Wednesday, May 11, 2016

13187: Who Needs Chief Diversity Officers?

Campaign published a routine perspective questioning the value of Chief Diversity Officers. This is hardly a new topic, as the subject gets debated regularly. Responding to some agencies’ contention that CDOs are unnecessary when diversity becomes the responsibility of all staffers, Omnicom SVP CDO Tiffany Warren argued, “If creativity is everybody’s responsibility, then why do you have the chief creative officer? You would never say that. Of course you need the chief creative officer to oversee the art directors and the copywriters to make sure that the product that comes out of the agency is appropriate.” Okay, but chief creative officers are hired and fired based on profits, performance and results. How many CDOs can clearly measure their success? Hell, Omnicom won’t even show its EEO-1 data, opting instead to show off its ADCOLOR® Awards. Meanwhile, minority representation on Madison Avenue continues to decline—while the smokescreens and diversions are on the rise.

Is it time to give up on chief diversity officers?

By I-Hsien Sherwood

Earlier this year, Deutsch eliminated its chief diversity officer position, which it had created in 2008. “One of the philosophies we lean into is that everybody at Deutsch, from the CEO to the receptionist, owns diversity,” said Vonda LePage, EVP and director of communications at Deutsch, during an interview with Campaign US. “And we wanted to really make sure that everybody was stepping up and owning it. And by having one person who owned it, which is what that role was, kind of took the responsibility off everybody else.”

But can a grassroots approach to diversity tackle institutional issues or muster resources from across disciplines to jumpstart programs and conversations? Can individuals working on their own — and on their own time — ensure that an organization pursues workforce diversity as tirelessly as it chases a shelf full of trophies or a lucrative client list? If an agency puts everyone in charge of diversity, isn’t that the same as putting nobody in charge?

“If creativity is everybody’s responsibility, then why do you have the chief creative officer?” said Tiffany Warren, senior vice president and chief diversity officer for Omnicom Group. “You would never say that. Of course you need the chief creative officer to oversee the art directors and the copywriters to make sure that the product that comes out of the agency is appropriate.”

“So us even asking this question almost makes us feel obsolete, like we’re dating ourselves,” she added.

The duties of a CDO vary from agency to agency and holding company to holding company. Certainly, there is some overlap with human resources and its focus on recruiting and retaining the right talent. For its part, Deutsch has said diversity efforts will be overseen by Robin Lander, director of HR. But CDOs in the industry say that doesn’t cut it.

“It’s not about just going out and hiring. It’s about human nature and organizational tradition and systems,” said Heide Gardner, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at IPG, Deutsch’s holding company. Gardner was the first CDO in the industry, promoted from head of diversity in 2003. “At the holding company level, it’s ultimately about enhancing shareholder value,” she said.

That means not only hiring diverse talent, but training, supporting and keeping them and creating an agency culture that is inviting. It also means working with agency producers and suppliers, according to Doug Melville, chief diversity officer for North America at TBWA. “So how can we hire more businesses in our creative supply chain that are owned, operated and controlled by female and diverse entrepreneurs?” he said.

In the last three years, he boasts, TBWA has spent over $100 million with women-owned businesses in its creative supply chain — a draw for clients. “From the client standpoint particularly, a lot of the times supplier diversity is what they most want to talk about,” Melville said. “That’s the relationship that is outside HR, but that’s where the clients will contact me. I will go places with them or on their behalf.” It’s tough to imagine entry-level employees — or even a head of human resources — having the wherewithal to select suppliers agencywide.

Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA New York, said having a CDO is a point of pride for the agency. “What I like about it is that it’s official that we’re taking diversity seriously,” he said. “It’s unambiguous our point of view on it. We actually have someone who thinks about this when they wake up and dreams about it when they go to sleep. It’s opening up avenues to talent that, had we not had Doug here, we might not have thought about.”

Of course, diversity has lately become the third rail of agency life, so perhaps it’s not surprising that people are reluctant to publically support the idea that the CDO is obsolete. Yet in a Campaign US poll, 40 percent of people said that companies didn’t need a CDO in 2016. Those were the minority opinion holders — 60% said CDOs were still necessary — but it was less a minority than one would think by what agency leaders say on the record.

And the idea that everyone at an agency must own diversity is hardly one without support. Nancy Hill, president and CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, made headlines when she kicked off this year’s transformation conference by declaring that “If you’re the CEO, you’re the chief diversity officer.”

Still, at IPG, having a single person with a single team empowered to make necessary changes has paid off. Racial and ethnic minority representation among IPGs managers has increased 94% since 2005, the company says. Women now make up 54% of all managers. Gardner oversees more than 40 diversity programs, and a portion of the incentive pay for CEOs at IPG subsidiaries is tied directly to diversity goals.

“We need a senior leader at IPG corporate and a team that can support our ambitious goals on diversity and inclusion,” said CEO Michael Roth in a statement. “This group partners across the IPG network to drive change and deliver results, which we’ve seen over the last decade. We also know there is still much work left to do.”

Of course, relying on individuals within an organization to effect change can be tricky when the individuals themselves are the ones who need to change.

