Sexual harassment ‘is a systemic cultural problem in the advertising industry’

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The allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Harvey Weinstein have had an impact beyond the movie industry: Women in ad agencies are now telling their own stories of inappropriate behavior in the workplace with one senior executive urging them to step forward.

Last week, entrepreneur and former ad industry head Cindy Gallop wrote a Facebook post. In it, she called for women in advertising to email her their experiences of sexual harassment, "to end the Harvey Weinsteins of our industry once and for all."

She did so because she suspected the industry had a problem, having heard many stories of alleged sexual harassment during her three decades in advertising, and publicly campaigning against it.

Ten days and more than 100 emails later, she says she has received messages from women in ad agencies at all levels and from all over the world detailing incidents of sexual harassment.

"I'm hearing from women who were sexually harassed 30 years ago and I'm hearing from 22-year-olds who are horrified by the industry they have chosen to join," she told CNBC by phone.

"People are recounting incidents I can't believe happened … Some of these are one-on-one encounters, but a lot of these are literally things that are being said and done publicly in agencies that many people bear witness to, that I am personally gobsmacked by," she added.

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Gallop has held senior roles at creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in Europe and Asia and was most recently president of its U.S. arm before starting a consultancy and an online forum MakeLoveNotPorn. She told CNBC that she herself had been harassed more than once. She recounted an example from the Cannes Lions advertising festival some years ago where she rejected the sexual advances of a man who then became abusive and angry.

She added that the women contacting her are calling out some of the same people and organizations. "There are absolutely men whose names are being brought up by more than one person, there are agencies being brought up by more than one person, there are holding companies being brought up by more than one person." Allegations of misconduct include client-side names as well as ad agency personnel, she said.

But so far, women are afraid to go public on those names for fear of losing their jobs or of being seen as whistle blowers, Gallop added, and she called for them to instead be seen as heroes and for agencies to publicly state that they would continue to hire such women. More than one woman she has been in touch with have had legal cases against their alleged harassers but have signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

"I do have a couple of women who are actively consulting with their lawyers about the terms of their NDAs because they so much want to speak up and there is enormous regret that they didn't do so previously," she said.

On Monday, Weinstein's former assistant Zelda Perkins broke her NDA when she spoke to the Financial Times about his behavior when she worked for him in the 1990s. Gallop posted the article on her Facebook page encouraging women in advertising to do the same.

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Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment by dozens of women. He denies any having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Some of the women who have emailed Gallop about alleged sexual harassment chose to leave advertising, "because of the fact that sexual harassment and bias and sexism is a systemic cultural problem in my industry," she said.

The issues around the lack of diversity are popular in the advertising industry right now, with agencies and clients signing up to an "Unstereotype Alliance" in June, aiming to stamp out sexism in ads. But equality won't happen until sexual harassment is dealt with, Gallop said.

"Achieving gender equality and diversity are the buzzwords at the moment but which will never happen as long as sexual harassment is endemic in every industry."

Gallop urged men in advertising to speak up, just as Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino did last week when he told The New York Times "I knew enough to do more than I did" about Weinstein's alleged misconduct.

"Men of my industry who have stood by, who enabled, who laughed, who joined in, who did not bear witness, if you are feeling bad now, if you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, it's not too late, speak up, email me now," Gallop urged.

Main picture posed by models.