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Woman of the Week: Jennifer Huggins

“Defeat is not an option,” reads the bold tagline for Jennifer Huggins’ business, and the mantra for her life’s journey.

I first met Jennifer a few years ago at her gym, Kingsway Boxing Club, tucked away in the sprawling industrial streets of West Toronto. I was immediately amazed by her determined spirit and dynamic success. As well as being an established owner of two locations in the GTA, she is a boxing coach, an official AIBA referee, a travelling magician’s assistant and the creator of the Fight To End Cancer annual fundraiser.

Although now heavily immersed in the boxing world, Jennifer’s eclectic odyssey didn’t begin in the ring. Rather, it began in the rink. At age 14, she was training as a national figure skater when an unfortunate neck injury put her in recovery for over a year. During this time, she stumbled upon a nearby boxing gym. “I realized…I wasn’t in love with the sport of figure skating. I was in love with the competition,” she said.

Off came the skates and on went the gloves as she worked her way through a world that was permeated by an old-school mentality. For Jennifer, this both attracted and challenged her, as she tried to find a footing in the industry. “I found myself going from a female-dominated sport where I couldn’t get any attention, to being in a male-dominated world where I got a lot of attention for the wrong reasons- being a female, being in a male-dominated sport, being, quote unquote, ‘too pretty’ to be a boxer,” she told me.

And it wasn’t just her gender that turned heads, but her age as well. Working with veterans in the ring, Jennifer often felt that she was looked at as inexperienced or undeserving of her achievements. The lack of support was only exasperated when the Hollywood flick, Million Dollar Baby was released, she told  me, prompting many to question whether boxing was a suitable path for a young woman—or, really, for anyone. What they didn’t realize, she says, is that, no matter who the athlete, boxing is actually a very safe and technical sport.

It was at this point that Jennifer used her rivalrous attitude to power a journey of education. Supporting herself and working out of her apartment studio as a personal trainer, she offered free boxing lessons to newcomers, hoping they would walk away with a new appreciation of the commonly misunderstood sport and its participants. And, luckily, it worked.

Within a few years, her business was booming, which led to the opening of not one, but two boxing gyms in her west end neighbourhood. The rapid success, however, also spurred an unexpected sense of guilt. Her community had offered her so much support, she recalls, that it was now time to give something back.

Partnering with Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in 2011, she founded the Fight To End Cancer (FTEC) annual charity event. FTEC invites CEOs, executives and leading corporate players to step into the boxing ring- many of them for their first time. After six months of intense training, the contenders go head-to-head in Olympic-style boxing bouts at the charity’s annual black-tie gala. Since its inception, FTEC has donated over $850,000 to cancer research and is gunning for a $1 million goal at the 2018 gala this June.

Nodding back to the slogan that’s defined her journey, Jennifer hopes that in illness, and in life, “defeat” is a word that will one day be abolished. “In sports, for example, you’ll hear, ‘Canada was defeated by Russia,’ or ‘Canada defeats Germany,’…“That’s one thing I’d love to see people fix the definition of, or not use it anymore, because it’s such a finishing term,” she said. “I think what we need to learn is that defeat is not an option…you always have something to fight for.”

A true fighter, day in and day out, Jennifer has become somewhat of a trailblazer in Toronto’s female boxing scene. When I ask about her thoughts on the #MeToo movement, she tells me that it’s this same sense of fearlessness that’s been the movement’s greatest triumph. “It’s definitely made way for more open dialogue for people, and for women especially, who didn’t feel comfortable with certain things, to actually bring them to the forefront,” she said. “Where this movement is really helping is allowing people to feel confident in letting others know, you know what, this is not OK for me, and I think that’s what was lacking before.” Matching the re-ignition of confidence that this movement has sparked, Jennifer too hopes to inspire courage in every person that walks through her gym doors.

“I guess the common theme is that there’s so much we’re capable of,” she concluded. “Watching people empower themselves, and being a part of that process, is something that will always keep me going.”

