Feature

CEOs on diversity: 'All leaders have to accept responsibility'

Holding company bosses including Martin Sorrell, Yannick Bolloré and Arthur Sadoun speak out on how far the industry needs to go to improve diversity.

CEOs on diversity: 'All leaders have to accept responsibility'

Sir Martin Sorrell

Chief executive, WPP

Campaign’s brief was "can you honestly say you are doing enough?" The honest answer is no. Improving gender balance, and diversity more generally, has been one of the hardest issues to solve for our industry and others. All leaders have to accept responsibility for this.

The advertising and marketing services business hasn’t done enough, but there are signs of change. At WPP we have, for instance, made a very public commitment to tackling the issue of gender equality – both within the Group and in the wider world. At Cannes last year, alongside our industry peers and the UN Secretary-General, we launched Common Ground – an unprecedented initiative to use the collective power of the communications business to help the UN realise its Sustainable Development Goals. WPP has taken up Goal 5: achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.

Our agencies have leapt at the opportunity to collaborate with clients, the UN and, in some cases, their direct competitors, and are providing pro bono services on a wide range of projects. In one example, WPP agencies The Partners, Kantar Added Value, Kantar Futures, MEC and VML teamed up to create a campaign for Theirworld, the global children’s charity. Launched on International Women’s Day, "#RewritingTheCode" exposes and challenges the often-hidden cultural codes that can hold women and girls back. 

"There’s a long way to go, but the industry is now walking the talk"

We have put similar effort into internal initiatives, as part of our broader commitment to creating more inclusive workplaces. WPP has a good overall gender balance, with women accounting for 54% of total employees and 48% of senior managers. However, women remain underrepresented at the highest levels, making up less than a third of the board, 36% of its non-executive directors, 34% of directors and executive leaders in our operating companies and 39% of global client leaders. Improving these statistics is not only a matter of fairness, but a business imperative. Companies with greater gender balance in their leadership teams do better than the competition. They attract the best talent and are better at creating work that connects with all consumers.

We are also seeking to foster real organisational change in our companies through new programmes and policies at both the Group and operational level. 

The WPP Stella Women’s Network addresses barriers that prevent women from progressing in their careers and spreads best practice around the Group. Projects in the past year include the launch of our Family Friendly Guidelines and Parent Portal to help our UK companies implement best-practice mat-ernity, paternity and flexible-working policies. In 2017 we will introduce unconscious-bias training as a mandatory element of our wider ethics training for all staff. In addition to WPP training, all of our UK companies will be required to launch their own diversity and inclusion training during the year.

Many of our agencies are already well advanced in this regard. MEC launched an industry-wide initiative to celebrate difference and raise awareness of personal bias, Brave Your Bias. Wunderman has just rolled out its gender diversity programme, Pass It On. Ogilvy’s leadership has long championed diversity and inclusion. GroupM recently introduced its first group-wide gender-balance initiative. There are many more examples. We run The X Factor, a longstanding mentoring and development programme for WPP’s senior female leaders, led by the legendary Charlotte Beers. She also helped inspire WILL (Women in Leadership Lessons), a growing collection of programmes for the Group’s high-potential women and those in the critical middle stages of their careers.

Most recently, in April we launched Walk The Talk, an intensive coaching programme that has enjoyed great success within Maxus and is now being rolled out across the Group. It has encouraged hundreds of women in Maxus to realise their full potential, improving gender balance at the most senior levels where it is most needed. We hope it will have the same effect throughout WPP.

One common, and not entirely invalid, criticism is that the advertising business has talked a good game, but failed to deliver. There’s a long way to go, but my sense is the industry is moving beyond rhetoric and, now, walking the talk. 



Yannick Bolloré

Chairman and chief executive, Havas Group

At Havas, we are a global network with a family feel. Our family is made up of a workforce that consists of many types of people from varied cultures and belief systems. We like it that way, and are focused on continuing to bring many different perspectives into our 48 Villages around the world, as well as creating a supportive environment that allows people to thrive. 

Globally, our plans for this year are focused on women and flexibility, and many of our Villages are working toward increasing their ethnic diversity. 

Our Together strategy is the foundation of our approach. It transcends the traditional definitions of "creative" and "media" and breaks down silos and naturally drives diversity. This integrated and collaborative approach means that people from diverse businesses, cultures, genders and generations learn to acknowledge and appreciate different skill sets and methodologies. It makes our organisation "flatter", while creating synergies to offer opportunities for talent to move, and drives engagement. 

"Globally, our plans for this year are focused on women and flexibility"

As chief executive of a group where 56% of its "talent" are women, and as a father of four daughters, I am particularly sensitive to the challenges women face in the workplace. Women are also very frequently forced to make compromises in their career paths after childbirth in order to maintain the work-family balance, sometimes even leaving the workforce for a period of time. This is one of the reasons we are developing a global women’s leadership initiative aimed at retaining mid-level women and growing them into senior executives. 

