Anonymous spreadsheets allege sexual harassment and racism at some of the biggest ad agencies in Brazil
- Thousands of anonymous entries that say they are written by people employed in Brazil’s ad industry — including some of the country’s biggest agencies — have appeared on spreadsheets, alleging sexism, racism, and bullying behavior at their companies.
- Many of the industry’s major holding companies are represented in the spreadsheets, which date back to 2016. The latest version claims to have nearly 7,500 entries.
- Brazil is the biggest advertising market in Latin America and an important area of investment for holding companies and major brands.
- A study of the documents showed that creative and human-resources departments were the top subjects of complaints and that many entries made accusations of bullying, homophobia, and racism.
Thousands of entries that say they are written by current and former employees in the Brazilian advertising industry — including some of the country’s biggest agencies — have appeared on anonymous spreadsheets that allege sexism, racism, and bullying at companies.
The anonymous public Google spreadsheets started in 2016 and are titled “Como é trabalhar aí?” or “What’s it like to work there?”
The allegations include harassment, racism, and unsanitary work spaces. Among those named are Brazilian agencies owned by international ad holding companies, including WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, IPG, and Havas. Not all the allegations were necessarily made about each of the holding companies’ groups; Business Insider has not done that analysis.
“There is a lot of gossip, speculation, shameful wages, professional exploitation,” one translated entry making accusations about a top public-relations firm said. Another alleged “advanced level harassment” at a creative agency.
Spokespeople for those five holding companies either declined to comment or did not respond to emails requesting comment on the spreadsheets.
Creative and human-resources departments are the top subjects of complaints
Since all the entries in the spreadsheets are anonymous, Business Insider was unable to confirm their accuracy, including the allegations themselves and their authors.
Three versions of the spreadsheet have been published, in 2016, 2018, and 2019. A comprehensive study of the language in the documents released last year by two communications professionals named Pedro Henrique Barreto and Ingrid Natasha de Oliveira showed nearly 7,500 comments in the most recent spreadsheet, up from around 500 in 2016.
The study showed that creative and human-resources departments were the top subjects of complaints, with many entries referring to egotistical and “bullying” leadership and alleging harassment and “machista,” or male chauvinism. According to the study, these terms sometimes occur alongside allegations of homophobia and racism.
The study predicted the next version of the spreadsheets would go live in the coming weeks.
Ken Fujioka is the co-founder and former chairman of industry trade group O Grupo de Planejamento, which conducted its own study of sexual harassment at Brazilian ad agencies in 2017. He is also the founder of the Sao Paulo-based consultancy ADA Strategy, and two industry sources said he has been an advocate for change on behalf of women, minorities, and others who have experienced harassment while working in the ad industry.
Fujioka told Business Insider he didn’t know who created the spreadsheets. A source familiar with the sheets said their public links have been frequently deleted, but Fujioka provided a copy of the 2019 version to Business Insider.
Allegations of racism, machismo, and class divides are common themes
There were positive things mentioned among the thousands of entries in the spreadsheets, but their tone is overwhelmingly negative.
One spreadsheet entry about an agency read, “We already know that Machismo is the letter of law. The whistleblower channel is bulls—.” Another alleged that employees were fired after reporting harassment to HR.
“I would feel more comfortable working in a snake’s nest — with the difference that at least in the snake’s nest you expect poison,” another wrote.
Other frequent topics of concern are low salaries, personal grudges against executives, and agency offices in lower-income areas — a topic that highlights Brazil’s class divide.
“Are you black? Don’t even try to send your portfolio,” one comment about another agency said.
Brazil is an important market for the ad industry’s top holding companies
According to eMarketer, which has the same parent company as Business Insider, Brazil’s total ad spend will top $15 billion for the first time this year — a fraction of the $258 billion expected to be spent in the US but far bigger than any other Latin American country, according a recent study from PwC.
For that reason, Brazil has long been an important area of investment for the big holding companies. It has also famously served as a breeding ground for US talent.
The spreadsheets have been a hot topic in the Brazilian agency world
Two agency executives with ties to Brazil said the spreadsheets have been a hot topic in the Brazilian ad industry.
A Brazilian ad-agency executive now working in the US, whose identity we confirmed, spoke with Business Insider on condition of anonymity for fear of his own security. He said he and his Brazilian colleagues were aware of the spreadsheets. He said he believed they suggest a longstanding trend of misbehavior in the industry that is worse in Brazil than in the US.
Laura Chiavone, a managing partner at the Omnicom consultancy Sparks & Honey in New York, said the spreadsheets have become a trending topic in the Brazilian ad industry.
Chiavone is a native Brazilian who worked for more than 15 years at top agencies in Brazil before moving to the US. She also founded the Portuguese and English-language nonprofits Like a Boss Curso Lideranca and More Girls to advocate for female creative professionals.
She told Business Insider the popularity of the spreadsheets reflected a generational divide, as young industry professionals are less tolerant of “old behaviors” than their older counterparts are. She also said laws prohibiting workplace harassment were less clear in Brazil than in the US.
But she said agencies were facing pressure from clients to treat employees well, along with increased competition from tech companies and startups.
Chiavone said the Brazilian ad industry had more female leaders than it used to but that the country still has a sexism problem, citing a 2017 speech in which Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro referred to his daughter as “a moment of weakness.”
But 2018 reports showed the number of people living in extreme poverty rose by 2 million, or 4%, in one year, and there is a significant wage gap between white and Afro-Brazilian residents.
* * *