Of white males, Jo Wallace and that Mail Online report

Some groups in UK adland are protesting vociferously about coverage of Jo Wallace, a leading player in the JWT sex discrimination case. Specifically an article on Mail Online. Complaints have been made to IPSO, the rather toothless replacement for the (equally) toothless Press Complaints Commission.

In fact the article covers the case of Chas Bayfield, Dave Jenner and their unnamed colleagues against (now) Wunderman Thompson pretty accurately; the only bone of contention (as far as I can see) being pictures of Wallace (above) and her female fiancee, which look like they’ve been taken from a public social media feed as they’re pretty flattering. Some people have also complained because the piece says they live in East London but that’s a pretty big area, bigger than most UK cities.

But why Wallace, a global creative director on Nestle? Although, as WPP has pointed out, she played no part in the redundancy of the white, middle-aged creatives she did say, at a conference, that such people should be “obliterated” from JWT as it strove to bridge its cavernous gender pay gap. The five objected to this and their careers at JWT ended days later after a meeting with the head of HR (or should that be chief redundancy officer?) and a creative bigwig.

Wallace is also on record as referring publicly to “white, stale males” so she can hardly grumble if she arouses controversy.

Of the current farrago Wallace says: “What does this tell women already underrepresented in this industry? Why would [they] want to go into this industry when you see myself being treated like this?

“I had nothing to do with this case. I had nothing to do with the decision to make them redundant. [Pictures of] me wearing a bikini is clearly an attempt to take me down and embarrass me in public, so it’s incredibly distressing.”

People in adland could save themselves a fair few problems if they didn’t strive for maximum impact in everything they say, even if skews and distorts the meaning. If, say, Wallace at the ‘Crisis: The Mother of All Change’ meeting recommended “radical action” rather than “obliterate” this might not have happened. In fact the title of said conference is typical adland hyperbole: crisis isn’t the mother of all change – it might be the cause of some of it. Similar “white, stale males.” Is stale in there just because it rhymes will male?

One of the things I find most bewildering about the way this started is that James Whitehead, then CEO of JWT, was in the audience. Did he see Wallace’s presentation first? On the basis of one meeting (to discuss a rebranding of JWT – we know what happened to that) Whitehead struck me as sensible.

Let’s hope the five made redundant are, at the very least, walking away with sizeable cheques. Online trolling of Wallace should crease too, of course. But anyone who ventures online pretty well knows what they’re going to get.

As for Wunderman Thompson owner WPP, it needs to examine if it’s far too quick on the trigger in such instances. People shouldn’t lose their jobs without due consideration of natural justice. This is rather akin to Nick Emery’s defenestration at Mindshare when he was fired for a Zoom spoof in the loo. Emery is now forming a rival media division at You & Mr Jones. Such decisions have consequences.

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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.

8 comments

  1. Avatar

    She said obliterate the REPUTATION of the agency as only having white, privileged creatives.

    Please do your homework before writing nonsense seemingly only informed by other clickbait nonsense.

  2. Avatar

    How can you obliterate a reputation without the cause of it?

  3. Avatar

    …By hiring people from a broader range of backgrounds to compliment the existing teams?

  4. Avatar

    Of course – but not at their expense?

  5. Avatar

    Within your own piece you quote Wallace as saying, “I had nothing to do with this case. I had nothing to do with the decision to make them redundant”.

    So how is her opinion on the need to balance the creative department – at ‘the expense’ of those made redundant? You’re making a tenuous, false equivalence that increasingly appears to be in favour of maintaining agency land’s status quo…

    Also, while I’m here, “But anyone who ventures online pretty well knows what they’re going to get” sounds like you’re normalising the action of throwing abuse at someone if they dare speak out on a topic?

    Far from actually offering a perspective on the bigger picture (i.e underrepresentation in advertising) you’re taking issue with the words someone used to highlight it. You have a platform in this industry, do better with it.

  6. Avatar

    Anyone the Daily Mail picks on who isn’t a serial killer generally rises in my estimation. But it’s hard to avoid feeling that the furore over Jo Wallace’s undoubtedly malicious treatment has a touch of Caliban raging at his own reflection.

    Now unlike the Daily Mail I happen to believe that diverse and inclusive societies and organisations are better places to live and work. So it’s unfortunate that a vociferous tribe who share this view are all too quick to substitute the Mail’s favoured folk devils (the ‘liberal elite’, people of colour, footballers with a social conscience, women who don’t know their place, etc, etc) with their own negative stereotypes. These people do the cause of diversity and inclusion a disservice by infecting it with an aggression and intolerance that’s scarcely less toxic than that of the trolls on the Associated Newspapers payroll. (Those seeking a flavour of their style need look no further than Eyeroll’s previous contributions to this thread.)

    Jo Wallace may not have been personally responsible for the career-ending dismissal of her middle aged white colleagues, but her original remarks displayed an intolerance and hostility to them based on characteristics they had no say in. They didn’t choose to be white, straight and middle aged any more than she chose to be female and gay. Such intolerance is infectious in management. That’s why the tribunal judge’s description of HR-sanctioned “victimisation” by a FTSE listed company is damning in its accuracy. Unlike agency conference speakers, employment tribunal judges choose their words with great care and deliberation.

    I do sympathise with Jo Wallace’s distress, despite her apparent shortage of self-awareness. But I’m afraid Wunderman Thompson’s pleas on her behalf for “respect and kindness” are pretty rich coming from an organisation who not only failed to extend these virtues to several long-standing, accomplished and loyal employees, but who are even now doubling down on their own disrespect and cruelty by contesting a tribunal verdict which shames WPP’s integrity and professionalism.

    Because if you wish to preach inclusivity, you had best avoid practicing exclusion. Unless hypocrisy is your change agent of choice.

  7. Avatar

    There’s been a large number of fantastic female creatives, but Wallace’s online portfolio shows she’s nowhere near their level.

    So much noise from someone so woefully mediocre.

  8. Avatar

    I’m not in a position to judge her creative efforts – and I do think she’s been caught on the middle of one of those needless controversies that agencies (who are more intent on chasing headlines than most journalists often) get themselves into from time to time.

    But we’d be very happy to run a piece from her or anyone else involved explaining why JWT/WT/WPP got themselves into this muddle in the first place. But don’t hold your breath….