Toxic Workplace

Shocking Allegations Against Global Ad Agency CEO Detail Everything You Don't Want Your Office to Be

Shocking Allegations Against Global Ad Agency CEO Detail Everything You Don't Want Your Office to Be
Image credit: jwt.com

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Some stories make you shake your head, while others make you shake with anger.  

I was compelled to do both when I read a story, first reported in the New York Post recently, regarding shocking allegations raised in a workplace harassment lawsuit against Gustavo Martinez, the chairman and chief executive officer of the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) advertising agency.

It's reported that Martinez ascended to the CEO role last year at JWT, a division of publicly traded WWP Group, and has since demonstrated a pattern of vulgarity and vitriol directed at female employees, African Americans and Jews as to make caustic presidential candidate Donald Trump seem quaint and thoughtful by comparison.

Not only is it alleged that Martinez engaged in offensive hate speech against Jews and blacks, but he escalated his damaging dialog against women to the point where he allegedly said certain female colleagues had to be "hogtied" and "raped into submission."

Related: How to Survive 5 Types of Toxic Bosses

It's asserted that he "jokingly" used similar language on several occasions in different workplace settings. When did malicious abuse against women become an accepted workplace punch line?

In case your moral compass is off kilter, let's be clear here -- there's nothing "funny" about the violent bondage rape of any woman.

Aren't advertising agencies all about shaping and maintaining positive perceptions?

How can a company that carefully crafts every nuanced word and subtle image to help portray its clients in the best possible light, completely shut off all sense of enlightened thinking and engage in some of the darkest and objectifying language within its own offices?

Ironically, a scan of the JWT web site shows that the agency plies its trade on pro-woman projects such as "Female Tribes" to recognize the rise of female capital; "Queen Trumps King" the growing trend where JWP asserts the equality ascendency of women as well as a BBC documentary titled "Her Story" which showcases "...stories of pioneering and empowered women."

Martinez refuted the allegations in the following public statement:

"I am aware of the allegations made against me by a J. Walter Thompson employee in a suit filed in New York Federal Court... I want to assure our clients and my colleagues that there is absolutely no truth to these outlandish allegations and I am confident that this will be proven in court."

Related: 4 Signs of a Terrible, Toxic Boss

I'm not a lawyer but I've worked at two corporations in the past where senior executives faced sexual harassment lawsuits. In both instances, the suits were settled out of court; neither party admitted any wrongdoing nor was allowed to ever discuss the case; and both plaintiffs and defendants resigned shortly thereafter. 

While every case is different, even if he's exonerated, it'll be a while before Martinez washes the lingering stench of these allegations from his reputation. 

I don't know if it's the arrogance of power, a false sense of executive entitlement, cultural differences or sheer stupidity but leaders need to act better than this.

Leaders need to empower employees -- not verbally eviscerate them.

Related: How Successful People Overcome Toxic Bosses

Leaders need to create a nurturing culture that embraces diversity and safety rather than a toxic environment that defaults to the lowest common denominator of jocularity at the expense of human dignity.

The words we say matter, and the words of leaders matter even more because of the responsibility, impact and power their words hold.

It seems that societal discourse continues to be evermore coarse. We all suffer because of it.

And for leaders such a Martinez who seem to have trouble following the "Golden Rule," they should at least consider following another axiom -- Silence is Golden.