In this issue:
- The post-COVID return to the office is exposing serious DEI-related challenges at agencies.
- Amid an employee and talent shortage, some agencies are adjusting their expectations for prospective employees.
- Miscarriage leave and other “employee-first” policies are becoming the new norm in the industry.
- How the bad behavior of “toxic rock stars” hurts women of color employees.
- British ad companies note new diversity targets set The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.
Return-to-office policies are exposing DEI challenges
The return-to-office has become a key inflection point in the DEI conversation at agencies:
- There is a large gap between what bosses and employees from different backgrounds want.
- Differences are also arising between how male and female employees perceive the return to the office.
- As the war for talent continues, agencies may find greater flexibility helps them attract and retain employees.
A recent survey of more than 10,000 workers globally by the future-of-work initiative Future Forum found that 44% of executives currently working remotely want to return to the office full-time, whereas only 17% of non-executive staff agree. Other key points from the report included:
- 87% of Asian employees, 81% of Black employees, and 85% of women employees want a flexible or hybrid working situation moving forward, while that drops to 75% for white employees and 79% for male employees.
- 71% of all employees are unsatisfied with the level of flexibility they have in their current role.
Out of all employees surveyed, male executives reported the highest levels of satisfaction on in-office experience indicators such as “sense of belonging,” “access to resources,” and “ability to focus on work.” But with such huge gaps between executives’ and employees’ attitudes towards the return to the office, it’s clear that companies will need to take steps toward providing more flexible working options, especially if they want to retain employees from diverse backgrounds.
Some agencies, such as San Francisco’s FCB West, are conducting individual employee interviews to determine a more tailored approach to returning to the office, while others, such as New York’s Organic, are sourcing information from their Employee Resource Groups to try to understand how needs differ across employee groups, according to WorkLife.
Elsewhere, AdAge reported that agencies adopting a more flexible approach to where work gets done are enjoying the most success when it comes to employee retention.
Related: Childcare is the hidden inclusivity issue here. Women take on a disproportionate level of caregiving responsibility, and The Conversation reports that, as a result, women were more affected by the negative social and economic impacts of the pandemic. In New York City, home base for many major media and marketing companies, over 1 in 3 households can’t afford childcare, per the New York Daily News. Allowing employee flexibility to handle caregiving responsibilities is one way agencies can recruit and retain scarce female talent.
Redefining ‘talent’ could aid diversity in recruitment
The battle for a diverse talent pool among media and marketing companies has been fierce, particularly with high employee turnover and the Great Resignation impacting employee retention. Some agencies are taking a step back and reevaluating what they consider “talent” in the recruitment process, and in that context, even what “diversity” of talent means beyond race, gender, or age. There is now an effort to find people beyond the usual places and of the usual backgrounds.
Insider reports that agencies are choosing to hire applicants with no prior advertising experience, even for senior roles, because they have shifted their hiring criteria away from hard skills and knowledge to focus more on “potential,” with the understanding that embedded mentorship programs within the organization will be sufficient to bring new employees up to speed on needed skills. More agencies are also revising their expectation that applicants will bring a four-year degree to the table, reports AdWeek, opening up the opportunity for potential employees for whom college was financially inaccessible.
One example last week comes from Dentsu, which launched a new program called The Media Experience. Per Campaign, the program provides eight weeks of vocational training for people who have historically been excluded from the advertising industry, including veterans and people without college degrees. Dentsu is collaborating with other industry initiatives such as COOP and 4A’s MAIP internship to recruit a diverse class for the program, and all cohort members who successfully graduate the program will be offered jobs upon completion.
The rise of miscarriage leave
Miscarriage and resulting trauma are more common than many may believe. One in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and 22% of women who miscarry will experience PTSD. Understanding and providing policies around miscarriage is a rising trend in the ad agency world, where employees are expecting agencies to follow through on their commitments to a “people-first culture.” Jacquie van der Veur writes for Campaign Asia on advice for companies seeking to provide miscarriage leave:
- Miscarriage leave needs to be classified as bereavement leave as opposed to sick leave. Labeling a miscarriage as an illness can send the message to female employees that if they are not in physical distress, they should not take time off – not to mention, it reinforces the concept that miscarrying is a result of something “wrong” with a woman’s body.
