Anonymous spreadsheets allege sexual harassment and racism at some of the biggest ad agencies in Brazil

Anonymous spreadsheets allege sexual harassment and racism at some of the biggest ad agencies in Brazil
Sao Paulo
  • Anonymous entries claiming to be written by thousands of 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 found that creative and human resources departments are the top subjects of complaints and that many entries make accusations of bullying, homophobia, and racism.
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Thousands of entries claiming to be written by current and former employees in the Brazilian advertising industry - including some of the countries biggest agencies - have appeared on anonymous spreadsheets that allege sexism, racism, and bullying at those companies.


The anonymous, public Google spreadsheets started in 2016 and are titled "Como é trabalhar aí?" or "What's it like to work there?"

Their allegations range from harassment and racism to unsanitary work spaces. Among those named are Brazilian agencies owned by some of the international ad holding companies including WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, IPG, Havas, and others. Not all of the allegations were necessarily made about each of the holding companies' groups; Business Insider has not done that analysis.

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"There is a lot of gossip, speculation, shameful wages, professional exploitation," reads one translated entry making accusations about a top PR firm. Another claims "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 complaint

Since all the entries in the spreadsheets are anonymous, Business Insider was unable to confirm their accuracy, including the claims themselves and their authorship.

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 Brazilian agency trade organization O Grupo de Planejamento showed nearly 7,500 comments in the most recent spreadsheet, up from around 500 in 2016.

The study found that creative and human resources departments are 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 claims of homophobia and racism.

The study predicted the next version of the spreadsheets would go live in the coming weeks.

Ken Fujioka is chairman of O Grupo de Planejamento, which did the study of the spreadsheets. He's also the founder of 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 doesn'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.

Claims 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 bullshit." Another claimed 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," wrote another.

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 to [this person]," reads one comment about another agency.

Brazil is an important market for the ad industry's top holding companies

According to eMarketer, which shares 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 to be spent in the US, but far bigger than any other Latin American country, per 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 hot topics in the Brazilian agency world

Two agency executives with Brazil ties said that the spreadsheets have been hot topics in the Brazilian ad industry.

A Brazilian ad agency executive now working in the US, who spoke to Business Insider on condition of anonymity for fear of his own security, 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, managing partner at 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 more than 15 years at top agencies in Brazil before moving to the US. She also founded 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 reflects 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 are less clear in Brazil than in the US.

But she said agencies are facing pressure from clients to treat employees well, along with increased competition from tech companies and startups.

Chiavone said the Brazilian ad industry has more female leaders than it used to but that the country still has a sexism problem, citing a 2017 speech in which President Jair Bolsonaro referred to his own daughter as "a moment of weakness."


Brazil also has struggled to address its history of slavery, which was abolished in 1888. In 2010, a majority of its more than 200 million citizens identified as non-white for the first time.

But 2018 reports found 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.