Locally, as well, there are some great initiatives. Our team in the UK, for instance, has established a diversity charter that we will migrate more broadly across our Villages. It has specific points concerning gender and ethnic equality and a focus on actively removing hurdles faced by women at certain points of their career development, so that they can reach their full potential. 

With four to five generations in the workforce, there is a need to provide a work environment that meets the broad needs of all groups. We are focusing on creating a more flexible work environment. Flexibility, particularly for millennials, is a key factor informing the decision to join and remain with a company. 

We are also ensuring that, where we have policies in place, they support all types of families. In the US, for example, we recently rolled out a parental leave policy that gives 12 weeks paid leave to primary caregivers – extending the same treatment to all parents, regardless of whether they have a child by birth, adoption or surrogacy – and secondary caregivers will get two weeks’ paid leave. 

Finally, from a group perspective, we’ve added a number of questions to our CSR reporting with a more detailed focus on diversity. This should also give us better insight into any gender pay gaps that might need to be addressed. 

Despite the many good things we have going on at Havas, we know we have more work to do. I am committed to taking more tangible and concrete steps to create a genuinely diverse culture and provide the opportunity for all our people to succeed. That includes making this issue an active topic of conver-sation in our operating committee meetings and developing the diversity charters mentioned earlier in all our Villages. 

I view these actions as essential to our continued success as well as to ensuring that we are the best company we can be for our people and our clients, as we strive to make the diversity deficit a thing of the past.


John Wren

President and chief executive, Omnicom Group

Since our formation in 1986, it has been Omnicom’s priority to attract, develop, mentor, sponsor and retain the best talent. Our ability to win hundreds of Cannes Lions is a testament to a simple truth: diverse teams create better work. 

There’s an old saying: "A lot of different flowers make a bouquet." Our clients recognise this and demand a diverse group of people to work on their business. Could we do more? Yes. We have made strides, but need to look more like those we work with. Creating a diverse, world-class workforce that reflects our global community is a business imperative. 

I am told that when Cannes started, the attendees were mainly white males, watching reels of commercials with zero sensitivity to racial or gender stereotypes. We’ve come a long way, but diversity doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t happen overnight and there is no end game. 

Words are just words if actions don’t follow – that’s why we made a commitment in 2009 by hiring chief diversity officer Tiffany R Warren. We now have 15 diversity chiefs and champions across the group. Each helps their companies improve and grow by looking at diversity more holistically through the Omnicom People Engagement Network. OPEN aims to foster an inclusive, engaging work environment and culture, and increase networking and business opportunities. 

Omnicom has always understood the importance of preserving the individuality of our agency brands because the best talent will be attracted to places with the best culture. All our successful agencies value the wonderful complexities of diversity. We support non-profits and trade associations in our industry that align with our diversity goals. Many of these organisations aim to advance the connections between the industry and multicultural advertising students to help develop a pipeline of diverse young talent.

We strive to create cultural values around respect, teamwork and collaboration. I am proud of our diversity and inclusion programmes such as Omniwomen, our network dedicated to [increasing] the number and influence of women in our organisation. We have also launched an employee resource group called OPEN Pride, to ensure the inclusion and success of Omnicom’s LGBT team members. 

As we enter the post-digital world and move from mass marketing to mass personalisation, it’s vital to understand the complexities of audiences or niche markets to forge deep connections in new ways. If we miss the mark, we all know the consequences. We’re in the business of persuasion, after all. That’s why we push on our diversity initiatives; to help brands connect with their consumers in an authentic voice. 

It’s time to embrace our differences – to recognise each and every flower in the bouquet. That’s why diversity is so important. It’s why we come back to Cannes – a creative festival that blooms year after year.


Michael Roth

Chairman and chief executive, Interpublic

For more than ten years, diversity and inclusion (D&I) have been part of our business model. We made a commitment to invest time, resources and talent over the long term to advance the agenda. D&I is a differentiator we look at in much the same way as we do other opportunities – as a way to make us better partners to clients.

IPG has one of corporate America’s most diverse boards of directors; my compensation is linked to diversity and we tie executive compensation at our agencies to how effectively leaders achieve D&I objectives. We were the first holding company to hire a chief diversity officer, elevate that role to our senior team and build a dedicated department. We approach D&I by promoting concrete actions that can lead to measurable results. We measure hiring, promotions and other key factors along with our talent’s access to manager feedback, advancement opportunities, fairness and respect. It’s not about doing "enough", it’s about doing smart things that work. With the data we track, we can combine actionable insights with research to develop effective, strategic approaches that make real progress. 