- Employees should not be required to explain why they are taking bereavement leave. In the case of a miscarriage, this could result in an employee sharing personal information about family planning with her employer before she is ready.
- Miscarriage policies need to be accessible – employees should not have to “ask around.”
- All managers should be thoroughly trained on the policy and how to present themselves as approachable to women who may need to seek miscarriage leave.
Van der Veur works for the VMLY&R agency, which Adweek reports has a 73% retention rate. It’s a time of high turnover: A report in 2022 from Robert Half found that only 57% of marketing professionals don’t plan to look for a new job in 2022. Agency executives report that “consulting people first, and the budget second,” is a way to create policy that boosts employee retention, such as inclusive miscarriage leave.
Retaining rock stars at the expense of women of color
Harvard Business Review’s report on the impact of “toxic rock stars” on organizational diversity could have big ramifications for media and marketing companies.
Toxic rock stars, defined as bullies who evade consequences because they consistently deliver results, have the greatest negative impact on employees who identify as women of color. In a survey of more than 1500 women, the vast majority of women of color had been impacted by a toxic rock star and had left their company as a result. Women of color are often labeled as “difficult” when they bring up concerns around bullying behavior, which typically includes yelling, berating, name calling, threatening to “ruin” a person’s career, and making discriminatory comments. This can be particularly prevalent inside services businesses, where job performance is often based on client feedback or external awards, leading potentially to a work culture rife with “rock stars” who are costing the organization in a different way.
HBR includes recommendations for ridding your organizational culture of toxic rock stars:
- Bullying is a pattern, not a one-time incident. At the first report of problematic behavior, implement training measures, but at second, third, and fourth offenses, retaining a workplace bully sends the message to other employees that bad behavior can get a pass.
- Conduct culture surveys, focus groups, and 1:1 interviews to honestly and humbly assess your organization’s culture.
- Critically examine what actually happens when toxic employee behavior is reported to your org’s HR department – is it swept under the rug?
- Provide anonymous reporting opportunities, for employees to speak up without fear of retaliation.
New diversity targets for UK companies
The Financial Conduct Authority has set new diversity targets for British-based financial services companies that require 40% of board members to be women, and occupy certain roles on the board, Bloomberg reports. Starting next year, the FCA expects companies to publish this demographic information as part of their annual financial reports. If the targets aren’t met, companies will need to explain why. Current data around British companies show an average of 35% female board members.
While the targets only apply to certain financial companies, major European advertising holding companies will be keeping a close eye on benchmarks from other industries. Toolkits examined U.K.-based WPP’s board to see how the company might stack up against the new requirements. With two board members representing ethnic minorities, a woman in the role of senior independent director (though the CEO and CFO are both male), and six of the 15 board members identifying as female (exactly 40%), WPP would be in the clear…but other British media and marketing companies may have to reevaluate their processes for selecting board members and company leadership.
Related: Representation isn’t the only metric that matters in terms of inclusivity. Campaign’s analysis of recent gender pay gap data released for U.K. companies shows that media and marketing companies have a long way to go when it comes to pay equity. Two Publicis Groupe agencies, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Digitas, topped the list with a 33% and 28% pay gap, respectively, while VCCP came in at third with a 27% gap.
Other notable reads:
- CNBC reports that a growing number of companies are turning to neurodiverse talent as a way to bolster employment ranks during the Great Resignation.
- How common marketing terms can perpetuate racism and bias, per PR Daily.
- Employee whistleblowing on HR-related incidents, including harassment and pay equity, is increasing, reports WorkLife.
- In addition to a new EIC, The New York Times announced this week that it has hired two new managing editors, Carolyn Ryan and Marc Lacey. Ryan is the first openly gay journalist to serve in the role, and Lacey is the third Black journalist to be appointed to the position.
- Unilever, GroupM, and NBCU executives are backing a new marketing industry DEI trade organization, BRIDGE, per AdAge.