Photography by Vincent Dayrit

 

 

Does it take 60?

How many victims have to come forward before media will believe that a respected and well-known public figure is a predator. In the case of beloved actor and comedian Bill Cosby, the number was 60 women. In the case of producer Harvey Weinstein, it was 65.

But why does it take so many women for the public to believe a woman’s account?  Do people actually think that a woman wants to be in the spotlight for an experience that they likely wish they could forget? This is never the case. The first victim steps up to address sexual harassment or assault. If it wasn’t for women bravely speaking up and calling foul against these well-known figures all women would continue to suffer mistreatment and gender inequality in silence.

A respected specialist in psychology and in the behaviour of sexual predators, Leonie Adamson shared the warning signs of a sexual predator and says “They can wield a lot of control and power.”

They are very attentive and use manipulative language, she says. They build a sense of loyalty in their target that they will use to manipulate them after they form a bond. Often these individuals  groom their co-workers and build a large and supportive social network, who can’t imagine them doing any wrong.

The predator will play the victim when caught and turn the spotlight on the victim, working to discredit him.her and alienate them.

The predator will work to make the victim dependent on them and groom them so the actual victim might be swayed to think that she is at fault, even when the predator is clearly in the wrong.

The predator will also use the bond created earlier to learn about the victim and know how to push buttons and to ridicule her.

But when these victims do finally come forward, why are they shamed and discredited? It’s because the predators have spent years building their public persona. – grooming their co-workers and followers, they turn to social media knowing if they discredit their accuser they win. This makes the plight of the victim all the more difficult which is why so few woman don’t come forward. Predators know all too well the control and power they can flex, and many enjoy the thrill that comes from destroying  the credibility of their victim, and the hero status bestowed by those too foolish to see they are being duped.

Steve Paikin is a public figure and host of The Agenda on TVO, he sought and received the Order of Canada. An investigation was launched by TVO after Sarah Thomson, former mayoral candidate, privately accused him of propositioning her for sex back in 2010. Paikin made the decision to go public with the accusation. But the investigation was curtailed from the start when Mr. Paikin and TVO refused to give confidentiality to witnesses who had information on other instances of misconduct.

Evidence brought forth by Thomson was rejected and without confidentiality witnesses refused to give testimony. The investigation came up inconclusive because the offer of confidentiality was never given to the witnesses-and once again the shame and defame strategy so often used by sexual predators succeeded in burying the truth.

But time has shown that the truth always rises to the surface. There will always be people who believe everything they read in the media, but it is refreshing to watch people who bother to “READ THE FINE PRINT”  reach out with support to Ms. Thomson. Maybe the world is changing.

Omissions from investigation into Steve Paikin

This ordeal I have had so far with Steve Paikin is the perfect example of what happens to women who speak out on powerful media personalities. I was warned by many PR experts not to take part in an investigation that was controlled and paid for by TVO as the scope of the investigation could change and eliminate evidence that could damage Mr. Paikin.

Despite their warnings I was surprised to see that the investigator did not even mention my reason for stepping forward with my allegations. In giving my statement I explained to her that a friend of mine had learned that Mr. Paikin was involved with his wife – he felt Paikin was destroying their marriage. The wife had also appeared on the Agenda.  I realized that my inaction 8 years ago had enabled Paikin; and although I had told a lot of people about his behaviour, it had done nothing to stop him. I had an ethical duty to step forward. The husband was willing to give his testimony to the investigator, but required a confidentiality agreement. The investigator tried to get TVO and Mr. Paikin to agree to it, but they refused and limited the scope of the entire investigation.

My case also had some pretty concrete evidence the biggest being an email I received from my assistant after we had lunch with Paikin.  

