The WPP-owned JWT London has denied reports that it made a number of senior creatives redundant because they were “white, male, straight, British”.
As reported on B&T yesterday, the undisclosed number of men were shown the door in May just days after the agency’s openly gay creative director, Jo Wallace, told a conference she wanted to “obliterate” the agency’s reputation as a “Knightsbridge boys’ club”, an apparent reference to London’s privileged elite.
Concerned by Wallace’s comments, the men took the issue up with JWT’s HR department only to be made redundant days later. The group has now sought legal action on the grounds of discrimination based on gender, race, nationality and sexuality.
Commenting on the case, a JWT spokesperson said: “Whilst it’s not appropriate for us to comment on individuals in an ongoing process, any redundancies at J Walter Thompson London are handled fairly, lawfully and without any form of discrimination.”
According to UK law, any firm that makes more than 20 redundancies is required by law to follow “collective consultation” rules.
The British media site Campaign, that initially broke the story, has quoted a JWT employee who said the agency had been laying off creative staff for the past 18 months and, as the creative teams were invariably white and male, it should come as no surprise that it was white men getting the bullet.
Other reports have suggested that there is a suspicion that agencies have been using things like the #MeTo movement and The 3% Conference as a smokescreen to get rid of expensive, senior managers who are often white males.
Adding to JWT’s woes, in May a report found it to have one of the worst gender pay discrepancies of any UK agency which led to its executive creative director Lucas Peon to declare: “In the World Cup of sucking at pay gap numbers, we made the final.”
Thus far newly appointed WPP CEO Mark Read has not commented on the circumstances surrounding the agency and the dismissed mens’ claims. Read has also said he will not micro-manage WPP’s agencies as his predecessor, Martin Sorrell, had done.
However, given the negative press surrounding the case, the interest outside the advertising industry in it and the possibility WPP will have to wage an expensive legal case and possibly payouts, Read would probably want this fire doused as quickly as possible.