“People choose people that look like them. It makes them feel safe, makes them feel comfortable,” said Singleton Beato, executive vice president for diversity and inclusion strategy and talent development at the 4A’s. “So if somebody isn’t really creating systems and processes and procedures to make you think differently in the moment, then your muscle memory is what will kick in and what will lead, and that’s why we are where we are.”

“My point of view is you do need a chief diversity officer if you’re going to see change,” she said. “This is really a change agent, more so than any other role. They have to change something that goes against normal behavior and organic thinking and attitudes.” And that sort of widespread change doesn’t happen without someone enforcing it.”

While plenty of smaller agencies go without a CDO or someone with similar duties, no other major agency has created a CDO position and then eliminated it. The optics are certainly problematic, even for an agency like Deutsch, which has a strong track record of gender diversity and has regularly received high marks from IPG for employee satisfaction about diversity efforts.

“Eliminating a diversity director role feels like a cost-cutting measure masquerading as a progressive move,” said Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference. “And it misses a critical point — diversity is an economic multiplier. Saying you’re doing so because ‘everyone should own diversity’ misses another critical point. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and. Everyone in the company should own diversity, yes, and you need a champion who leads diversity and embeds it into the culture of the agency.”

But agencies that don’t effectively prioritize diversity — however they go about it — will find themselves falling behind in the battle for the best talent. “I have counterparts at Facebook, Twitter — every single one of those companies has a CDO now, and they’re empowered, and they have resources, and they are beginning to get organized,” Warren said. “And when they mature and those teams grow, it’s going to be really difficult for agencies to match what they offer.”


numbercounts said...

One CDO down.

Who's going to be the next to go? NY or LA or TX or CHI?

Not sure if the Deutsch thing will make agencies afraid to fire the few remaining diversity officers left, or if (because nothing really came of it, just more talk) they'll simply kill off the positions one by one.

It's getting more and more obvious that those are pointless roles that don't do anything you can count or track on paper. With agencies slimming down theres no real reason to keep around the added cost and weight. And even after about a decade of having Chief Diversity Officers there hasn't been any noticeably increased black numbers in advertising (white lady Creative Directors, tho. Yes, lots more).

ON the plus side I see that more people are waking up to the hidden truth that ADCOLOR's board is entirely made up of CDOs that award one another. If the agencies can no longer use ADCOLOR in their publicity as proof of diversity then maybe we'll start getting some honest diversity one day.

Monique Bryher said...

I have to agree that despite having CDOs and supplier diversity departments, many large companies are still failing at inclusiveness. This is not because there's a lack of available talent in racial minority, women, LGBT, etc. sectors.
In my opinion, the companies that fail the most at genuine efforts to develop diverse employees and suppliers are the banks and financial sectors. There's a lot of lip service and even money very publicly thrown at minority communities. I specifically have Wells Fargo in mind as being visible in the black and LGBT communities but having no measurable commitment to either.
Personally, I think the cost to business productivity and growth as well as to society at large, is stunted by not making the effort to overcome traditional prejudices and actively seeking diversity.

Midnight_Train_In_Georgia said...

I wouldn't say "many large companies are failing" at diversity, I would say "all of them are when it comes to advertising in particular."

Soda companies, liquor companies, fast food companies AND the financial sector are particularly adept at preying on minority communities, but having almost all of their advertising in the hands of non-diverse ad agencies that do not care one iota about the minorities they are targeting. And I do mean "targeting." They take without giving anything back, nor do they care.

We have an industry that is maybe, at best, 1% to 3% Black. Forget the often quoted government statistic about advertising and PR being 7% Black, I'm talking about major ad agencies. Madison Ave. level. And I'm talking about removing security and janitorial staff from the equation, because the agencies' Chief Diversity Officers LOVE to obscure numbers by mixing those in to boost the numbers.

And instead of doing anything about it, or having the freedom to actually step in on hiring, those CDOs are simply there to act as a heat shield and distract us from talking about the real numbers. Every time anyone asks the holding companies for hiring numbers, they put out a press release that says, "Our agency is committed to diversity by sponsoring the MAIP internship program and look at all the ADColor awards for diversity we have earned. Look at our Chief Diversity Officer as proof of our love of diversity. Aren't we diverse?!"

No, advertising agencies are not diverse.

No, CDOs are not proof of diversity. They are proof of DODGING diversity.

The only way I see out of this mess, where we've had the same pathetic numbers since the 1960's (no, I'm wrong, the Marcus Graham Project showed the numbers of Black men in the industry are slipping down, down, down) is to get the ad holding companies, the Omnicoms, Publicis and IPG of the worlds, to release EEO1 statistics like every other company does. Put an end to their free pass to dodge. Remove janitorial and security staff from the counts, remove foreign HB1 visa holders from the counts, and let us see what the actual state of diversity or lack thereof is in 2016.


If we don't have the numbers, then let's get rid of all the Chief Diversity Officers because they are what's holding back any actual progress while we're at it. Too many people are chiming in in the industry right now with the same stories of getting nowhere and accomplishing nothing meaningful with them for it to be a coincidence.