NEW YORK: Madison Avenue's ad agencies are making progress in hiring staff from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to the head of New York City's Human Rights Commission, Patricia Gatling, who is also "cautiously optimistic" that this trend will continue.

Gatling was taking part in a public hearing held to examine whether a total of sixteen agencies are meeting individual targets to diversify their workforces, as laid down in a bilateral agreement signed two years ago.

She reported that eleven of the 16 shops had met (or bettered) all their hiring goals in 2006, with the remainder doing so in 2007. The average aim was to hire 18% of new staff from minority groups, with the mean result being a rise of 25%.

Four of the five agencies that fell short in 2006 belonged to the Omnicom Group – PHD, DDB, BBDO and Merkley & Partners – the other being the Kaplan Thaler Group, part of Publicis.

Weldon H Latham, an Omnicom diversity counsel, said the holding group's ceo John Wren had stressed the importance of meeting these goals by the end of 2008 at the latest, and championed hiring an executive specifically to monitor progress.

The agencies concerned also employed consultants to help them in this process, and Omnicom spent $2 million (€1.3m; £1.1m) on diversity programmes such as helping found an advertising, media and marketing curriculum at Medgar Evers College.

The other agencies involved were Arnold Worldwide and Euro RSCG (Havas); Grey Direct, Grey Interactive, Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather (WPP Group); Avrett Free Ginsberg, Gotham and DraftFCB, which was counted twice as it merged after the signing of the accord (IPG).

Ogilvy has also lifted its own hiring target by 2% for 2008, and is now aiming for 18% of senior management – and 35% of all staff – to be from minority groups. 

Councillor Larry B Seabrook, chairman of New York City's Civil Rights Committee, commented: "The commission is going to stay on your case and I'm going to stay on the commission's case until we get it done and get it right."

Data sourced from Ad Age; additional content by WARC staff