The Changing Face of the Mad Men

Marketers want their agency partners to accelerate diversity efforts. And their reasons go well beyond optics and political correctness

This week, key catalysts and stakeholders in our industry gather at ADCOLOR® to discuss and champion those who are making an impact on diversity and inclusion within the creative industry.

While I, as an individual, and we, at Ogilvy, are proud of the efforts we and our colleagues and competitors are doing to affect change, it is imperative that we - as an industry - not only celebrate the strides being made to correct the imbalance but also hold ourselves and others accountable from every direction.

Recently, in an action that could, and I also hope will, reverberate throughout the industry globally, Antonio Lucio, HP's chief marketing and communications officer, sent a letter to the company's PR and advertising agencies insisting they work towards adding more women and visible minorities to their staff at all levels.

Informing agency partners that women should represent 50% of partner agencies' staff, Lucio reflected on the make-up of HP's own marketing department. He has given the agencies 12 months to comply and, according to The Wall Street Journal, has said "anything is on the table" - including, presumably, being removed from HPs agency roster - if they fail to do so.

In the letter, Lucio said that appointing women and people of color to key roles within the agency is "not only a values issue, but a significant business imperative." He points out that women account for 53% of HP's computer sales and 45% of its printer sales.

HP is not alone in pushing for change on the client side. As part of its current creative review, General Mills has decreed that it wants the creative department of future agency partners to feature 50% women and 20% people of color. CMO Ann Simonds told "If you are going to put [the] people you serve first, the important thing is to live up to it and make it a key criteria."

I couldn't agree more - and salute the clients (including our own) making this important push on their suppliers. Ultimately, of course, marcomm companies shouldn't embrace workplace diversity merely to honor client demands - though it would be prudent for agency partners to heed their client wishes, of course - but because doing so is also a shrewd business move.

The business of PR is from a macro view about problem solving, but we limit conversation, ideas, insights, collaboration and fresh thinking with an underrepresentation of women and women of color in key leadership roles.

Thankfully, there is growing evidence from industry workplace surveys that the agency world is no longer locked in a state of stasis. Under Global CEO Stuart Smith's leadership, Ogilvy PR alone has achieved 71% gender parity in practice lead roles across our North America office and have more than a 50% balance of women to men on our Global ExCo and Worldwide Board.

Still, change hasn't been happening nearly wide enough across the industry. And evidently not fast enough for major clients.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending the ColorComm Conference in Miami (of which Ogilvy is a long-time supporter), where I led a panel that explored why PR - despite being highly inclusive of women at entry level - does not have the same representation within its senior ranks.

The panel noted that the discrepancy becomes even more stark for women of color. Writing in The Atlantic last year, Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of sociology at St. Louis's Washington University, said that "to be a black professional [in the United States] is often to be alone," noting that many black doctors, lawyers, etc. are in the "racial minority."

This creates challenges that range from discrimination to the psychological impact of being one of a handful of black faces in any given workplace.

We've heard how all women need to "lean in" more for those opportunities to become more senior. But I believe - and I reiterated this point on the panel - that we as an industry also have an obligation and responsibility to figure out how to help diversity thrive in the workplace, leaving our profession better than when we first came in. One of the best things we can do to achieve this? Keep making the wide-reaching case that diversity is a business necessity; that the very future of our relevance absolutely counts on it.

The evidence is there. Companies with higher representations of women in senior management teams, for instance, consistently deliver higher returns on key performance indicators.

And I predict that will continue to be a key differentiator between top performers and the rest. By 2050, the Center for American Progress notes that there will be no dominant racial or ethnic minority in the country. The era of the Mad Men has lingered for much too long and has to give way for one well-represented by men, women, and professionals of color. This rich diversity of minds is the only way to keep ensuring we produce breakthrough comms work for our clients.