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March 25, 2013Picture this: three scantily clad, bound-and-gagged women stashed in the trunk of a car, with a smiling man at the wheel. This isn’t from the latest news story on rape or abduction. It’s from a prospective ad campaign in India for the Ford Figo.

Images of this sadistic campaign leaked last week and ignited a media firestorm, prompting widespread demands for Ford India to fire its advertising executives.

Ford Motor Company, the advertising firm JWT, and parent company WWP issued apologies, but the world had already learned a sobering lesson: the normalization of violence against women is not only a phenomenon among those without jobs and educations. In fact, these ads were created by highly educated people with very good jobs—people who should have known better, but didn’t.

Why didn’t they? Maybe because too many companies rely on damage control when their employees’ misdeeds are made public, rather than creating workplaces in which such behavior is unthinkable. It’s time for business leaders to emphasize values as well as talent by letting their employees know from the outset that violence against women is a problem, not a punch-line—and behavior that suggests otherwise will not be tolerated.

In the wake of an appallingly brutal attack that led to a young woman’s death, India united as a country to toughen its rape laws. Global captains of industry must now take a similar stand against the misogyny that thrives in male-dominated corporate environments.

Where to start?

You can take action today by becoming a Catalyst! And if you’re a man who is disgusted by the culture of violence against women, please join MARC, our growing online community of male change agents. We can build a better world—one in which men, women, and businesses flourish together.

After-the-fact apologies and damage control are too little, too late. Companies need to get ahead of the curve and start living the values they preach. Disciplining junior employees while retaining managers who do nothing to counter workplace sexism is a doomed strategy. Root out sexism and gender biases at the source—regardless of job level. This is the only path towards sustainable change.