Cindy Gallop on disrupting sex, diversity, shared value and change from the bottom up

Cindy Gallop is on a mission to change the world of business and the world of sex, as an entrepreneur with two bold ventures and a provocative voice on the global speaking circuit. Determined and “values-driven”, Gallop has been busy over the past decade since retiring from 30 years in advertising, mostly with Bartle Bogle Hegarty. She started out in London before moving to New York where she started up BBH’s presence in the US and earned herself the title of New York Advertising Woman of the Year in 2003.

Gallop’s passion to drive healthy attitudes and behaviour around sex led to her launching Make Love Not Porn, an online membership community sharing real-world sex videos and open, healthy conversations around sex.

Her other passionate venture is If We Ran The World, a website focused around promoting ‘micro actions’; small things people can do in order to affect the change they want to see in the world. The project is underpinned by Gallop’s core beliefs that the best and most profitable businesses focus on doing good in the world, and that real change occurs from the bottom up, not the top down; everyone is empowered to make a difference.

Marketing spoke to Gallop ahead of her visit to Wired for Wonder, the inspirational event series hosted by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Marketing: What are you planning on talking about at Wired for Wonder?

Cindy Gallop: What I’ll be talking about is the fact that the next big thing in tech is disrupting sex. I’ll be talking about that for several reasons: both because Silicon Valley and the tech world welcomes innovation and disruption in any other area of our lives and work except this one, which really needs it. But also because, our sexuality is such a fundamental part of our humanity, and yet we are all subject to a huge amount of shame and embarrassment around it. That is a massively inhibiting factor in all sorts of ways that are quite profound.

I’ll be talking about why I’d encourage all entrepreneurs to consider starting sex tech ventures, why I would encourage investors to fund sex tech ventures, and why I think a more open healthy honest attitude to sex and sexuality is a key part of designing the future that we would all like to see for ourselves.

M: You also talk a lot about gender equality. We’ve come a long way in the last couple of decades but what particular issues do you see being most prevalent at the moment?

CG: I think the key thing about my approach to all of this is that I say to men: we live in a world where the default setting is always male. Men, you have no idea how much happier you would be living and working in a world that was 50-50 equally informed, influenced, designed, managed, led and driven by women just as much as men. So I’m all about creating, designing a gender-equal world where men will thoroughly benefit as much as women will.

M: Is that something that you think men don’t really get at this point?

CG: I think because, as I said, the default setting is always male, I think men feel as trapped in certain ways of being as women are, and men don’t feel able to break free of those in the same way that so many women don’t. For example, I talk about the need to redesign the world of business and of work, so that it is absolutely coming from a place of total gender equality.

The reason why that’s important is because the entire corporate structure, the way in which every company works today, is predicated on the concept of the housewife. The entire corporate structure was designed and built up at a time when it was believed that only men would ever go to work and there would always be a woman at home taking care of everything else. Everything’s changed. Corporate systems and structures haven’t.

So just as there are as many women as men who burn with an ambition to reach the top, there are as many women as men who want to make a shit tonne of money, there are as many women as men who enormously enjoy the exercise of power, there are just as many men as women who hate going into the office on a monday morning, there are as many men as women who want to spend time with their children, there are as many men as women who look at the upper echelons of their company and go, ‘I don’t want to be there’.

And by the way I get very frustrated when people talk about the lack of women at senior management level, etcetera, as being due to ‘the mummy track’. That’s absolutely not the case. Separate to all family and child considerations, at the top of every company and every industry is a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys. Sensible women look up at the top of their company and go, ‘Who the fuck would ever want to work like that?’

So, when we redesign the world of business, and that redesign is equally informed by women as well as men, women design the kind of business world that they will thoroughly enjoy rising to the top in and they will thrive in, and many men will find they’ll be a lot happier working in that world than they are in the current one.

M: This seems to be the next step in what needs to happen in feminism, because things have changed for women but maybe they haven’t changed for men.

CG: They haven’t changed enough for women either. White guys feel comfortable hiring guys like them, white guys feel comfortable co-founding businesses and agencies with guys like them, white guys like working with guys like them, white guys like socialising with guys like them.

Working with women is uncomfortable because we’re ‘other’. We have different mindsets, perspectives, and that’s why I say to men: if you want to own the future, you have to get uncomfortable, because out of that discomfort comes greatness. Innovation and disruption is born out of many different mindsets, perspectives, worldviews, insights, all coming together in constructive creative conflict, to get to a better place that nobody could’ve gotten to on their own. With a closed group of white guys, it’s same old same old. Women challenge the status quo because we are never it.

I say to every company, if you want to do one thing right now to set your business on a more innovative, disruptive path, it’s enormously easy. Take a long, hard look at your business, identify every single area within it that is all male or male-dominated. Change that. Just doing that one thing will instantly set your business on a more innovative and disruptive path.

M: This is very much a discussion about women’s roles, but when you’re talking about ‘white guys’, what about people who are non-white? Are you trying to push equality there as well?

CG: Absolutely. Everything I say about gender applies equally to race, ethnicity, sexuality. Diversity drives innovation – diversity of everything. That’s how you get different mindsets, different perspectives, different worldviews. Ideas you would never have thought of that come from completely different backgrounds, completely different worlds.

