Michael Roth: Empower your people to bring diversity to life

The IPG chief exec says the stats on women in the industry are "embarrassing" and those on people of color are "disgusting."

Interpublic Group Chairman and CEO Michael Roth said that holding companies need to set the tone for their agencies and empower their people when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

"The statistics on women in our industry are embarrassing, but when you look at the statistics of people of color in our industry, it’s disgusting to see how our industry is so far behind what other industries are doing," said Roth at Golin’s Have Her Back event in New York on Tuesday.

"In the end, what do we have to do? We have to take action," said Roth. "If you don't have a diverse organization, you won't be able to compete – it makes good business sense."

IPG, Roth added, makes diversity and inclusion a business priority and a financial objective. This decision isn’t about meeting quotas; it’s a business objective. He said that IPG has proved this – and there’s a lot of data out there today – that shows that companies comprised of diverse individuals perform better, so there’s a compelling financial case to make.

While technically the role of a holding company is to allocate capital, Roth said the most important capital a company has is its people.

IPG’s Board of Directors is currently 30 percent female (three women, six men), and Roth said he’s looking to hire another woman, which would bring it up to 40 percent and put the company in the top 15 of all Fortune 500 companies.

Roth, who was one of the first "manbassadors" for The 3% Movement, said he wants to help change the environment. After Golin Chief Creative Officer Caroline opened up the event and shared personal stories about sexual harassment and gender bias, Roth said the anecdotes were "eye-opening" and "pisses me off."

Dettman, who launched the Have Her Back initiative in March, told the audience that she didn’t speak up at first about the #MeToo movement – and it wasn’t because she didn’t have anything to say. "I made the realization that I was overwhelmed and I had so many stories to tell and I didn’t know where to begin," she said.

When Dettman was 23 years old, she said a client told her that if she didn’t sleep with him, the agency would lose the business. She added that she’s been followed into hotel rooms, touched without consent, been called inappropriate names and more. Thinking back on all this and hearing "horror stories" from women of all ages in the industry inspired Dettman to create Have Her Back. Women, she said, aren’t opting out of creative, "they’re opting out of agencies."

"We have to sort this out because there are problems when you don’t have enough female senior leaders," said Dettman. "It’s up to us at agencies to create a culture for these creative women to come back."

She acknowledged that changing culture is hard and takes patience. She also said that everyone has to take their anger around these issues and turn them into action. Golin, for example, has partnered with The 3% Movement on internal trainings.

At the start of the day, the event had already earned $2,500 for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

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