Weber Shandwick pledges ‘meaningful change’ to improve staff diversity in 2021

Weber Shandwick CEO Gail Heimann
Weber Shandwick CEO Gail Heimann

CEO Gail Heimann called 2020 progress "minimal" due to a lack of hiring, but promised to pick up the pace this year.

NEW YORK: Weber Shandwick has released updated workforce data for 2020 that shows there's still a lot of work to be done improving diversity at the world’s second-largest PR agency by revenue.

Agency president and CEO Gail Heimann pledged that the Interpublic Group firm would release staff data annually and promised to do more to increase employee diversity this year than in 2020.

“We committed to proactively sharing our data each year to establish a clear and consistent benchmark for progress on representation," Heimann said via email. "We believe we need to communicate the past year’s data at a consistent time, early in the following year, and have committed to doing so by the end of February each year going forward.”

The agency broke down its 2020 numbers by three levels: EVP and above, SVP and VP and all other professional staffers. It compared those groups to its 2019 report and 2018 data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which reported seven categories: Black or African-American; Hispanic or Latino; Asian; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; American Indian or Alaskan Native; two or more races; and white.

In 2020, 3.4% of U.S. employees who ranked EVP or higher were Black or African-Amercan, up from 2.5% in 2019 and higher than the national average of 2.4% from the EEOC.

The agency found that 2.6% of the agency's SVPs and VPs were Black or African-American, compared to 4.1% in 2019. The rest of its professional staff saw no change, with 5.6% being Black or African-American, compared to 6.7% reported by the EEOC.

Asian staffers saw the biggest increase in representation at top levels, up to 8.2% at the EVP-or-higher bracket in 2020 from 6.2% the previous year. However, those numbers were lower than the national average, which was 10.1%, according to the EEOC.

However, at other levels, Asian employees saw the largest disparity. Weber reported that 4.9% of SVPs or VPs were Asian in 2020, a drop from 5.5% in 2019 and well below the 15.2% in comparable positions nationally. Only 8.2% of the rest of the agency's staff were Asian, less than half of the 18% as reported by the EEOC.

"There are some pockets of positive movement, specifically among BIPOC talent in our senior ranks, but certainly not the change we want to see, and not what we are focused on achieving during a normal hiring cycle," Heimann said. "Anything less than meaningful change at our next report will be unacceptable."

Last July, Weber released statistics showing that its percentage of executives in 2019 who were Black or African-American was in-line with averages at comparable businesses, though the diversity of its overall workforce was lower than others. At the time, Heimann called the numbers “unacceptable” and vowed to improve them.

Amid the wave of social justice protests and incidents of unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody last May, a group of PR pros called Hold the PRess asked agencies to release their workforce diversity statistics and pledge to recruit and cultivate Black talent. Ultimately, more than half of firms ignored the request by its end-of-July deadline.

At Weber, because 2020 was a tough year for the firm due to the pandemic — parent network IPG Dxtra saw revenue dip 11.2% to $1.1 billion for the year with its PR firms down on a mid-single-digit organic basis — hiring was minimal.

Yet Weber laid the foundation for what Heimann hopes will make a lasting impact in 2021 and beyond. The agency implemented mandatory unconscious bias training and cultural competency evaluations, and training was implemented specifically for Black employees and their managers to facilitate productive coaching and constructive criticism conversations. Weber has also pledged to diversify its talent pipeline through auditing its career-development processes and external partnerships to ensure diverse candidates.

"Real, sustainable change is our goal, and I believe that the foundational steps we’ve taken this year will help create a path toward that," Heimann said. "We’ve embarked on a long journey, but there’s no doubt we’re moving forward."

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