Interpublic Group – Silver Linings of the 2020 Crises: Foundations for the Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

by Savoy Staff

By Heide Gardner, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, IPG

At Interpublic Group (IPG), we have focused on diversity and inclusion broadly for many years. Our history has included tracking progress against formal goals. In fact, since 2006, we have tied metrics to incentive compensation for many of our top executives, including the CEOs who lead our global network of advertising, communications, media, technology and data companies. For nearly 20 years, IPG’s corporate diversity and inclusion team has offered support including research, operation of business resource groups, deployment of analytic tools and bespoke content to complement our agencies’ initiatives.

We have also supported minority-owned companies, like Savoy magazine, which is poised to continue to celebrate Black leaders and chronicle how companies like IPG address these times of disruption caused by racial and other diversity issues more than any time since the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Despite our long-time focus, like most of Corporate America, 2020 was a year of reckoning with the past and inspiration for a new future, a future that looks to close the persistent gaps between our intentions and our aspirations for inclusion. This is the silver lining in the beginning of this new decade that started with the COVID-19 pandemic, the traumatic impact of the viral videotaped killings of Black Americans including George Floyd, and the protests that followed.

Fortunately, last year’s increasingly common workplace conversations and public corporate positions on sensitive issues like racism and xenophobia were not new to IPG. Michael Roth, our Chairman and CEO at the time, took on these issues years ago. We were already championing the concept of intersectionality back in 2018, at the global Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, when we led a call to action for the advertising industry, supported by a study on women in five countries. Still, despite these and a host of other initiatives, we were among the vast majority of companies that needed to go deeper into our culture, with more urgency about equity and well-being.

Wise people have said that culture always beats strategy; tone at the top is critical and people need information, support and leadership in times like 2020. IPG’s long-standing history positioned us to anticipate needs and respond quickly. Our executives were already involved, authentic and fluent. As soon as long-term lock-downs became a reality, the IPG diversity and inclusion team sprang into action, delivering tools to check against potential biases and retention, and to address specific impacts of virtual work and stressors on the most at-risk and vulnerable. Examples of the focus on culture included our new website, which offers resources and tools tailored to equity and well-being for BIPOC, parents of different backgrounds, our LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and health conditions. With the help of experts from oklahoma dual diagnosis treatment, team has ensured that experienced and culturally competent providers were available as mental health resources.

The tone at the top made an enormous difference, as IPG’s Board wanted to stay informed, and weekly notes from our CEO reinforced our values and reminded people to consult the resources we provided, and to support one another. Our current Executive Chairman, Michael Roth, and our new CEO, Philippe Krakowsky, weighed in often and they personally led our Juneteenth Town Hall for thousands of our people, who joined despite our naming it a holiday. In addition to the real-time direct help to our people through 2020, IPG’s leadership also joined one of the most dramatic changes in corporate culture when we were the first agency holding company to publish our US EEO1 data by race/ethnicity and level, setting a new standard of accountability and transparency for our industry. While we look back at 2020, and admit we did not achieve perfection, we can also take some pride that we did achieve progress that will support our strategy and culture in 2021 and beyond.

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