What is Publicis doing to establish D&I at its agencies?

Its first steps include putting Mia Pearson, Brent Nelsen and Stephanie McRae in charge of initiatives, tapping into Marcel for education and adopting the "Rooney Rule" for hiring.

Not every business can report a senior team made up of leaders who are 45% female, 36% people of colour, 36% first-generation immigrant and 18% LGBTQ+. Especially not a business in advertising. And while Leo Burnett is able to report those numbers, it’s still not enough for agency president Ben Tarr to rest easy.

“We’re a tiny bit ahead [of other agencies],” Tarr tells strategy, “but we’re nowhere near where we need to be.”

Diverse representation at the senior level is a good start. (Although, Tarr says, it still doesn’t have proper representation from the disabled community or any Indigenous people on its leadership team, “so we still have work to do there.”) But what of the rest of the agency? He notes that Leo has participated in ICA diversity and inclusion surveys in the past to get a look at the internal makeup of its staff, but, again, “it doesn’t actually look like the company I know it can be.”

That’s where Stephanie McRae comes in.

The VP of human resources was originally hired in March to lead the HR department across both Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi. But in response to recent calls for greater equity – sparked by anti-racism protests across the globe – the agencies’ parent co. Publicis Groupe decided to add diversity and inclusion to her remit. Now, her focus is also on fostering an inclusive environment for 2,000 employees across the network’s eight business units.

McRae has long been an advocate for equity in the workplace, and currently sits on the ICA’s D&I Committee. Beyond hiring practices, McRae will look to improve Leo’s workplace environment by way of “education, outreach, giving back and talent management,” says Mia Pearson, CEO of MSLGroup, who, alongside Leo Burnett CSO Brent Nelsen, is an executive sponsor of the network’s new inclusion committee.

As sponsors of the new group, Pearson and Nelsen will work together with McRae to shape a new D&I mandate for all eight of the Groupe’s Canadian companies, she says. “The three of us will also build a working team from across our brands to help turn intentions into actions.”

Though the trio are just beginning to strategize what its D&I initiatives will look like, Tarr says first steps are already taking place to help his agency meet its commitment to better representation across the ranks – not just at the senior level.

Yesterday, Leo Burnett Toronto put out a statement vowing to continue listening to the BIPOC community and promising to invest years of work into helping to eradicate systemic racism. The statement comes exactly a month after Tarr signed his name on behalf of the agency to the People of Colour in Advertising and Marketing’s (POCAM) open letter.

Since then, the leadership team has been working on a benchmarking survey. “It was on of the first things in the open letter to the industry,” says Tarr of the call, which invited agencies to “track and publicly report your workforce diversity data on an annual basis to create accountability for the industry.”

“It will give us the ability to report to the world what we look like as a company,” he adds, “and to then be able to build our targets and ambitions.”

Beyond reporting, Tarr says the agency has put the “Rooney Rule” in place to improve its hiring practices. First established in 2003 as a policy by the NFL, requiring the league’s teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for senior positions, such as head coach, the rule has been adopted by HR departments across industries. “We recently implemented that for every external hire that we make… every job has to have [people] of colour and [women] in the mix,” he says.

And as for the group’s “education” pillar, Tarr points to Publicis’ Marcel platform to provide learning tools. Marcel houses educational materials, including D&I workshops, “and so for us, it’s about going through [the platform] and finding what’s relevant for Canada and how do we utilize what’s already been done [in other places].”

Tarr says it’s important to look outside its own walls for guidance. “I think the danger is everyone’s going to go off and reinvent the wheel individually – but I think there is going to be real power in the collective and and the sharing of ideas… [Because] this isn’t about having a competitive advantage, this is about doing what’s right for the community at large.”