Isolated or Endemic? 4A’s Speakers Publicly Spar Over Ex-JWT CEO’s Alleged Sexism, Racism

Nancy Hill and Maurice Lévy weigh in

4A's president Nancy Hill had some stern words for the industry on the opening day of the organization's Transformation conference in light of recent allegations against J. Walter Thompson's former CEO Gustavo Martinez.

JWT chief communications officer Erin Johnson recently filed a lawsuit against the global CEO, who has since stepped down, alleging that Martinez routinely made racist comments and joked about raping female colleagues.

"Unfortunately, the alleged behavior does happen. And it happens more frequently than we think," Hill said today.

She noted that while the industry has made progress for women and people of color through initiatives like ADCOLOR and the 3 Percent Conference, it hasn't been enough.

"Real change has to start with you. It has to start at the top," Hill said. "That means if you are the CEO, you are the chief diversity officer. That means you need to look at every hire as an opportunity to change the playing field at your own company. Look at salaries. Is there a gap? If so, I urge you to fix it."

Others at the conference, however, suggested the accusations against JWT are unusual. During a Q&A today, New York Times writer Jim Rutenberg asked Publicis Groupe chief Maurice Lévy if the allegations against Martinez would reveal a widespread problem. Lévy said no.

"I don't believe what happened at JWT is exemplary of what is happening in our industry. It is a one-time mistake, a huge mistake, but it's not a fair representation of the industry," Lévy declared.

Lévy's comments sparked outrage among some attendees, who voiced their concern on Twitter.

Afterward, Hill returned to the stage to state that "most of us would not agree with that comment" that the harassment charge is an isolated incident.

Hill later asked speaker Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB North America, about Lévy's comments. Clark responded, "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.'"

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