Increasing the representation of African-Americans in the advertising industry has been a consistent challenge for many years. Over a decade ago, Interpublic Group (IPG) committed to increasing diversity and forging a culture of inclusion at the global network of advertising, PR, digital, branding and marketing agencies. The mission was based on a business case driven by the factors that include the potential for improved financial performance, connecting with changing consumers, increased innovation and creativity, winning the war for talent and alignment with corporate values.
IPG industry firsts are numerous and include being the first industry holding company to hire a diversity officer and a supplier diversity director, establish a dedicated department, link diversity and inclusion criteria to compensation and engage the board in formal metrics reviews. The mission has always been personally championed by Chairman and CEO, Michael Roth, who leads an inter-company Diversity Council comprised of CEOs from various agencies.
The company’s vision is to create value through D&I for all stakeholder groups including employees, clients, business partners, shareholders and our communities. The strategy emphasizes leveraging diversity and inclusion to drive business results by tapping a diverse talent base, ensuring an inclusive work environment, contributions from diverse business partners and community partnerships. Results are measured including a range of workforce diversity statistics, an employee survey, a supplier diversity program and outcomes of partnerships with community and industry trade organizations.
On the programmatic side, IPG’s efforts include five inter-agency business resource groups including the Black Employee Network, Asian Heritage Group and IPGLBT. Mentoring training, a two-year fellowship program for diverse talent and more recently, an initiative targeting high-potential women and People of Color at the senior levels are important elements of the program as well. IPG recently piloted an initiative, IDEAL (Interpublic Diverse Emerging and Aspiring Leaders), which resulted in a 61% promotion rate, and has earned IPG honors from the New York Urban League and the Profiles in Diversity Journal. IDEAL aims to accelerate the progression of diverse talent in leadership roles.
In 2016, IPG’s corporate diversity and inclusion group registered over 8,000 employees for more than 75 programs. Activities included an event exploring the role of Black music in marketing and a panel discussion on Black women in leadership.
Heide Gardner, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for IPG, established the D&I function and the strategy collaboratively with Michael Roth and Philippe Krakowsky, IPG’s Chief Strategy and Talent Officer. According to Gardner, the extent of the leadership commitment is remarkable. “I’m living a CDO’s dream in terms of accessibility and support. Both Michael and Philippe, as well as our board, are personally committed to diversity and inclusion and they are big believers in holding our senior executives accountable for this important business issue. They see D&I as major differentiators across all stakeholder groups and are willing to take a stand.” Gardner cites examples of this commitment including Roth’s memo to employees following the July 2016 police-involved shootings of African-American men and attacks on Dallas police officers, as well as his post-election affirmation of IPG’s D&I values that was sent to all 52,000 employees globally.
Metrics are important at IPG. While the company’s officials are quick to explain that there is much more to do and additional progress to be made, they are pleased to note that racial and ethnic minorities make up almost 20% of U.S. officials and managers, which is an increase of 94% since they implemented a robust accountability system. For the professional talent base, 26% are People of Color, an increase of 35% during that same time period. The company also points to the board of directors, which is 40% women – a rarity for Fortune 500 companies – and includes an African-American woman, Jocelyn Carter Miller.
Looking to the future, Gardner predicts more stringent objectives for agencies, increased emphasis on pulling bias out of key talent processes and strategies to leverage diversity for client problem solving.
“This really is a journey and the bar is placed higher every year.”