 

The email relays very clearly the events that happened, as well it pointed out that I believed exposing him would hurt me. Yet the investigator chose to assert that for some reason I coerced my assistant into writing an email that could have hurt me politically.  And she refused to give it much weight in her overall calculation. We found the email after weeks of searching through all my files – from boxes in my basement to storage drives and old cds. Many of my email files were erased over the years, but I had saved some onto a number of storage drives. On one of the drives I found the email my assistant had sent to me back in 2010,  and my lawyer had it authenticated by an outside validation company to submit as part of our evidence. 

The Facebook messages my EA wrote earlier this year also back up his initial email and the fact that Mr. Paikin came on to me in response to my request to get on his show..  

 

The questions I messaged to my EA were the same questions any investigative journalist would ask when piecing together an article. I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t inaccurately added anything to my recollection.

Despite checking with the witness, I did make one mistake in the article I wrote about my #MeToo story. I had forgotten that when I ran for the liberals in 2011 my campaign manager had secured me a spot on the show as the liberal candidate.  I inaccurately wrote that I was never given access to the show after my lunch with Paikin.   At the time I wrote the article, all I remembered were the years after 2011 when I hadn’t been able to access the show. I began advocating for transit expansion in 2012 as head of the Transit Alliance.  We ran a huge campaign around dedicated transit funding. Our events saw hundreds of people attend, most of the press came out, and I was on radio programs and other television shows as the go-to transit advocate in Toronto. But when I tried to get on the Agenda, Paikin’s response was “take me up on my previous offer.” Not getting access to the show year after year to talk about transit expansion became much bigger in my mind than one brief appearance in 2011 to talk about the liberal election platform.

Going into the investigation I thought that I was luckier than many women because I actually had a witness – my assistant – who had heard everything Paikin had said to me. He had served as my aid during the formal campaign period, but also during the informal wind down stage of the campaign. His role was to attend events, meetings and canvass beside me. It was not a position for a meek individual.  He had to be strong enough to face very opinionated people, and he could hold his own quite well in policy discussions. He prided himself in being a strong feminist. This is why his decision to back-peddle on his testimony and on what he had written quite emphatically in 2010 as well as in his facebook messages to me this year was so devastating.  I was shocked. I tried to figure out why he would do this to me. At one point I felt sorry for him. I wondered what could have happened to make him give up his feminism. I thought that perhaps he was intimidated by Paikin’s inflamed blog, and that he just needed encouragement. But as more time passed I began to wonder what had made this man I knew so well, completely compromise his ethics in such a way.

I went over and over the timeline during that day in 2010. We returned to the office after the lunch with Paikin and spoke about the come-on with a woman who was working for me at the time. We spoke about the fact that I couldn’t come out publicly on Paikin because it would ruin my chances of getting elected.  But I don’t remember much more about the afternoon, I would have had to leave around 2:30 to pick my kids up from school. We had started the day hoping to get me on Paikin’s show, and I might have suggested my assistant email me if they came up with an alternative way to get me on – his email seems to be addressing that issue.

That TVO and Mr. Paikin took my complaint to the public after I specifically indicated I wanted it to be kept private, is a tactic that has proven effective for protecting powerful men, but one that most corporations would not condone. Sexual impropriety investigations must be kept private to protect witnesses and encourage others to come forward. Instead, TVO allowed Mr. Paikin to come out loud and threatening over social media.  I wasn’t protected but shamed. The shaming was so extreme that it made conditions unsafe for other witnesses to step forward. TVO, is an agency of the Ontario government and their handling of my private complaint, was disgraceful. CEO, Lisa De Wilde did not follow protocol, and employees might have perceived that stepping forward on Mr Paikin would lead to their own public shaming. Their complete disregard for protocol should be addressed by the Minister of Education, who is responsible for TVO.  

During the investigation we had a witness who was, at one time, an intern at TVO, she had heard rumours and was told by another employee that Mr. Paikin did this all the time. The employee refused to come forward, which isn’t surprising given the public shaming TVO allowed Paikin to put me through.  

