Two years ago Leo Burnett was in hot water after a photograph of its all male, all white, creative team drew ire. Since then, the agency has been a founding member of The Agency Circle and is taking steps to tackle and improve diversity.
It’s been a year since agencies in The Agency Circle got the results of the first year’s diversity survey. Each has now taken on a different area of focus depending on what their own results showed and where they felt most pressing action was required.
Questions the survey asks agency employees span all aspects of diversity such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disability, gender and age.
So far, Leos has hired more female creatives, including within the senior ranks and has taken its creative department female ratio from 10% to 36%.
In this Q&A with Leos head of talent management, Sarah Palmer, who has been active in The Agency Circle since day one, we take a glimpse at where Leo Burnett has focused and the progress it has made.
The survey is about to go into its second year, which will for the first time offer agencies the ability to benchmark their own progress against their results for the first year.
Any agencies wishing to sign up and become part of The Agency Circle so they can start benchmarking their own performance and progress in these areas should contact Emily Perrett at Clemenger before 1 September.
Q: What has been your biggest area of focus since getting the results of the survey back, and why?
Sarah Palmer: We recognise that women need to be better supported and nurtured in the mid-career space when family life enters the picture. This has probably been our biggest area of focus as we will continue to want to promote women in senior roles. We’ve conducted further research and audits with our staff to better understand issues around flexibility and support and we are currently changing things like our parental policy and flexibility strategies to help future proof our senior leaders.
Q: What results were you surprised to find? Were there any findings you were disappointed in?
SP: The challenges, for the most part, were well known to us but the comparison to the industry benchmarks, as recorded by The Agency Circle, has helped us to further quantify our own internal benchmarks and goals.
We appreciate that women need to be better supported in the creative and design areas but were very pleased to see that we have a higher proportion of females in this area (+8% versus industry).
We are committed to continually finding and hiring senior female creatives and supporting them into leadership positions. Karen Ferry is one of our senior writers and we’re incredibly proud and supportive of her newly nominated role as co-chair of AWARD School.
It was disappointing to see the high proportion of people who have had to put up with inappropriate comments and jokes. We focused on this area as part of our unconscious bias training which was held by Seventeen Hundred late last year to help us put in place strategies which diminish this unconscious cultural bias.
Q: How has the survey helped the agency focus on improving gender diversity, and the working environment for staff?
SP: Again, it has helped us to know how we compare to the industry as a whole and to help us be accountable for achieving our own goals. We’re committed to measuring the positive changes across our organisation and conducting regular surveys and health checks with our staff.
Q: What specific initiatives have you put in place and actions taken as a result?
SP: We’ve taken action in a number of ways:
LEADERSHIP: They say that change needs to be led from the top and so our support and belief in diversity was truly demonstrated by the promotion of our first female national CEO, Melinda Geertz.
ANALYSIS: We ran numerous surveys with our staff and undertook in-depth analysis of our performance and remuneration systems to check that there were no salary gap issues.
EXPERTS: We brought in external expert organisations like SheSays, Seventeen Hundred and The Dream Collective to help us implement more inclusion within our practices and processes. We continued to implement the key action items from the Communications Council Guide to achieving gender diversity.
TRAINING: Our leadership, senior teams and hiring managers were all trained externally in unconscious bias to ensure everyone from leaders to middle management were aware of its implications on the agency.
HIRING: We hired more female creatives, including senior people, and took our creative department female ratio from 10% to 36% – a step in the right direction.
TALENT POOL: We launched a paid creative intern program to future-proof the talent pool – 75% female intake in The Seedlings Internship programme.
MENTORING: We continued our internal program – aimed at providing more senior female mentors. And we invested in external leadership training for a number of our mid-level females supporting their continued development to leadership, including the Dream Collective and a couple of other leadership courses run by the Communications Council, including the emerging Creative Directors Course
COMMUNICATION: Regular updates to all staff about our policies and procedures with regard to being an equal opportunity employer.
MOMENTUM: Our internal Diversity Council met regularly to devise and implement a range of flexibility initiatives for all staff.
ACCOUNTABILITY: We played a pivotal role in the launch of a new industry body, The Agency Circle, which aims to keep our organisation and other agencies accountable for providing equal opportunities.
Q: Now that the second year of the Survey is coming around, where are you hoping/expecting to have made progress?
SP: We are looking to improving across all measures of gender, age and ethnicity.
Q: Why is the agency participating in The Agency Circle Survey - what is it helping the industry do?
SP: Because we genuinely want to see positive change in diversity across our industry and we believe that this is one of the ways to help maintain our own accountability on this important journey.
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