Agencies Transform Inclusion To Creative Plus, Not Just An Obligation

The industry remains in the midst of a long overdue industry-wide call for more equity, diversity and empowerment.

This movement is not just about doing what is right. It's also about doing what is best for business and how a diverse workforce leads to increased creativity.

Karen Costello, Chief Creative Officer, Martin; Renetta McCann, chief inclusion experience officer, Publicis Groupe; and Denise Wong, president, Midnight Oil joined moderator Keesha Jean-Baptiste, senior vice president, talent engagement, inclusion, 4As at the Accelerate Conference to discuss how they approach and achieve equality objectives.

They view it as much of a priority as any other business or financial goal. So how do agencies avoid making inclusion merely a quota or checklist?

First, merely having a checklist demonstrates a disconnect with an agency's values, says Jean-Baptiste. It's important to monitor and measure progress in quantitative and qualitative ways. There must be the right mix in the departments. "Talent shows up in multiple ways," says Jean-Baptiste.



If an agency is hiring solely based on quota systems, the numbers will eventually prove to be unsustainable, she says. You can't fake diversity merely by hiring a few token employees and expecting them to work out, as well as provide value to an organization.

McCann says it is also important to begin to look at systemic ways that diversity and inclusion do not get imbedded into structures and processes.

McCann adds another layer of challenge in defining inclusion in foreign markets. While there are broader cultural issues that are documented in some ways, like caste and economic systems, her first priority is identifying internal agency systems. What will make a difference? How are clients looking at these issues? she asks. "My first job is to listen."

Martin's Costello recognizes that her gender probably played a role in her promotion from executive creative director to chief creative officer in light of her predecessor. Joe Alexander was dismissed over misconduct allegations.

However, she plainly states: "I know I am qualified and great at the job. I could have had this job 10 years ago." Although circumstances "catapulted me to the position, I am not going to waste this opportunity." 

More importantly, the discussion over #MeToo and sexual harassment has been important in evolving the debate from talk to action. The spirit of collaboration, competing agencies coming together to solve a bigger problem in the industry, is clear, says Costello.

Although the three panelists are female and/or minorities, they don't define themselves in those terms. Although they realize they were put in pitches or highlighted in an intentional way to represent more balance for clients, Wong echoes what all three believe. These circumstances "just motivated me to be better than just a token."

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