Tickled Media’s Roshni Mahtani on harassment: ‘Men saw me as a conquest’

The chief executive officer of Tickled Media has shut down the idea that sexual harassment only comes from men in positions of power after revealing that she was treated as a “conquest” by more junior colleagues.

Roshni Mahtani, who founded the Asia-Pacific parenting guide in 2009, said she experienced a lot of “weird harassment” as she climbed the career ladder in Singapore – with men viewing it as a challenge to try and “bed” her.

Responding to an audience question about the Harvey Weinstein fallout during the Mumbrella360 Asia’s Question Time panel [23.00 on the video] in early November, Mahtani told delegates at the conference in SIngapore that harassment was widespread in Asia.

“[Sexual harassment] is a little rampant in Asia because you’re starting to see more women enter the workforce and taking on more roles than the traditional housewife or the mother at home,” she said. “If you’re clear you’re not going to accept it and we women start calling it out… the guys do start coming in with their tails between their legs.”

Responding to fellow panel member Nicholas Ye of The Secret Little Agency, who said his colleagues were “strong confident and powerful” women who would “loudly call out” harassment, Mahtani said: “I don’t think it is about being strong, confident and powerful. When I was climbing the rungs of the ladder and started wielding a lot more power and influence, men look[ed] at it as another type of weird harassment. [It’s] in the sense of how can I get her to bed me even if they are more junior than me because it becomes like a conquest.”

Roshni Mahtani: ‘When I first started my career, I remember I would bring some male executives for meetings, and there were senior level agencies and brand managers who would not even speak to me.’

She added: “In markets like Indonesia I feel [the men] are very respectful of me as a woman. I have not necessarily experienced that here in Singapore. When I first started my career, I remember I would bring some male executives for meetings, and there were senior level agencies and brand managers who would not even speak to me. They would direct the question to my male counterpart, who was actually reporting to me. They were like: ‘You’re a young girl, what do you know.’ It’s definitely improved over the last seven years, but we women need to call it out.”

Tobias Wilson, the CEO of ad-tech firm APD, meanwhile called sexual harassment “fucking gross”, adding: “If you see it or know about it and don’t do anything, you are 100 per cent part of the problem. And you should feel fucking horrible about it.”

During the Mumbrella Asia Question Time session, which focused on the biggest issues to hit the media and marketing world this year, the panel also debated the effects of the global economic climate on the region’s industry among other hot topics.

Intel APAC’s marketing director Ajay Mohan said [6:00]: “Globally, the stock markets are up; most companies are investing more in this part of the world. Yes there is growth. Is that translating into marketing dollars and advertising revenue? I think that linearity is still to be established.

Every year we get the line: you should be able to do more with less and if you stretch that to infinity, you will be doing everything with nothing. The reality is, folks are asking you: ‘How can you optimise?’ Be it, how do you want to get markets clustered or how do you want to get media optimisation. In the past, we would do ‘always on’ throughout the year. Now we work through three peak sales seasons.”

Looking closer to home, Mahtani said she had felt pinch in Singapore but performance was strong in other parts of Asia. She said: “Singapore this year has not been as stellar as we hoped it would be. We had a decent first quarter, but it started dipping after. But markets like Indonesia and Thailand have done so well for us that’s it’s made up for where Singapore has not grown as much.”

Mediacorp’s chief commercial officer Parminder Singh added: “In terms of advertising revenue, growth has been restrained. But in times of a crisis, that’s where an opportunity is to be made. If everything is fine you fall into complacency. When you have to fight and justify every marketing dollar, you have to be innovative; you have to think creatively.”

From left: Darren Woolley, Parminder Singh and Nicholas Ye

Answering a question from the audience about whether the agency-of-record concept and fat retainer budgets were under threat, Wilson said [21:45]: “”I bloody hope so. If you have a true partner who understands your business and the value they are delivering to your bottom line, why would you go shopping every two years. It’s ridiculous for everybody. It takes marketers away from what they should be doing; agencies or whatever away. Everybody should be looking for long-term partnerships and it should be continuously improving.”


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