prevent these issues arising,” says Bawtree. “I’m also saying to them change can’t happen overnight, it shouldn’t just be tackled right here right now. It has to be a steady ongoing commitment.”


Larger creative businesses could potentially face more risks when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, simply by virtue of the fact that they have a duty of care to a much greater number of employees than smaller companies. However, Bawtree points out that being bigger in size also gives companies the resources to provide larger HR teams and more access to training.

“For a larger network agency it’s perhaps [about] saying to them, you can’t just tick the box of having a policy in place, how can you bring it to life? Can you get a law firm in to carry out a wholesale review of all your policies and deliver staff training, starting with management and moving down [to the rest of the employees] on inappropriate behaviours?’” says Bawtree.


In contrast, smaller agencies may face problems when it comes to having the resources and measurements in place to deal with sexual harassment claims, as well as providing a safe space for people to come forward in the first place. “That’s why I’m encouraging smaller agencies to invest in HR support,” says Bawtree. “I’m telling them you need to prioritise getting HR support and reminding them that managing your staff in compliance with the employment regulatory regime is absolutely essential. You need to produce as much budget as you can towards that, for example by getting a part-time person in so employees can go to that specific person and they can review what’s in place.”

Other than having at least one dedicated HR person, for smaller companies it is about taking whatever steps they are able to. “We’ve produced within the guidelines a whole list of things they can undertake, and then it’s [about] looking at what fits with their culture,” says Bawtree. These measures can be as simple as providing all employees with contact details for support organisations such as NABS, which offers a confidential helpline service for anyone working in the advertising and media industry.


Freelancers can also make use of organisations such as NABS, but overall there is a lot less support available for someone working freelance than a full time employee at a company. There are various freely accessible sites such as The Freelance Circle, which launched last year and allows freelancers to anonymously review companies they’ve worked with. While the IPA’s guidance focuses on agency employers, Bawtree points out that all staff at agencies are protected from harassment under the Equality Act – including freelancers. “Anti-harassment and bullying principles apply in relation to them too, not just ‘employees’,” she says. “This is explained in the guidelines to the IPA’s Code of Best Practice on Dignity at Work.”

Read all of CR’s #MeToo content here