Another witness who worked at TVO for 3 years wrote an email to me:
“Good on you girl for exposing Paikin. He has previous for that type of behaviour and it’s been well known at TVO for years.
I wrote: “ Thanks – the hate is pretty rough. Did you work at TVO?
Yes I did, for three years. Can’t really go into it in depth. It’s not worth my life being disrupted.”

None of the evidence above was entered into the investigators report – it’s almost as if she didn’t want the public knowing about the witnesses who were afraid of being publicly shamed.   There are hundreds of articles written about how sexual predators  bully people into silence.  They are often charismatic, they surround themselves with supporters. And they often groom their families, friends and co-workers into believing in their image.   “Even people who know them well cannot conceive that they are capable of exploiting others sexually. Such predators are masters of deceit,” states Psychology Today.

Today as I reflect back over the past several months, I know that  eventually the truth will come out, more women will step forward with their own experiences. The #MeToo movement has proven that there is strength in numbers. 

I remember how vicious the press were over my claims that Mayor Ford was on cocaine, and the ridicule I received from the likes of Christie Blatchford for even suggesting the Mayor had substance abuse problems. I remember how Newstalk 1010 gave entire shows over to discrediting me. I remember how they all went silent when the truth came out. He needed help, and their lack of impartiality may have enabled him, and possibly delayed that help.

Once again the clickbait media have circled around Mr. Paikin declaring him the saintliest man there ever was on television. Once again they ignore the signs, they avoid the hard investigative work, and they attack the messenger. When the truth comes out,  I know they’ll slink away again hoping nobody remembers how they victim shamed and blamed me for stepping forward. I will remember. I hope you do too.

Mr Paiken: You allege that I defamed you. I did nothing of the sort. I specifically told you I wanted this out of the public eye, and instead you blew it up into a spectacle. You know Steve, you could have just chosen to admit you made a mistake and listened.  You could have decided to do better going forward for the sake of every woman you know. That response would be far classier than making yourself into a mid life power trip cliché.

Woman of the Week: Katrina Turnbull

There are some women I’m quickly drawn to and I easily become friends with. Usually this has to do with their willingness to be real and open about who they are and about their own failures and successes. I immediately connected with Katrina Turnbull.

Katrina was named one of Ottawa’s “Top 25 Influencers” by Ottawa Life Magazine for good reason. Thousands of readers view her mommy blog Oui C’est Chic , for honest, clever advice from this mother-of-two. Katrina also joins the morning crew at CTV Ottawa often for live segments, where she unveils the latest trends for kids and busy women on the go. She also hosts Bell Fibe’s Capital Style Files, which showcases the fashion sense of influential figures in the nation’s capital and contributes to the Huffington Post.

Katrina gives off the sense that she has it all together – in part because of her fashionable clothing and perfectly applied makeup. Yet, Katrina is the first to admit that her busy schedule- parenting, blogging, and preparing T.V. segments- can get overwhelming. She explains how she tries through her work to assist women with their own daily struggles by offering advice.

“Working women and mothers are always taking care of other people’s needs before their own. It’s an unsustainable model, which is why so many women feel burnout and are unable to devote time to their own self-care. I want women to know that not only is it okay for them to put themselves first once in a while, but it is necessary in order to fuel their minds and soul, so that they can be more productive and nurture others.”

It’s obvious that Katrina is someone who wants to support and empower women. While grabbing a coffee, she was attentive, respectful,  and offered helpful advice to me about starting and maintaining a successful website. She demonstrated how she is doing her best to build other women up. Katrina said this is a critical goal set in her work and in her personal life, adding that she was “fortunate enough to have met strong, confident women” who wanted to help her succeed, while imparting lessons from their own lives. She is set on “paying it forward.”

