Optimism trumps optics

Last week, Omnicom put five male CEOs on stage to talk about women. Here's why the EVP and founder of Omniwomen isn't sorry about it

Last Tuesday, March 15, Omniwomen, Omnicom's leading women's network, hosted an historic panel discussion on the topic of women's leadership and its importance to doing business in the 21st century.

When the panelists were announced, I, and many members of the Omniwomen Governing Body, received quite a few emails questioning our casting of this panel. On this panel sat the five global CEOs of our five networks — Andrew Robertson of BBDO; Dale Adams of Diversified Agency Services (DAS); Chuck Brymer of DDB; Daryl Simm of Omnicom Media Group; and Troy Ruhanen of TBWA.

The question asked in these emails was the obvious: Why are five men talking about women's leadership? And wasn't there one woman within Omnicom that should rightfully be on that stage?

My answer to the first question is that without these five men, we are never going to fulfill our mission of increasing the influence and number of women in leadership positions across our global networks.

My answer to the second is that engaging and partnering with the leaders of these five networks is our pathway to having women on that stage in the not-too-distant future.

We can no longer make this an "us" versus "them" issue. This is serious business and we need to work together in solving the problem of gender inequity in leadership roles. As Troy Ruhanen stated, this is not a women's issue, this is everyone's issue. I am very proud of those five CEOs who spoke with commitment to and passion for advancing women in their leadership ranks.

And I realize that words are just words if actions don't follow, and I am heartened by and proud of the actions we are seeing within the Omnicom network. Just to mention a few, in the past few months, I’ve seen Megan Pagliuca become CEO of Accuen; Wendy Clark, CEO, DDB North America; Karen van Bergen, CEO of the newly formed Omnicom Public Relations Group; and Sharon Callahan, CEO of TBWA World Health and Chief Client Officer of the recently established Omnicom Healthcare Group. With the addition of Debbie Kissire, Omnicom’s independent Board of Directors now is 40% women. And 25% of our DAS companies are led by women.

I believe that all of this is a harbinger of even greater things to come for women in leadership ranks throughout Omnicom and our industry. However, as Wendy Clark so eloquently put it during the 4A’s Transformation Summit, ‘We must stay restless on the discussion of gender and diversity and not allow it to become a conversation only when something goes wrong."

And I believe in the sincerity of the men that lead our networks; there was a lot of commitment on that stage last Tuesday night, and I trust that, by working side by side, men and women, those commitments will be met.

Because we are truly better together.

Janet Riccio is executive vice president and founder of Omniwomen.

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