WPP’s response to Black Lives Matter

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 22 June 2020
Screenshot from work by Miami Ad School.

WPP CEO Mark Read wants the company’s work environment to a place where everyone is treated fairly and with respect

“Right now, however, there is one topic that I think is front of mind,” he says.

“The killing of George Floyd (in the US) and other terrible racially motivated events have shone a spotlight on the ongoing injustices being faced by the black community.”

The company says it will engage with clients, partners, peers, industry bodies, event organisers and suppliers to ensure that black and minority ethnic talent is fairly represented.

The company will only commit to participate in events or panels where people of colour are represented, in line with the pledge Read signed some time ago not to participate in male-only panels.

WPP says it will spend $US10 million a year over the next three years to fund programs and to provide support for anti-racism charities.

“Over the last three weeks, I have heard an outpouring of pain, anger and frustration from black colleagues, along with clear demands for change,” says Read in a statement.

“This is the moment to embrace that change, and to use our creativity, our scale and our influence to make a difference in the fight against racism.

“WPP must support and elevate Black employees, and those from other under-represented groups, not as a diversity and inclusion initiative but as a business and moral imperative.”

WPP'S announcement referenced an open letter, A Call for Change, by black advertising professionals calling for change to end racism:

“After decades of well-intentioned diversity & inclusion efforts, we have seen little progress in making Black voices a more representative part of the creative process. We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions. And because this industry does not release or track diversity numbers, it is impossible to tell what, if any, progress has been made.


“Worse still, there is a ‘boys’ club’ mentality that remains pervasive in this industry. The same elitism & discriminatory behavior that has restricted women from advancing in the workplace, has resulted in an oppressive mono-culture that stifles the growth of Black agency professionals and restricts our ability to express our true selves.”

 WPP has held a series of “safe room” events to help staff process recent events, express solidarity and share thoughts and fears, according to a presentation at the company’s AGM.

“Several thousand people participated in these raw and candid conversations,” says Read

“It is important that we commit to action, and we have a lot of work to do inside our own organisation.”

The company has formed a global Inclusion council to advise the WPP executive committee.

“It will develop a consistent approach that each of our agencies can follow, so that we can track progress centrally and ensure that it extends across WPP,” says Read.

“It can learn from the work of a number of programs we have across the company like WPP Roots and our employee resource groups, but we do recognise that we need to take more fundamental action.

“A key goal will be more racially diverse leadership teams at the top of the company and it’s something we do need to address at board level as well.

“I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I am committed to building a culture of belonging at WPP, and to redoubling our efforts with our people, our clients and our communities to make a difference.

“I know this is something that is important to our people but it is also something that is important to our clients and to our shareholders.”

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