 Katrina  admires a number of high profile business women who have inspired her. Designer,  Diane Von Furstenberg is at the top of her list of women she most wants to meet, because “she is a champion of women and believing that women are allowed to shape themselves into the type of person they want to be.” Katrina admires her because the designer came from humble beginnings and “hustled her way into a dream career by” carving out her own spot in an industry that was  male-dominated.

Despite her success, Katrina admits that roadblocks and challenges are a part of her journey. She is all too aware about how some women can be more focused on competing than supporting and empowering one another.  She also shared how the MeToo movement couldn’t come at a better time. Despite not feeling there is a clear answer to fixing the issue of harassment in the workplace, Katrina spoke about feeling undervalued simply based on the fact that she is a woman and not a man.

Katrina was the victim of harassment  as a young server in Ottawa and she shared her #MeToo story with me:

“We were forced to wear skimpy uniforms, flirt with customers to get bigger tabs and tips, etc. Complaining about a customer grabbing or propositioning you led to the bar managers taking away our best tables and punishing us by giving  bad shifts for the next few weeks.”

The overall mentality passed down from the head honcho at the nightspot was that women working at the establishment, were mainly there to look good- Katrina added that when such sexist rules come from the top, it’s very difficult to stand up for yourself and change the setting. She eventually had enough and quit.

Her belief now is that Canadians will continue to make a societal change because of the nation’s progressive nature.

Katrina has her sights set on continuing to be a positive influence on women by way of her entrepreneurial projects. For more about Katrina, visit her site.

Photography provided by Valerie Keeler

G7 meetings make women’s rights a focus

Sunday is definitely the day of the week that I love to head to my favourite brunch spot with friends and family.  It seems that world foreign affairs ministers are of the same mindset. G7 representatives gathered for a meeting at Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Sunday, after she invited the counterparts to her home for brunch.

The meeting was apparently relaxed and informal  ahead of their upcoming agenda that will be quite the opposite. Over the next few days, they will carry on with closed-door meetings at the University of Toronto. On the list of issues to discuss is the ongoing war in the Ukraine and conflicts  in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Palestine.

The meetings this week will lay the groundwork for the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, slated for June. U.S. Secretary Rex Tilerson, Is not taking part in this week’s meetings after recently engaging in direct talks with the North Koreans. North Koreans surprised the world when their radical leader Kim Jong-un announced he is suspending ballistic missile testing.

Talks this week will also focus on cyber threats and combating violent extremists. Another major subject on the agenda is determining ways to curb human trafficking, mainly involving women.

Most victims of human trafficking are women and girls,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Friday. “The government of Canada is committed to fighting this abhorrent attack on basic human rights and dignity.”

The topic of human trafficking falls under the Liberal government’s agenda for international feminism and the push for gender equality. Liberal’s have taken a stand in support of women and the agenda represents the shift that is taking place internationally, when it comes to the rights of women.

The focus on fair treatment towards women in the workplace and various societal circumstances is proof that the #MeToo movement is bringing changes on all levels- as slow moving as they may seem to be. Top levels of government making feminism and rights of women a top priority, demonstrates that voices are being heard.

 

Tanya Ramond, aerospace engineer and BridgeSat leader, talks focus, balance and equality

I had the chance to speak to a truly remarkable woman. Her name is Tanya Ramond and she is an aerospace engineer. Currently she works at BridgeSat as the Director of Product Development and prior to this she had worked with big  companies like NASA and York Space.

 Initially I thought she would be an intimidating figure to talk with but that wasn’t the case at all. She is actually extremely friendly, and thoughtful.  She spoke with purpose, thinking carefully about the answers she was giving to my questions in our discussion.

Tanya’s main focus is on engineering and science but she has a great interest in business and marketing, which is why she chose to step out and join BridgeSat. She is in a leadership role  and is a member of the company which focuses on  connecting satellites from space to the ground while meeting the demand for big data collection from low Earth orbit.

She spent 10 years in aerospace engineering at large companies, but knew that she wanted to expand into development and marketing.

