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Why you shouldn't ask someone like me about diversity

Michael Roth, chairman and CEO at IPG on why we need to rethink our assumptions about diversity

Like most of corporate America, at IPG we know that we still have much more to do.  

For many years we have worked at making diversity, equality and inclusion part of our DNA – we have learned a lot along the way by tracking our activities and results. We’ve made measurable progress.

But, through our involvement with organizations such as the Center for Talent Innovation, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion and the UN Unstereotype Alliance, we’ve learned that we need to re-think some of our assumptions. And while we’re proud of what we have accomplished, there are still some ongoing beliefs and behaviors that are barriers to our progress – we need to be more informed and intentional about our values and how they shape the workplace, as well as our work.

We need to embrace sustainable diversity. We need to value those who are different. We must focus on where and how we recruit, assess and manage talent, as well as who we celebrate and how we represent people of difference in our work.

Simply put, we need to abandon "that’s how it’s always been" or "that’s what has always worked best" thinking. Instead, creating new narratives and opportunities that celebrate people in un-stereotypical ways.

So, how do we do this?

Don’t ask someone like me
Inclusivity is essential. It means deliberate outreach and actions to improve both representation and belonging of marginalized groups. We must all become more intentional and vigilant about using a diversity lens on everything we do.

The only way to understand what needs to change and what solutions are best is to learn from and involve women, people of color, the disabled, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, and global talent in creating the solutions.

But if you really want to know how we are doing with diversity and inclusion – don’t ask someone like me. Ask those who have traditionally been marginalized.

At IPG, we’ve invested in studies into how to disrupt bias in assessing potential new talent, and sponsorship at work. We are applying what we’ve learned from those studies and have improved our analytics to identify where and why we are having success, as well as pain points and remedies.

Formal accountability
Making sure our employees feel safe at work is the entry point, the prerequisite for everything – being kind and respectful, learning about and appreciating our differences, and ultimately being top-notch partners for our clients.

Another core aspect of our drive to ensure change is formal accountability for our network and agency CEOs. And it’s working. Our people have come to expect opportunities like our Inclusion Forum calls, where they can talk to our senior management and each other on topics around race, immigration concerns and even managing the emotional turmoil that is worsened by world events. 

We’ve made it clear through our actions that we want people to come forward when they see behavior that runs counter to inspired inclusivity, and that they will receive support from the center when they do.

Change inside, change outside
Internal change has measurably impacted the work we put into the marketplace.

The Oreo work from The Martin Agency debuted on the GRAMMY Awards, featuring Wiz Khalifa and his young son.

McCann’s work for Microsoft that ran on the Super Bowl not only featured inclusive design and a new type of hero, it was also named the most effective ad that aired.

As Gloria Steinem said at the IPG Women’s breakfast in Cannes last year, "Advertising – its imagery and messages – is actually more influential than governments and religion."

This year at Cannes, juries will be asked to include un-stereotyping in their deliberations and this is an example of what it takes to shift culture. Times call for it, and for more inspired ways of practicing inclusivity.

This article is brought to you as part of a wider content series around our Female Frontier awards. To find out more about the awards, visit our dedicated hub.

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