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Work/ Career
 

Dear Amy,

I work as an art director for a large advertising agency in NYC for the last year and a half. The agency is run by some very powerful women which was one of the reasons I came to work here, but it's also why I am writing. My last agency was run by men, but I have to tell you, I felt less discrimination. Over the year, I have seen things that have made me seethe with anger. So much so, I went out to the bookstore to find a book to help to understand what I was feeling. That is when I came across your book, Manifesta, and found out about your web site.

My creative director is a woman. Each creative director has many teams under them to work on that group's particular accounts. Each team consists of an art director and a writer. She rarely puts men together with women. I've heard her say in the past that the men only want to work with other men. So she is perpetuating this behavior. The men work with men and the women work with women. I think we always have to deal with discrimination, but I don't remember it being so blatant at my other job. That makes me angry. I have no problem working with other women, but what I do have a problem with is the double standard that exists. She has her favorites and it is so obvious. When the men walk into the room she coos. When the women walk in she slams her foot down. When the men have a hard time solving a grueling assignment, she'll pass it on to one of the female teams to solve it. She will reward the man for putting up with such a difficult assignment and give them something great, but chastise the women for having such a hard time with the same assignment. I feel like the women are treated as the stablehands and the men are the thoroughbreds. There are things that she asks us to do that she would never ask the men because it would be below them. It's a no win situation.

There is so much more to this story, but I'm afraid it would take too long to go over everything and I don't want to bore you. For various reasons, I ended up working with this other writer who was a creative director and a man. He hadn't had a partner for a while, liked my work, so we pushed to work together. We would present work and my creative director would coo and ask about his life while I sat there as she occasionally glanced my way. Just so you know, I am not a wallflower and try to speak my mind. As it turned out, there was a reason he had problems finding a partner. He was so difficult to work with. It did not work out. In fact, it was the darkest experience I think I ever had in my 10 years of advertising. My creative director and the head of creative services told me that he has a problem working with other people and that they knew he had a problem. So, what do they do? They give him assignments to work on and produce by himself. You see...the TV spots were about baseball and he loves baseball. This would make him feel better since he was so depressed by having another failure. ARRHHHHHHHH!!!! He was able to work on many TV spots by himself without an art director. That is the most important time for the art director to be involved. In my other agency he would have been put in a corner and told to write radio if he couldn't play in the sandbox with the other kids. Oh, by the way, my creative director now treats me differently. She is now very short and shoots me down every time I open my mouth.

I recently asked for a raise above the standard raise. This was during my time with the "star" difficult writer. My creative director agreed and actually promised me something over and above what I was asking because I was worth so much more (her words). It would be put through in a few months. Well, the other day I was told that I am not getting anything. Because of the hurting economy they would not be giving raises. In the meantime, a co-worker of mine who likes to share too much information, was also having the same problem. But he went in and talked them into it. I tried, but they would not budge. I don't even want to know what he is making. I have a feeling it is more, and I have six years more experience that he does. Granted I make a decent salary, but I know I am making $30-40,000 less than what others are making at my level.

I apologize for my ranting. I know this is not always the case, but why is it that women who have worked and clawed their way to the top are sometimes the oppressors of other women? They have spent so much time trying to work with the men to get ahead that they feel associating with other women will bring them down. In many ways I am in awe of her power and abilities because she is so good and other time she make me want to vomit with her obsequious behavior toward her men. Don't get me wrong, she'll be tough with them, but the dynamic is soooo different. I feel passive, aggressive, seething, hurt and helpless. 'Why suffer' as Bjork would say, but I'm good at my job, dammit!

I would love your insight.

-Audrey

 

Dear Audrey,

I have been blessed to work mostly as a freelancer and when I have had bosses they have mostly been female and mostly been 100% supportive/encouraging, etc... I know that my case is the exception and I think it has been precisely because I have worked with women who are secure in their positions and who aren't working in an environment where they have to "compete" for the top spots, i.e. more female centered offices. Though this has been my experience, I have had conversations with many friends who have experienced/are experiencing exactly what you are going through.

I think the problem is that institutions often only one woman is allowed to succeed and a woman is still a "diversity requirement." We're successful enough to be "successful women" or the "Top 50 Women in Business," but we aren't successful enough to make the cut for "Top 50 People in Business." I am not placing blame in the individual women, but on a system that allows this to perpetuate. I think that the advertising world is a good example. I have some friends who after having had an experience like yours refuse to work for women - how sad!

Our job as feminists is to change the climate of these workplaces, not just the people in them. I think we've done a good job on the latter, and now we need to focus on the former. Specific to your raise - you did what most women don't do - you asked for a raise. Too many women lag behind in salaries because they don't ask - men do. Have you thought about enlisting the man who did get a raise? As you have probably gathered from reading Manifesta - I actually think that we need for men to participate in feminism in order for us to achieve equality. For instance, it makes a greater impact if a man says "why don't we have more female executives?" than if a woman makes this same statement. Perhaps your male colleague would be brave enough to say "why did I get a raise and she didn't?" It's human decency, but many people, unfortunately, don't make that leap.

I hope that helps - and I want to thank you for working to change the systems that be - I'm sure you're a great example to others. Thanks again for writing and "don't suffer."


Amy

 

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