“I think that I was ready to just go for something different. I’ve worked at a fairly large established aerospace company…but I think at that point my interest in not just engineering but also the business, was coming to life.”

Tanya completed her MBA, and now uses these relative skills in her role at BridgeSat. Ramond  has her sights set  on taking control by making an impact and pioneering development and new technologies with her team. She shares that this is what BridgeSat and herself will focus on from this point.

Tanya has achieved great success over the years , but the roles she has held, have also come with great challenges.

She is often the lone woman in a room filled with men. Tanya is open and explained that while her team came up with groundbreaking technologies and products, as the only woman often in the group, she sometimes feels  like an outsider and is treated differently.

“There’s this layer of blatant sexism. Past that is a deeper layer that is a lot harder to articulate,” she said

When other women are present, Ramond encourages them to voice their opinions and mentors female co-workers to “chime in and to not be made to feel intimidated.”

Tanya spoke with me about how most  of the challenges she has had come down to being a woman in a workplace filled with men. She  knows there is a need for change and that it takes each one of us to step forward and explain what is and isn’t acceptable- as many are doing now that the #MeToo movement is sweeping the globe. Gender disparity must be driven out of the workplace and like many women, she wonders if she has the power to change the current environment.

Tanya agrees that “awareness is of most importance” and that “just the common acceptance that [these actions are] not OK” is a step in the right direction toward change. 

It would be wonderful to have the power to make that change instantly happen, but many more hurdles need to be cleared. I asked Tanya what super power she would most want to have and her response is what you might think an aerospace engineer would select-the power to fly. “If I were flying the plane, I’d do better,” she said.

As I think back to my interview with her I realize that Tanya is a strong, brilliant woman, she is a leader in her field and in her own way she soared beyond the limited structure of a male-dominated industry.

For more about the remarkable work that Tanya Ramond and BridgeSat do, go to http://www.bridgesatinc.com/

Minister Rochelle Squires’ #MeToo Moment, advocates protecting victim’s identity

The platform is changing for women when it comes to speaking up about moments in their lives when harassed, assaulted or demeaned by men they cross paths with. I’m thrilled about this, as many women across North America are, but also saddened that there are still negative repercussions that exist when women come forward on men with influence.

As someone who has experienced #MeToo moments, and spoken openly about them to friends and relatives, who are supportive, my wish is for every woman to be able to step forward in unity to gain the same support, without worrying about these negative repercussions that shouldn’t exist.

Politician and Minister Rochelle Squires, 47, is a woman who is truly inspirational, and recently made her #MeToo moment public.  She spoke with the Canadian Press about her story, after decades of bottling the experience up, because she blamed herself and was fearful.

Squires was raped at 13 and felt that she could tell no one.

“In the 34 years since then, every day of my life has been a journey towards recovery; sometimes a journey back into darkness,” Squires said Tuesday in a statement, marking Sexual Assault Awareness month.

“I have gone back in my mind…hundreds of thousands of times and talked to that 13-year-old girl and said to her ‘It’s not your fault, and you’re going to be OK. I don’t need to tell that 13-year-old girl anymore, and so I want to use my voice to help others.”

Rochelle explains that she waited until she was in her 30s before she told anyone and went to the police. She also discussed it with her therapist and stated that she felt completely at fault even at such a young age. She asks herself still “Why did I feel to blame?”

Why do victims of sexual assault, harassment, abuse etc.  respond, initially, similarly to Squires? Is it because of the fear that the perpetrator’s life will be ruined, or that the victim has somehow brought on the behavior?

Women self-blame because our male dominated society continually questions women; this need to change, society needs to promote, support and unite when victims do come forward.

Squires is advocating third-party reporting which allows a complainant to come forward and talk with victim support services, without having to be identified. The government programs work with women who step forward – buffering them from the often male-dominated police interactions.

