LONDON: Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are not just moral issues, they’re business imperatives, according to Michael Roth, Interpublic Group CEO.

“How can you be in the marketing and communications business and represent your clients if the people who are working on the clients aren’t representative of the consumer?” he asked an audience at Advertising Week Europe yesterday.

Roth has pursued his vision of diversity and inclusion since taking over the top role at the network holding company a decade ago, when, as an industry outsider – he trained as a tax lawyer – one of the first things that struck him was that all the CEOs running IPG agencies were white, middle-aged and male.

That has all changed: 54% of Interpublic’s leadership is now female. “If you want to make change quickly and in a way that has an impact, the clearest way to do that is to have financial objectives and hold people accountable,“ he advised.

Making diversity and inclusion one of the financial objectives that senior people needed to achieve in order to be awarded a bonus – and rigorously enforcing these new rules – has resulted in this becoming “part of the DNA of our organisation”.

In the wake of revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Roth has had to again demonstrate his readiness to take swift and appropriate action where Interpublic businesses have been drawn into issues about harassment; he explained how the CEO and COO of The Martin Agency in Virginia had been recently replaced within days of complaints emerging about sexual harassment by the chief creative officer.

“We have a policy of zero tolerance and we mean it,” Roth stated. “You have to act or your entire credibility goes down the tube.”

Now he is “moving the needle” again; the past year has seen a 55% increase in the number of executives employed who come from ethnic minorities, although Roth acknowledged this was from a low base.

Some 30% to 40% of creatives in the industry are now women but just 1% are women of colour. “That’s disgusting,” he said, “and it’s bad business.”

Everyone from clients to investors is aware of diversity and inclusion issues, he added.

“We have clients who demand that their staffing has a diverse representation. Clients can demand it from us and where we can we ask the same things of our service providers. Our accounting firms and law firms, we ask them to put together teams that are representative.”

The latter development came about under pressure from one of Interpublic’s biggest investors, who, in their regular meetings, said Roth, is less interested in financial results and stock price than in what the business is doing about diversity and inclusion.

“Without having a diverse organisation we can’t meet the perception of whether we’re adding value without it,” he said.

“And the work that we do is different,” he added, citing the recent example of the #Queenrules project undertaken for International Women’s Day.

Sourced from WARC