Leo Burnett takes action with five micro-actions

President Ben Tarr shares the little-big things the agency is doing to move the D&I agenda forward.


By Ben Tarr

As we approach seven months since George Floyd’s life was recklessly and tragically taken, I’m reflecting on the things that we have done and plan to do in our workplace at Leo Burnett, to drive deeper diversity, equity and inclusion within the ranks of our business and hopefully beyond into the lives our employees touch.

As many of us go on our own journey of education as it relates to D&I, one of my personal learnings has been in the area of microaggressions. As described by Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue, PhD, they are “those everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of colour by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages they send.”

Understanding that micro-moments in our workplace can be so harmful to people’s feelings of value, self-worth and of belonging has made me think hard about the purposeful actions we must take at Leo and the things we must do to support our diverse workforce moving forward.

And while there was work being done before the May social uprising, particularly in areas of pay equity and diversifying our leadership team, what stands before us often feels like a daunting task. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap report shows that we are between 54 and 163 years (depending on the region) away from bringing gender equity in line across the globe. We’re talking generations from now.

So what do we do when you’re staring at such a daunting prospect, such an unfathomable mountain to climb? Like my creative partner Lisa Greenberg always says to me, “We have to eat the elephant one bite at a time.” (She heard it from her dad, who heard it from Desmond Tutu).

And this is what we’re doing, not literally of course, but by taking “Micro-Actions” in every way we can to move our D&I agenda forward. Things that, thanks to a passionate group of people who make up our D&I committee, are starting to rollout through the organization.

Our current Micro-Actions include:

1. Diversity and Inclusion training is to become mandatory for all employees and for new employees to complete within the first three months of joining Leo.

2. We are including a positioning statement on our values and how they relate to D&I in the welcome email and onboarding materials and presentations for all new employees. We are also including this positioning statement in all new business materials to ensure potential clients know our position.

3. We are enacting the “Rooney Rule” in our hiring practice to ensure women and people of colour are on the interview list. We’re ensuring that those interviewed meet with a diverse representation of our people through the process (wherever the current organization can support it).

4. We’re exploring what milestones our employees should and want to celebrate throughout the year. We are adding a volunteer day in 2021 to our employee plan (which can be used for anything of good) but hopefully in some cases will be used to support organizations in the D&I space.

5. We will be committing a D&I education allowance for employees to use on books, papers, training & seminars. There are simply hundreds of micro-actions and opportunities available to us every-day that can and will effect positive outcomes.

On top of micro-actions in the workplace, think about what you, especially if you’re in a position of privilege, can do beyond this.

Make connections with people in the BIPOC community and see how you can support them in their journey and learn from them and their ideas and ideals. Have an open conversation at the dinner table with your family and your friends (I guarantee if you have children that not only will they have a strong opinion but they’ll teach you some valuable lessons too). Read one article a month about a D&I topic you’re not familiar with or that you’re interested in learning more about. Beyond these ideas, positively challenge those around you to take some micro-actions of their own; those small steps towards change.

And, finally, make sure you’re looking at those critical Macro-Actions too, like those suggested by POCAM in their open letter to our industry. And figure out the longer-term strategies required in your workplace to enact some of those larger scale Macro-Actions.

One thing remains clear, this will be a long journey, on a road that will be full of twists, turns and bumps along the way to creating a more inclusive world. But if we can all take a few Micro-Actions, we’re sure to devour this elephant that exists in the workplace and our culture.

ben-tarr-623x350Ben Tarr is the president of Leo Burnett Toronto