 

‘Woman-led’ businesses are now identified by Google Business

It’s certainly an exciting time to be a woman, seeing as movements for equality have been sparked around the globe, in addition to those encouraging women to speak up. One bit of news that was recently announced that has my attention, is how Google has introduced a new feature that allows business owners to identify their business as “woman-led” on Google My Business, per Google. Businesses that use Google My Business can enable the attribute from their dashboard, where it will appear in their listing until they choose to disable it.

I see this as one more way that females can support and empower other females, and it also presents the opportunity for women to publicly showcase their efforts and abilities in their given industry.

The My Business verification process gives the opportunity for women to manage information on their Google platforms, such as the maps and searches. Now, the “woman-led” descriptor, which will have a female gender symbol associated, is set to appear next to the details in the listing of the business, which will highlight any special offerings as well.

Female business owners and businesses that are women-led, can easily add this icon by clicking on the info tab on the left-hand side and scrolling down to the “Add Attributes” option. Simply click on the pencil icon, and a new window will then pop up, that will allow you to click on the “Women-led” button and apply this option to your page.

A Google spokesperson spoke about the new feature, early last month, in celebration and as a means to recognize International Women’s Day.

“We strive to organize the world’s information in a way that is inclusive of all people. Last year, we added an LGBTQ-friendly attribute in time for Pride. This year we’ve added the women-led attribute to empower women-led businesses to succeed online and enable people to find businesses to visit using Google Maps and Search.”

Google highlighted three women-led business at the time of its latest announcement, to demonstrate how the new option works for female Google Business users. These three businesses are Progetto Quid, out of Verona, Italy, which is a textile company that offers employment opportunities to women who are struggling to find employment. The second highlighted business is Reaching Out Teahouse, in Hoi An, Vietnam, which provides jobs and a support network to people with physical disabilities. The final business highlighted and used in Google’s example is Yogolandia Yogurt & Botana Bar, out of Chicago.

What are your thoughts about this new feature from Google?

 

Woman of the Week: Laurie Young

Caring is the word that first comes to mind when reflecting on my meeting with Laurie Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather. She has a strong handshake and a big smile. Not pretentious, rather a combination of thoughtful and spirited.

We met to discuss the #MeToo campaign in Canada and the role women leaders must take to bring about social change.

Young’s office is orderly and functional. In jeans and a blouse, she is relaxed and open. She told me about her family – two kids, aged 24 and 28, and her husband of 30 years (a rarity in the media industry). She describes him as “amazing” and explains that his hero status comes from his consistent and unwavering support through all the ups and downs in her career – “the cancelled vacations and 2 am talks.”

Laurie graduated with an Arts degree and was immediately attracted to a job in advertising, where she found the commercial and creative successes appealing. “I could use my creative side but it also fed my competitive side. And I was constantly meeting interesting people.” The advertising industry is all about building relationships and it is obvious that she enjoys getting to know people, but this isn’t what drives her.  “Others would say I am driven by success, and I am competitive, so I’d have to say they are right.”

I asked Young about the gender balance in the advertising industry.  She explained that the industry still has men dominating board positions, but she’s hopeful it will change as more women gain leadership roles.  Laurie spoke about a week-long conference Ogilvy held in Saville – their “creative cadre” – a meeting for their top offices from around the world to share their current campaigns. Each office presented their campaigns on stage and when it was Young’s turn to present, she decided to go off script… and focus on the fact that it was International Women’s Day. Her speech began “What has struck me today is the number of campaigns about domestic violence, sexual harassment and gender equality that have been presented from around the world, but especially from India, South Africa and Indonesia. On the eve of International Women’s Day, we should not only celebrate great work, but we should strive to ensure that these campaigns make it to market and that they change attitudes and behaviours, so that fewer of these are needed in the future.” The room was silent for a few very long seconds, but then one woman, followed by another began to clap and then the entire room suddenly broke out in applause.

Young isn’t afraid to lead on tough issues like sexual harassment and gender equality. She acknowledged that her industry still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality and admits her desire to break down the barriers. As CEO of Ogilvy she hosts networking events for her women clients that are specifically designed to help them develop leadership skills.

