She faced and then skillfully addressed the issues of inclusion and wage parity at Forsman & Bodenfors, and now serves as a bellwether for others to follow.
Prota is based in the New York office of the Swedish ad agency, known for its work for Volvo and P&G, and counts 600-plus employees over three continents.
In facing the diversity and inclusion issue head on, Proto fostered an environment where, today, 45 percent of new hires in 2018 and 2019 belong to an under-represented ethnicity. Sixty-four percent of new hires were women, many of them in management.
To get there, Prota focused on creating pipelines for such talent to emerge and be placed, starting with implementing a text-analytics platform to create unbiased job descriptions.
Prota and colleagues have run a dozen programs to help people flag unconscious biases and learn how to conduct "courageous conversations."
At Forsman, employees can join informal groups, such as ForsWomen and Out in the Office. In addition for fostering title-less teams, she’s known for fostering an environment where people can be the same person at work that they are with their friends and family.
She’s taken her commitment to diversity and inclusion outside of the agency. Forsman & Bodenfors played a vital role in the launch of an open talent pool, Grow Your Circle.org, for agencies and brands to hire from under-represented minorities.
"I'm extremely impressed with the results that Michele has driven within her company," noted one of Campaign’s judges. "And to top it off, she's built a tool for the industry to help surface under-represented people in the creative industry. Bravo."
As for pay equity, Forsman & Bodenfors took the 3% Movement pledge in April and by November had become the first agency to receive global certification by the group. In New York, Prota had the analytics company, Syndio, run a compensation study and she used that information to implement equal starting salaries. Now, women in New York outearn men by two cents.
A few other programs that bear Prota’s stamp include day-to-day, quality-of-life initiatives like no meetings between noon and 1:15 p.m. so people are more likely to take a lunch break and the policy that people sending emails after 7 p.m. should not expect a reply until the next day.
Another biggie: a parental leave policy with three months paid and an optional three months unpaid leave for both parents. When these new parents come back to work, they can flow into the Returnship program that staggers work-from-home/office ratios over a few months.
"We have two clear goals when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion," she says. "Match the markets we serve and create a space at work where people can be themselves. That way, our insights are deeper, our creative is more powerful, and our workplace is happier."