Making the Best Places to Work Even Better

Photo: Matteo Paganelli

By Marla Kaplowitz
President & CEO, 4A’s

Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” —Stephen R. Covey

This month, Ad Age published its 2019 list of the Best Places to Work. Kudos to all the agencies that made the list, recognized for their commitment to their people with the breadth of their offerings regarding benefits, inclusion and employee development. As a former CEO whose agency made the list several years ago, I know what a tremendous honor it is, and how hard it is to make the list.

As I read an overview of the assessment and results, I noticed a significant departure from the way the list had previously been calculated—and with it, I saw good news and bad news.

The good news is that company culture and environment were most likely to be associated with good ratings. The agencies on the list have made huge investments in their culture, and those efforts paid off. And Ad Age’s criteria for evaluating agencies now highlights their efforts to address diversity and inclusion with summary charts. That’s a huge step forward, and the agencies recognized here deserve serious applause.

The bad news, though, is what’s still missing.

The data is sobering. The survey’s questions about “female” and “minority/multicultural” (I prefer “people of color”) considerations reveal our industry—like many others—still has work to do to reflect the world we live in.

For the data point of whether the top executive is a woman or a person of color, these columns contain far too many “no’s.” The percentages of these metrics across senior leadership vs. employees still reflects a significant delta for many agencies.

How do we address an issue like this? One way is to create a plan for change to understand the current composition and approaches to address. Ideally, we would tackle this together as an industry, but we don’t have broad industry metrics from one source.

Companies have to choose to disclose data and be comfortable that it will be used appropriately, as is the case with the Ad Age report. There is no legal requirement by the U.S. government to compel companies to publicly share their corporate diversity and inclusion data such as gender, race and ethnicity provided via EEO-1 reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Some companies that participate in well-regarded studies and surveys like Diversity Best Practices allow their data to be published. Sharing data would allow the industry and the public to understand the dimensions of the problem and work on the issues together.

There’s no argument for keeping this data proprietary. Everyone benefits from understanding approaches to diversity and inclusion across industries and companies to effect change. CEO Action For Diversity & Inclusion is a tremendous resource of more than 400 actions, and more than 85 examples, across a broad range of industries. And actions count far more than words. As the saying goes: what gets measured gets done.

So let’s use the release of the Best Places to Work list as an opportunity not just to fuel the conversation, but to increase the actions we need to take to shift the industry’s approach. Looking solely at gender and race and ethnicity is just a start; agencies also need to address other areas of difference in the workplace with efforts of inclusivity including age, faith, and different abilities.

Most importantly, it’s critical for agency leaders to do the hard work too—and not merely delegate this effort to their talent and HR leads. This is a job for everyone. And that starts at the top, with the senior leadership teams. If diversity, equity and inclusivity efforts aren’t a priority from the very top of an organization, nothing will change.

We know change is not easy. It will be uncomfortable. But as an industry, we must work together to create standards that result in a more enlightened workplace. The only way for an agency to truly be a “best place to work” is to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are reflected not only across employees, but also in the ranks of senior leadership.