We talked about how society still expects women to dismiss sexual harassment and assault, how women are still blamed if they speak out about it.  I asked Laurie to tell me about some of her #MeToo experiences. She remembered a time she was sitting in a boardroom full of her colleagues (mostly men). She had just landed a big client and was excited to share the news with them until one man joked that her male client signed on because he “wanted” her. Laurie remembered her raw anger and the snickering from all of her colleagues.

When I asked her if she had ever been groped, Young remembered a time years ago when she was 16 and backpacking. She was travelling by bus and had picked out a window seat. As she settled in a hand from behind her slipped in between the window and her body, grabbing her breast. She remembered her anger, jumping up and yelling at the man while people tried to calm her down. She remembered that the colour of the seats on the bus were blue. Our conversation touched on emotional moments and how they seem to embed themselves into your memory. To what extent do these embedded memories of harassment or assault cause women to lose confidence, hesitate, or pull back from experiencing the world fully? Young didn’t view her sexual assault as a #MeToo moment because she didn’t hide the experience, rather she had the courage to turn on the man and expose his actions. And that is what the #MeToo movement is about – women finding courage to expose men who behave badly.

Laurie Young has the courage to face adversity with confidence and grace. And whatever her next challenge might be, I know she will rise to it with a twinkle in her eye.

 

The #MeToo campaign is a revolt not a witch hunt

The #MeToo campaign was designed to point out the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment, but here in Canada reaction to the campaign is widespread disapproval.  Instead of embracing and supporting women who speak out about sexual harassment, many Canadians choose to scorn, shame and defame them.

Research into sexual assault has found that, on average, only 4% of allegations are proven false, while 40% of those accused are proven to be guilty.  People who don’t know this research insist that innocent men will be destroyed by false accusations and claim the #MeToo movement is just a “witch hunt.” They ignore the facts. And these facts make it easy to identify a sexual predator:

  • Sexual predators push their victims into the court of public opinion to try to discredit them. They don’t care about the harm or shame they cause their victim
  • Sexual predators deny all accusations, unequivocally and strongly. They take to social media to broadcast their denial and shame their victim.
  • Sexual predators threaten defamation. This is designed to scare other victims from stepping forward, and push witnesses into hiding.
  • Women who come out publicly always get scorned and shamed – nobody wants that kind of attention, but sexual predators try to insist that their victims step forward to face the scorning.

Sexual predators need to scare both victims and witnesses from stepping forward, and threats of lawsuits are a common tactic they use to push witnesses into hiding.  Too few people know enough about the law to realize that they can’t be sued for giving private testimony.

Innocent men don’t push their case out to the court of public opinion, or allow women to be vilified when they come forward. Most large corporations have a sexual harassment policy that requires complete confidentiality through an investigation. This confidentiality is key to a fair investigation as it protects the woman who make the allegations, and the witnesses who might come forward.  It also conveys the message to all employees that they are free to report sexual harassment without being punished. Any company that doesn’t follow these guidelines has extremely questionable HR practices.

An actual investigation into sexual harassment needs to uncover if the person accused of harassment exhibited improper and offensive conduct, including objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat.  Sexual predators often ignore the fact that by taking their fight to the court of public opinion they are publicly trying to shame the women involved. They will usually demean her, and try to intimidate her, without even realizing that their actions display an attempt to “belittle or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment.”  

Innocent men allow the investigation to be carried out without prejudice. Guilty men can be judged by the way they treat their accuser.  If they go public when she has asked for confidentiality, if they threaten defamation, if they try to smear her reputation, their actions indicate they are not innocent. A decent man doesn’t drag a woman out to be stoned in the court of public opinion, only a desperate man does that. 

The #MeToo campaign is not a witch hunt, it’s a revolt by women who have been silent for decades.