Danny Bass on why 'change starts with CEO'

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 6 August 2018
Danny Bass

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Industry CEOs are the ones who have the power to bring greater diversity to the industry, according to Danny Bass.

Speaking to AdNews, the top media network boss said if we as agencies are the brand ambassadors for clients, who by and large are selling their products and services to the Australian population, then the people in our industry should closer reflect that.

While the number of females in senior positions across the industry has come a long way — with Bass himself overseeing UM, Initiative and Reprise, all headed up by female CEOs, Fiona Johnston, Melissa Fein, and Grace Liu, respectively — there are areas of diversity that still have some way to go.

Bass believes if you break the industry down in terms of ethnicity, as an example looking at the indigenous representation, the situation is “nothing short of disgraceful”.

“I don't know how many people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent we have in our industry," Bass said. "It would be low, and I think all ethnic groups would be under–represented compared to the general population."

In addition, as an industry, he said, we can do a lot more working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds and disadvantaged youth. And we must make it a priority to look at recruitment pools from outside traditional areas — not just within the same sort of areas within Sydney and Melbourne. This means looking at lower socio–economic suburbs, into communities and areas with high schools where people don't see this as an industry they can break into.

“We need to widen the net,” Bass explained. “We have an issue in this industry around churn and we have an issue in this industry with people leaving the industry for good.

"We need to get fresh talent in and not just move talent around the industry from one agency group to another.”

Off the back of a recent industry ‘CEO Bailout’ event organised by social purpose organisation UnLtd, IPG Mediabrands has since committed to work with Talent Rise. The event saw senior adland leaders spend a night at the Yasmar Juvenile Detention Centre to learn about the plight of homeless people and the remarkable support services that help them.

Talent Rise empowers young people, who might otherwise struggle to get a job, to find meaningful employment in the media, marketing and creative industries. Bass stressed his commitment to the organisation in that it's not just having a day where you raise money for charity, but it's that ongoing support which is needed, he explained.

See: Adland Bail Out raises $140k as industry focuses on next steps

Whether it’s employing great women or hiring people from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds, Bass believes it starts and stops with the leader of each organisation.

“It's very simple. Whether it be an agency or a holding group CEO, that person has a unique opportunity and responsibility to make our workforce more diverse,” he emphasised.

“We can all, in our very fortunate positions, alter this quite quickly. If we want a workforce that has more indigenous youth in it than it has today, then we can do that almost immediately.

“If we want to put more females in senior leadership positions, then we can do that as CEO. If we want to skew older, bring in more people from other backgrounds, give more opportunities to people with physical disabilities, it starts and stops with the CEO. That's it.”

While no disrespect is meant to people who sign pledges or join panels, Bass said, we don't need this as an industry.
"We can make this change happen very, very quickly” he added, due to the privileged position CEOs are in, in order to make it happen.

This first appeared in print

“I think it's as direct and simple as that. If a CEO of a business believes this is important to his/her business and can see the opportunity and great upside of doing this, then it's up to him/her to do it,” Bass said.

Keeping an ever–evolving mantra

As well as having three women CEOs, IPG Mediabrands’ national executive board panel of nine has five females among them.

Now in the CEO role for 2.5 years, Bass recalled his first week in the job when several pregnant women unexpectedly entered his office. They came in to discuss current maternity policies, which Bass said “certainly” got him thinking very early on about the approach to keeping female talent.

Mediabrands soon after updated its parental leave policy and has since also made extra changes. During the past three years it has increased its employer–funded paid maternity leave from four weeks to 12 and paternity leave from one week to four.
“The thing is, obviously you know when a female employee is pregnant because you can see them, but you never know when a male's partner is pregnant ever, unless you work directly with them," Bass explained.

“So, the amount of people who have said, ‘my wife's just given birth. I'm not going to take the whole five weeks. I'm going take a week and then I'm going to have every Friday off for the next 10 weeks — that makes a massive impact.

“We’ve seen, as we should, that it's important that female members of staff get what they need, but you don't usually think about the fellas. Certainly, the feedback we've had on that particularly has been really strong.”

The company's parental policy is “ever–evolving” Bass said, as the business assesses where it is regularly so it changes and develops and brings new things in.

Bass explained he doesn’t want instances of people feeling as if they have to group together to come through the door to incite change, so now there are anonymous avenues for feedback.

“We have a system in place now where any employee can speak directly to us anonymously — and it's used a lot,” he revealed.

“We also use that to check the pulse of the business as well. So, we know for example right now, one of the real hot topics in the business is recycling. A lot of people are talking about recycling waste, so that's something we can work on.”

With a strong, leading female line–up, increased parental leave, partnerships with organisations to hire from more disadvantaged backgrounds, and a recent gender pay audit — which in some areas skewed more female than male — is Bass the blueprint for a contemporary agency leader?

“I wouldn't use those words,” Bass said cheekily.

“I think we've been consistent in talking about our people–first policy for some time. Our stake and ambition in the next three years is to become the most diverse business in Australia, with a workforce that truly reflects modern Australia.

“That's the goal that the talent team and I, along with the rest of the business, are working towards.”

Bass also admitted that within the pay analysis, an issue did arise at the level underneath CEO where there are 12 males and just three females, which skewed the results on salary due to longer tenures.

“But, this really showed we have an issue of females leaving the workforce before MD level,” he revealed, which is why it brought about new changes.

More questions will be asked

Bass has plans for IPG Mediabrands not just to be the most diverse network in Australia, but the most diverse business in Australia. It’s in the process of working out what that looks like and what the measure of success would be.

With a strong quest to ensure its workforce reflects Australia, this mantra is also helping the business win pitches.

“Clearly, we'll always pitch on strategy and creativity and data and tech and everything else, but I think these questions will be asked more and more, in terms of what sort of business are you when it comes to areas such as diversity, female leadership, initiatives,” he said.

“Those initiatives are being led from our people. I think that’s really important as a business, to make sure that you have systems in place and your people can come forward and talk about what's important to them in this area.”

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