UM Worldwide: The Evolution of Equity and its Rightful Place

by Savoy Staff

(l to r) Lynn Lewis, US CEO, UM and Jeff Marshall, VP, Head of Diversity, Equity & Belonging, UM

By Lynn Lewis and Jeff Marshall

2020 was a year unlike any other. It was a year of racial reckoning that led to a fundamental dismantling of status quo diversity practices and commitments, forcing true “equity” to the forefront. The concept of “equity” turned into a philosophical and practical action-driven mission around corporate America’s inability to drive meaningful progress around Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). “Equity” became a rallying cry to evaluate all aspects of business practices to finally implement real, lasting change.

The new focus on “equity” in the corporate milieu (reflected, for example, in the evolution of the terminology from “D&I” to “DE&I”) is a turning point for not just how the advertising and media industry approaches DE&I, but also for the country and society at large. As a leading media agency, UM leverages data-driven insights to shape media strategies and content to connect with audiences in culturally relevant ways. As the country leans into increasing representation across all aspects of our culture, UM’s deep commitment to driving diversity – what we call “Diversity, Equity & Belonging” (DE&B) – at our workplace and in our work is core to our 360° approach to futureproof both our own and our clients’ businesses. Over the past year, we have embraced the evolution of equity and all that it inspires, gleaning some key insights for our own DE&B journey:

Corporate DE&B Success Requires Commitment from the Top Down

At UM, we have been on our DE&B journey for years – and it’s far from over. Our success to date can largely be attributed to structure and passion from the top: a dedicated DE&B leader of an employee-led Council that partners with the CEO, CMO and Head of HR to hold our leadership accountable to our diversity goals. But we learned that wasn’t enough. The next step in our journey was to infuse those same commitments and goals at every level and in everything we do. One important step we took was integrating strategic DE&B roadmaps into our annual business plans for our client leads and teams, driving transparency and accountability in all aspects of our business. This action was critical in moving from a declaration of a commitment to DE&B to fully embodying it in how our people approach the work.

It’s Not Just About the Numbers

While we continue to make progress with our multi-pronged strategy to attract, inspire and retain diverse talent, increasing diversity alone is not enough. To thrive, employees need to feel they belong. And if equity is to be successful, belonging must be core to how we make our employees feel valued. We do this by celebrating individual uniqueness, creating deeper cultural understanding and fostering connections. Over the past year, we evolved our employee culture-focused programs to go deeper, moving beyond simply celebrating heritage months to providing educational and action-oriented materials and resources around Black and minority experiences in the workplace and the world. We took actions to address historical inequities, such as making Juneteenth a national holiday for the agency moving forward, to go beyond the myopic focus on simply increasing diverse hires to ensuring that our culture and actions around “Diversity, Equity & Belonging” ring true for the Black community.

All Aspects of our Ecosystem Must Be Intentional 
in Addressing Inequities

DE&B is not a talent issue, nor is it just “the right thing to do” — it’s good for business and, at UM, it is injected into our product, services and relationships. In 2019, we integrated a strategic framework into our planning process to ensure we capture cultural trends among diverse consumer segments to inform our client work. However, while understanding audiences’ differences is important, it must also impact how we partner with clients as well as media vendors. Last year, we introduced a first-of-its-kind set of Media Responsibility Principles in an effort to protect the communities that a brand serves and weigh the societal impact of advertising and marketing content. The Principles ensure that ads are non-discriminatory and delivered to diverse audiences while requiring advertisers and marketers to demonstrate that they celebrate all forms of diversity. In addition, our negotiation terms with vendors now require transparency on social equity applications and diversity policies, as well as collaboration on minority recruitment.

It’s a Constant Journey

While corporate America may be taking steps in the right direction, the DE&B journey is far from over. At UM, we constantly reevaluate and evolve our strategic actions around driving diversity in our relentless pursuit to do better. As total transparency creates trust and accountability, one step we took is releasing our employee diversity numbers externally. Our intention is to be held accountable – both internally and externally – to our goals around increasing diversity and to recognize that our work is not done.

As long as there are inequities in the world, we are committed to being a force for change.  And the only way to drive real, systemic change is to be active advocates and work to create a culture that recognizes all as equals. As individuals and as a company, we are committed to being that active ally.



0 comment

You may also like