We recently conducted research that found the US industry’s representation of women at executive level is an impressive 40%; but less than 1% are black

We aim to support our agencies and talent with opportunities to build community, gain career-development tools and advance under- represented groups into leadership. Our award-winning IDEAL programme for women and people of colour resulted in a 61% promotion rate. Last year we ran more than 75 D&I programmes that touched thousands of staff. We also invest in programming to engage our leaders and contribute to the industry’s progress. Since 2011, we have placed gender equality at the core of our work at Cannes. 

But there is more to do. We recently conducted research that found the US industry’s representation of women at executive level is an impressive 40%; but less than 1% are black. In response, we hosted the first programme focused on black women in advertising, reaching 20,000 viewers via Facebook Live.

We’re proud to have been the first company in our industry to meet the standards of the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality designation. This year our Cannes breakfast will centre on whether our industry is adequately supporting women of different races, ethnicities, religions and other aspects of identity.

This remains a key focus because D&I create value for our talent, clients, communities and shareholders. The best people, who reflect a diverse market, can only enhance our business. They must be supported by a culture that empowers everyone to thrive and contribute to innovation and creativity. Our goal is to be among the world’s most diverse and inclusive organisations. That can happen only with a focus on metrics and deliberate actions that lead to results. We’re committed to our path and investing resources to achieve inspired inclusivity. 


Arthur Sadoun

Chief executive and chairman, Publicis Groupe

Vive la différence is not just a line at Publicis Groupe, it is a principle that guides everything we do. We strive to stand out from our com-petitors by recognising the importance of celebrating the diversity of our talent as reflected by their demographics, backgrounds, cultures, life experiences and perspectives.

Diversity has always been a key part of our company’s DNA. Our supervisory board is made up of equal numbers of women and men, and women are in 40% of our executive positions, as CEOs, strategists and creative leaders for some of our biggest and most iconic agencies and brand networks.

For us, acting and working as a progressive company isn’t a choice, it is a necessity. The only way we can truly accompany our clients as they look to transform their marketing and business models is to build an organisation that is as diverse and as varied as their consumers. This is at the heart of our The Power of One approach. When we bring together all our resources in a seamless and modular way to deliver client solutions, a wide range of mindsets and skills are key to making that happen. And that makes having a rich and diverse talent pool an essential part of The Power of One.

We saw this clearly when financial services group USAA awarded us its business. Roger Adams, USAA’s chief marketing officer, was quoted as saying that Publicis Groupe "went well beyond what they were asked for and demonstrated how they would deliver diversity by turning it into a programme". It is something that makes us very proud. 

But we’re also aware that even with these achievements we still have a long way to go. 

Our leaders, CEOs and chief talent officers, are continually engaged in initiatives that encourage and celebrate diversity in all of its forms, such as VivaWomen! and the LGBT movement, Égalité, with support from Publicis Groupe’s Talent Engagement & Inclusion (TE&I) Council. 

Diversity isn’t just an ambition for the future at Publicis Groupe. It is something we work to make a reality, every day, for the good of our people, our organisation and our clients.


Toshihiro Yamamoto

President and chief executive, Dentsu

The world faces problems that are becoming more common across countries. Over the coming decades, we will probably see an age of battle royal-like competition for solutions and ideas among creatives. Global issues will be resolved using all kinds of methods, and it is expected that this will make the world a better place. At least this appears to be the new perspective of ad agencies.

The work from Dentsu already involves a wide range of content and methods. Moreover, creativity is required for all our work, from major events – such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games – to that involving data science, business development, consulting, content creation, media planning, national projects, experience-based design, promotions, PR, product design, services development and ad campaigns.

Furthermore, what we can do is being accelerated dramatically by technological advances. There will be a need for many abilities that never existed at agencies, and success will be achieved by leveraging these proficiencies. Dentsu has global leaders in each of its specialised fields. They share their highly specialised skills in the network, while supervising brands and projects to generate significant results. We seek  to achieve maximum growth through our employees’ broad range of expertise. It is, after all, the diversity of human abilities that benefits clients and agencies.

Brands – agencies included – must present the world with a philosophy, and position their significance in a historical context. Our company motivators reflect our philosophy and, as is true of enterprises worldwide, the empathy that is evoked will imbue us with the value we need to develop.

The world is short on ideas and long on challenges. In what is, surely, an age of ideas, those around the world who need excellent new ones will come to us. The world is a difficult place; countries, corporations and people have problems that defy instant solution. But there is no problem that cannot be solved with the power of creativity.

Take diversity. The concept does not mean something along the lines of "Wouldn’t it be fun to bring all kinds of people together." It is an extreme concept, meaning to coexist and communicate with people totally different from oneself, with whom one may never get along. 

That said, all corporate entities are expected to accept this meaning if they wish to substantially exceed current possibilities and resolve humanitarian social issues. Our job is to create significant value that can be shared, despite each of us being different. I am reminded of the line: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The words are not only noble, but reflect a constructive attitude, in that they seek to guarantee the acceptance of diversity. 

The most important issue that history has bestowed on humankind would seem to be the need to create new value by achieving diversity.