Maurice Levy and Wendy Clark Disagree on Whether Advertising Has a Sexism Problem

By Patrick Coffee 

In what may be the week’s most inevitable news so far, Sir Martin Sorrell’s least favorite topic of conversation came up at today’s 4A’s conference in Miami as industry leaders discussed whether the ongoing Gustavo Martinez case represents a black eye or a body blow for the advertising business.

4A’s president Nancy Hill–who quietly removed Martinez from a planned speaking role at the conference after news of the suit went public–told Adweek reporter Katie Richards and other attendees: “Unfortunately, the alleged behavior does happen. And it happens more frequently than we think.”

She opened by saying, “We are all here for the same reasons; we love this industry. But right now, to some of you, it may not feel like the industry you all love.”

Hill went on to highlight the many positive things happening in the business: “In reality, there’s an excitement across our industry, an excitement about exploring new territory – a brave new world so to speak – one that is driven by new technology and new approaches and that rewards innovation.” She then added several caveats including, “Yes, we need to do more to promote gender equality, so the agency environment is safe, fair and something we can all be proud of.”

In a subsequent Q&A session, Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times asked Maurice Levy whether Martinez reflects a larger problem; he strongly disagreed.

When she came back onstage, Hill said, “most of us would not agree with that comment.”

The following speaker was DDB CEO Wendy Clark, who came to very different conclusions than Levy.

When asked to respond to him, she said, “We can’t allow it to become a conversation when something goes wrong. I don’t think it’s one person and one agency. Agencies need to say ‘we will not rest until our company reflects the marketplace we serve.'”

From AdAge’s coverage of her appearance:

“We will not rest until our company reflects the marketplace we serve…Talent is made up of a lot of things, but gender is not one of them. Talent has no race, no religion, no sexual orientation, no age.”

She later echoed comments that FCB global chief talent officer Cindy Augustine made to Adweek last week about “unconscious bias training” and related efforts to hire the right sort of talent.

Via AdAge’s Ken Wheaton, some of that talent feels less than fully appreciated…or at least compensated.

Other unsurprising topics included the long-term viability of the agency model.

In a particularly cruel irony, we learned what Martinez’s panel was supposed to discuss:

Finally, we’re just going to leave this one here sans context, because does it even really matter in this case?

Glad we didn’t have to sit through that one.