McCann tackles unconscious bias with 'a day for meaning'

"People want to be better," says McCann Worldgroup CEO Harris Diamond.

Unconscious bias is perhaps the most sinister and problematic behavior when it comes to diversity and inclusion due to its endemic, often cultural nature.

Despite this, McCann Worldgroup attempted to tackle the issue with an all-day, all-hands internal event on October 22. During "A Day for Meaning," the company’s roughly 20,000 employees participated in workshops, surveys and meetings centered around a number of issues, with unconscious bias being top of the list. 

"The issue of unconscious bias permeates pretty much all cultures and regions. You can look to identify and terminate bigotry or predators, but unconscious bias goes deeper," Harris Diamond chairman and CEO of McCann told Campaign US. 

"It was amazing to see people holding meetings until 6 or 7pm that started that morning at 9.30 or 10am. That’s the great thing about this industry -- people want to be better."

According to Diamond, "A Day for Meaning" was the culmination of a little over a year of discussion concerning the issue of unconscious bias, with other steps taken beforehand as well, inclduing other D&I programs as well as the appointment of Singleton Beato as chief diversity and chief engagement officer in 2017.

Harris said the agency network will continuously act on this issue on a global scale beyond a single day event.

"We’ll see how it unfolds around the next year and beyond. It would be naive to think that these issues would go away overnight, but I think we can change. It will take time, but we've been working on this for a couple of years and this is our way of accelerating," Diamond explained.

The first step, he said, was getting a hold on what unconscious bias actually is, with one important distinction being that it can go far beyond race or sex. 

"In some countries, we have a tendency to hire people from cities for example -- that's just the nature of the beast and something that we’re looking at," said Diamond.

"The issues around the globe are different, but at the same time, they are similar. The underlying concept of accepting people for who they are regardless of background or what they believe or all the other ways we divide people is universal around the world, even if the actual dividing lines might be different. This could be religion in some offices, ethnic groups in others and so on.

"We want everyone to see other people for who they are."

And to that point, Diamond noted that no one in any office around the globe felt like they were forced to participate or questioned the meaning behind the event.  

"There was no place in the world where someone said to me, 'why are we doing this?'" he said. 

What people did have questions about is what comes next.

"While we plan on tackling this on a global scale, people have to figure out how to handle this on an individual level themselves and hopefully, this has opened all of our eyes to the issue. It’s essentially a human-to-human problem, with a human-to-human solution," Diamond added. 

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