'Let the silenced be heard' - more adland firms must waive NDAs

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 19 February 2019

Just a handful of advertising businesses in Australia have so far joined the #waivetogether movement, permitting individuals to partially waive non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Following news in 2018 that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins would conduct a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, she urged business leaders to make a partial waiver allowing people to make confidential submissions to the national inquiry.

With the deadline for making submissions to the National Inquiry less than two weeks away, on 28 February 2019, companies are still being urged to take part.

So far OMD Australia, WPP AUNZ, Clemenger BBDO and DDB Australia are the only big firms within the advertising sector taking part.

WPP AUNZ executive director, John Steedman, tells AdNews that the the National Inquiry into Workplace Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces "is a matter of great importance".

"The Sex Discrimination Commissioner called on employers to provide the waiver in order to assist the Inquiry to meet its objectives. As a major employer in Australia, WPP AUNZ naturally answered the call," Steadman said.

Independent, full-service creative agency, The Town Square is also listed.

Clemenger CEO Nick Garrett tells AdNews that the #MeToo movement has helped shine a light on some of society’s worst behaviours, "including those in our own backyard".

"We need to work tirelessly to provide a voice to victims of sexual harassment, and to continue telling the industry, and society at large, that this behaviour is not okay," Garrett said.

"The #WaiveTogether movement is an important and tangible first step towards removing the barriers preventing people from speaking up and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

AdNews also understands that one other holding group is awaiting global sign-off and one creative agency, part of a global group, has been denied permission by global head office.

Founder and ECD of Venus Comms, Bec Brideson tells AdNews that it is encouraging to see the multinationals that have signed up and are therefore “walking the talk” and making a statement that they support the positive move to creating safer working environments by assisting with a National Inquiry.

She said some of the industry's clients, such as Telstra, NAB, Medibank and BHP, are setting a standard of positive behaviour ands she encourages the procurement influencers, the CMOs and leadership teams of these businesses, to put their agencies on notice regarding levels of acceptable behaviour.

A mismatch of values

“If your agency doesn’t align with your values and culture – then maybe they are not the right people to be connecting with your audiences?,” she says.

“There’s a mismatch of values and this will come through all levels of the work they produce, the way they produce it and the unconscious nuances they are projecting. If your brand has taken a stand, and your agency hasn’t – it’s a flawed partnership.”

Brideson says many agencies may have inherited the past behaviours as they continue to “discover the skeletons in the closet holding women and other groups back”, but the only way to course correct is to allow the National Inquiry to do its job.

“There is nothing wrong with NDAs that protect corporate intelligence - but NDAs that buy silence to cover up the bad behaviour of individuals who continue to re-offend and abuse their power is unacceptable,” she says.

CEO at OMD Australia, Aimee Buchanan, said of the business, it is proud of its culture and ensuring that its people come to work knowing they are in a safe environment.

“OMD is supportive of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into sexual harassment, to the extent that we would never use a non-disclosure agreement to stop an employee contributing to the inquiry, should they wish to,” Buchanan says.

“Whilst OMD has never had a sexual harassment claim, we understand that it is a serious workplace issue and would never hinder efforts to stamp it out.”

Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in the US in 2017 and the #MeToo movement picked up pace globally, AdNews has spoken with numerous people about the issue in Australia.

A number of shocking accusations have been made about several male agency leaders in Australia with many women having signed NDAs that force their silence and make it harder for the media to expose the perpetrators.

Following the Weinstein case, there was a ripple effect across many industries and Australian ad agency CEOs came together to form Time's Up Advertising – see the March edition of AdNews for a progress update.

See: Why haven’t we broken a story about Australian advertising’s Weinstein yet?

Brideson adds that The #MeToo movement has illuminated the injustices against many people in the industry whose careers have been derailed, who have been bullied into silence and become outsiders through others' indecent behaviour.

“Whilst the perpetrators have bought their status of untouchable through NDAs, survivors of the injustice struggle at many levels for decades afterwards,” she says.

“The damage to careers and confidence is insidious. It’s time to uncover these and let the silenced be heard and the truth about those guilty leaders in the industry emerge in a structured and nation-wide inquiry.”

See the full list of those who have signed up so far here.

*UPDATE: Publicis Groupe Australia commits to NDA waiver movement 

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