Publicis Groupe UK launches Embrace Change initiative to tackle racial inequality

Move to improve diversity is 'long overdue', agency group says.

Publicis: UK operation will start collecting ethnicity pay data
Publicis: UK operation will start collecting ethnicity pay data

Publicis Groupe UK is to launch Embrace Change, a group-wide initiative to tackle racial inequality, including a new apprenticeship programme for people from ethnic-minority and socially disadvantaged backgrounds and the collection of ethnicity pay data for the first time.

The UK agency group will recruit 10 apprentices a year from a black, Asian and minority-ethnic background as part of what it calls its Open Apprenticeship programme, which will include subsidised accommodation to cover the cost of living in London and "remove barriers to entry".

Publicis Groupe UK said it is also creating a new role for a diversity and inclusion specialist – supported by diversity and inclusion champions within each agency – and is setting up a Diversity Progress Council to "help the company make and track progress against its commitments". 

Lord Woolley, founder and director of Operation Black Vote and chair of the advisory group for the government’s Race Disparity Unit, will join the Diversity Progress Council.

The French-owned group will also start collecting UK ethnicity pay data for the first time, starting immediately on 2 July, with staff asked to volunteer to give details of their background.

Annette King, chief executive of Publicis Groupe UK, who joined two years ago, said the collection of ethnicity pay data across the UK operation was "not something that we’ve done before" and was vital to measure and track future progress, because "once you’ve got the data, you know what you’re dealing with".

King conceded that the efforts are "long overdue", admitting: "We haven’t done enough – that’s the reality. I don’t think any part of our industry has done enough. What we’re trying to do now is put that right."

Asked for specifics about what Publicis might do with the data, once it has been collected, King said: "If two people are in the same roles from different ethnic backgrounds were earning different amounts of money, you’ll act on that immediately."

Other commitments include creating a Publicis Groupe UK charter, which "sets out the behaviours that the company expects of employees, suppliers, partners and clients", and becoming a signatory of the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter.

Publicis Groupe UK is also updating its reverse mentoring programme and creating a new training programme with external partners, including Brixton Finishing School, Creative Equals, D&I Leaders and Bloom.

The UK initiative is part of a global effort, which will see the French parent company invest €45m (£41m) in diversity, inclusion and social justice over three years around the world.

Publicis Groupe UK, whose agencies include Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Digitas, Leo Burnett, Publicis Sapient, Saatchi & Saatchi, Spark Foundry, Starcom and Zenith, is focused on three pillars as part of its diversity and inclusion drive: 

  • Inspire – to inspire more people from diverse backgrounds to work in advertising
  • Enable – to help people from diverse backgrounds to get jobs in the ad industry
  • Ensure progress – to develop more people from diverse backgrounds into senior executives and leaders

About 1,800 staff from across Publicis Groupe UK took part in a day of talks and workshops on 17 June in response to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Then a working group on race comprising senior Publicis executives and members of Embrace Group, which represents BAME employees at Publicis Groupe UK, helped to draw up the Embrace Change initiative.

The working group members are: Paula Cunnington, chief talent officer; Magnus Djaba, chief executive of the UK creative practice and global president of Saatchi & Saatchi; Chris McCafferty, chief executive of the influence practice, MSL and Salter Baxter; and Nancy Rowe, senior manager, inclusion and diversity at Publicis Sapient.

In addition, Embrace Group is led by Esther Akingbade, senior associate in benefits; Akil Henry, lead analyst at Starcom; Jo Hippolyte, experience lead at Publicis Sapient; and Sam Hutchinson, learning and development coordinator.

Hippolyte said: "Through Q&As and workshops, we’ve partnered with colleagues from right across the business to help everyone better understand the reality for black employees.  

"What we’ve shared with our colleagues today is the programme we’ve co-created with their input. I believe the actions we’ve set out are both meaningful and sustainable."

King said: "This is a decisive moment as we all ask ourselves what we can do to drive the change that is so long overdue. As an industry and as a business, we need to do better to represent people from all social and ethnic backgrounds.  

"We started by listening and better educating ourselves, and we will continue to listen and learn. The plan we’ve set out today to inspire, enable and progress talent through our business will help us address the disparities that have always existed in our industry."

In response to a further question about whether Publicis Groupe currently holds any data on ethnicity of staff, a spokesperson said: "To date, we haven’t recorded the ethnicity of our employees as a group, due to the different data protection laws around the world. In the UK, we have reviewed the position and we will start recording the information in line with GDPR requirements [to protect privacy]." 

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