Since May, we’ve been working harder to use our creative and empathy strengths to support the BLM social movement, empower our employees, reimagine the role of modern brands and importantly take a hard look at ourselves.
BLM Activations: For VMLY&R, the start of our journey towards becoming a more diverse company involved immediate actions and a clear acknowledgement that Black Lives Matter.
We held internal forums and panels for employees to share and hear the personal impacts of systemic inequity, racism in the workplace, and police brutality. Led by Justin Pahl [VMLY&R London chief executive] in the UK and Jon Cook [VMLY&R global chief executive] globally, we reaffirmed our executive commitment to be anti-racist in thinking and in practice.
We have been promoting and encouraging employees to attend Culture of Inclusion workshops (within WPP and with external partners) addressing the prevalence of unconscious bias in our thinking and behaviour.
We created and provided the “Breathing While Black” guidebook developed by our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion champions and employees. It gathers resources for people to understand the black experience better and become powerful allies.
Agency Charter: The charter is a practical culture guide that emphasises the behaviours we would like to see in ourselves and our colleagues, clients and partners. These behaviours are expressions of our values and span our culture, people and work.
The idea behind the charter is that our DE&I values aren't siloed to a team or discipline, but rather something we are all responsible for and want to live by, every day. This is why our DE&I champions led the creation of the charter with contributions from all employees.
As a follow up to the charter, we are working to create inclusive strategy, creative and production checklists/templates to actively help us all remove bias from the work that we produce. Because we believe a small script amendment can create a big cultural change.
Bias training: Compulsory non-bias training will be rolled out to all UK employees in collaboration with Mind Gym. The series is called Inclusion Journey and consists of four modules that identify behaviour markers that create bias thinking. We picked Mind Gym for their unique approach of engagement, participation and activation, which means change sticks. The first module will begin in August 2020, the second one in Nov 2020, and the remaining two modules will be continued in 2021. Once all four modules are complete, it is recommended to restart the journey of learning to reinforce the tools used to change thinking associated with bias behaviour. Non-bias training for everyone will continue to be an essential part of the 2021 DE&I strategy.
Sponsorship programme: This is about interrupting the system to address the poor representation of minority groups at mid and senior levels. The McGregor Smith Review reports that over half of BAME employees (52%) believe they will have to leave their current positions to progress in their careers. Our sponsorship programme aims to increase the representation of diversity at all levels by creating new connections, relationships and ideas. Our sponsors and sponsees are carefully matched within our company and embark upon a journey to help advise, guide and use their network and privilege to unlock opportunities and education.
Empathy masterclass: with Yusuf Chuku, global chief strategy officer, to address common misconceptions about race and to provide tools for us to develop deeper listening skills. Chuku, who is originally from London, is a prominent voice within our agency and influential leader who has written and spoken about the practice and importance of empathy.
The creation of VMLY&R was not only about bringing two global agency brands together, but also about bringing to life a vision of how the industry and agencies would evolve. We are an industry built on the creativity, collaboration and ingenuity of its people, and that focus on people has never been more central to the strength of business than it is today.
Last year, we added the “E” in our DE&I mission to acknowledge that we all start from different places. While we strive for diversity and inclusion, we can’t affect long-term change in power dynamics without addressing equity.
DE&I leadership: Tasha Gilroy and Suba Nadarajah are VMLY&R’s joint directors of diversity, equity and inclusion. In the UK, Katherine Francis, executive partner, VMLY&R is the DE&I executive lead. She heads a committee made of HR and our DE&I champions: operations director Metzti Bryan-Fasano, senior creative Perle Arteta, senior digital strategist Mark Lindford and EMEA marketing director Claire Charruau.
They are involved in every aspect of leading the agency’s DE&I strategy, from new programs and partnerships and talent pipelines to driving a culture of cultural literacy, awareness, and acceptance across the organisation.
Employee groups: At VMLY&R, we call these “Powered By” groups, and they are a cornerstone of nurturing robust and authentic company culture. They are employee-led and company-funded social, cultural, and minority groups that help our employees advocate for important causes, embrace differences and foster an environment that enables employees to bring their whole selves to work. The shared goal of all Powered By groups is to create a place of belonging and a safe space for employees to express themselves. One Powered initiative is Brave Questions, Safe Spaces (BQSS): a guest speaker series that tackles difficult conversations about identity, inclusion, social justice and more. In BQSS sessions, employees can share their experiences and questions, learn from others, and be inspired.
BAME pay gap
VMLY&R is part of WPP, which has committed to reporting workforce diversity data as a whole.