M: I also wanted to ask about your project, If We Ran The World. You’ve spoken about how businesses need to change in order to be more focused on actually doing good for the world. What can you tell me about where you think things are at with that and where they need to go?

CG: My 30 years of working in advertising have made me believe very strongly that the future of business is doing good and making money simultaneously.

But not in the way that everybody’s currently doing it, which goes, ‘We make money here, and then we do good by writing cheques to causes that clear our conscience over here’, but the new world order way of ‘we make money because we do good’; we find a way to integrate social responsibility into the way that we do business on a day-to-day basis that therefore makes it a key driver of future growth and profitability.

I believe the business model of the future is: ‘shared values plus shared action equals shared profit’; financial profit and social profit.

When brands and businesses come together with their audiences, their consumers, on the basis of values that you all share, and when you’ve been enabled to collaboratively and collectively co-act on those values to walk the talk together, you can make things happen in the real world which will benefit consumers, benefit society and benefit the brand and its business.

M: There are a lot of big companies out there that are entrenched in their historical ways of doing things. how much of a big shift is this going to be; how realistic is it that some companies are going to be able to actually take on this new way of operating?

CG: If We Ran The World also exemplifies my belief that change happens from the bottom up, not the top down. So what I say to everybody is, ‘Don’t expect the management, the leadership, the industry organisation, to make things change. They won’t’. Change happens with you and I, every day undertaking microactions, and by the way the micro action is the atomic unit of If I Ran The World. Every one of us taking micro actions to design the business we want to work in, the world we want to live in, cumulatively that adds up to huge change.

M: So the message is: don’t expect your boss to come in and make the changes. You’ve got to take responsibility at the bottom level?

CG: Absolutely. I was very struck – I was speaking at the 3% Conference in London a couple of months ago and one of the things that they do is speed mentoring, which works like speed dating. A bunch of industry veterans, myself included, sit round at tables and we have a number of young people in the industry, students, and everybody has six minutes each to hit the mentor with their problem, issue, you know, whatever.

When I gave my closing keynote, I said to the audience that during the speed mentoring exercise (and I said by the way, this is no reflection at all on the mentees, because this is the way that we’re taught to think), but I was very struck by the passivity of the questions I was asked. People would ask me things like, ‘Cindy, what do you think is the future of our industry?’ or ‘Cindy, how can I get a job in a big agency?’ and my response to them, and I shared this with the audience was: the future of our industry is what you and I make it. You don’t ‘get a job’ in a big agency, you look at an agency, you identify something that they should be doing that they’re not, you approach them and you go, ‘you need me to do this for you and by the way you’re really lucky that I came up with this idea and I’m here now talking to you’. The job you take should be the one that you create.

I regularly have to remind people that the change they want to see is absolutely in their grasp. too many people think that the future just happens without us and we are its victims. Not at all. Every one of us can decide the industry we’d like to work in, the business we’d like to do, the life we’d like to live, and start making it happen.

So for people who work within big companies and want to change the way they work, I go, first of all, do a micro action. Everything in life and business starts with a micro action. Find a tiny bite sized chunk of something where you can redesign the way you do it and make it happen because the important thing there is that you do something differently and you have proof of concept, because that then enables you to say to the wider organisation, ‘Look, when we did this like this, there were really good results, so why don’t we do bigger things’. I’m all about communication through demonstration; don’t talk about it, do it, because that’s the best way of showing it and persuading people it’s a good thing to do.

M: When it comes to advice on how people should be moving forward in their lives and careers, some people say we should have an idea of where we want to go then aim for it, and others advise to just be open to opportunities. Where do you sit on that?

CG: I’ve never had a plan. everything in my life and career has been a complete accident.

M: But you seem to be very purpose-driven at the same time…

CG: No, I’m not purpose-driven, I’m values-driven. That’s because I live my own philosophies and my startups are manifestations of them. Everything in life and business starts with you and your values. And that is not a way that we are taught to think about either our lives or our business, and so I say to people: identify what you believe in, what you value, what you stand for, what you’re all about, what matters to you. And then live your life and do your work according to those values. Because a) that makes life so much simpler – life still throws you all this shit it always will, but you know exactly how to respond to it in any given situation in a way that is true to you, and b) that will absolutely determine your course for you. If you focus only on doing things that are true to you, you will do the things that you love doing, and they will be drawn to you equally.

M: So if a large organisation is just a collection of people, sometimes we need to compromise a little bit in order to fit in with the company, right?

CG: I go back to my concept of shared values, in the first instance you should only want to work for an organisation that shares your values. Because if you don’t you’re going to be very unhappy.

M: Have you got any projects in the pipeline, anything else you’re planning on doing in the next couple of months or years? What can we next expect from Cindy Gallop?

CG: Well If We Ran The World is my attempt to redesign the future of business and Make Love Not Porn is my attempt to redesign the future of sex. Both of those are quite big enough to be going on with for the rest of my life. Those are the two things I’m interested in, and those are all that I’ll be doing. Everything I do cross references – everything is aligned around those two objectives.

M: Awesome. Thank you so much for chatting with me, that was really interesting.

CG: No, total pleasure. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Sydney and Melbourne.

Michelle Herbison
BY Michelle Herbison ON 19 August 2015
Assistant editor, Marketing Magazine.