JWT male quintet win sex discrimination case – why doesn’t owner WPP quit while it’s behind?

Former JWT creative director Chas Bayfield and his colleague Dave Jenner who have successfully taken JWT to an employment tribunal for sex discrimination deserve a medal. As it happens, Jenner is thought to have left the industry while Bayfield is reportedly heading to Tasmania. Three other colleagues, made redundant in 2018, settled with JWT, now Wunderman Thompson. Bayfield (below) says other people in the ad industry should be “encouraged” by the ruling.

Wunderman Thompson, scarcely believably, says: “We will be appealing the tribunal’s ruling on events that took place within the J Walter Thompson business in 2018. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment and are committed to providing an inclusive workplace in which everyone is treated fairly.”

Which, in this context, is a bit like the Camorra releasing statement saying “We take murder very seriously and believe in treating everyone in exactly the same way – those that are still alive, anyway.”

There’s an old saying that when you’re in a hole stop digging – trouble is, corporations rarely do. That Wunderman Thomspn and owner WPP should find themselves occupying this particular hole is, truly, almost beyond belief. Around the same time the men were made redundant following JWT creative director Jo Wallace’s recommendation that its reputation as a boy’s club be “obliterated,” JWT New York was unravelling at a rate of knots following allegations of sexual harrasment against CEO Gustavo Martinez. WPP management, then led by Sir Martin Sorrell, poured oil on the fire by fighting the case bought by Erin Johnson to the bitter end.

The bitter end was the demise of !50-year old J. Walter Thomson as a standalone agency.

Following Wallace’s remarks Bayfield and Jenner reportedly met HR director Emma Hoyle (HR is supposed to stand for human relations although it rarely does) and then ECD Lucas Peon to discuss their concerns. Judge Mark Emery said the men were treated in such a hostile manner it amounted to victimisation. They claimed, among other things, that JWT was trying to close an enormous gender pay gap.

Of course there’ll be people at Wunderman Thompson (and maybe their lawyers) insisting they behaved properly throughout. But this affair is already another stain on the reputation of WPP and one of its flagship agencies, despite the holding company’s doubtless sincere efforts to create a fair workplace. Said lawyers may also be saying (as they do): if we concede on this, other claims will come thick and fast.

Wunderman Thompson these days has a largely female management. Surely they can see how this plays in public?

Still, one of the consequences of gender equality is that women (and, indeed, other genders) are allowed to behave in just as bone-headed a way as men. Someone needs to call ‘Stop.’

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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