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72andSunny, VML Become the First Agencies Certified by 3% Movement

By Published on .

Credit: iStock

Talent has no gender, the expression goes. And now the 3% Movement is making agencies put their money where their, well, talent is. MDC Partners' 72andSunny and WPP's VML are the first agencies to become "certified" by the equality advocacy group for creating inclusive cultures in which both men and women can thrive.

The 3% Movement -- not to be confused with 3 Percenters -- announced the results of its inaugural certification program at its sixth annual conference in New York this week. Upon the for-profit organization's founding, only 3 percent of U.S. creative directors were women. That figure is now up to 11 percent.

But the 3% certification goes beyond changing the ratio of female creative directors in the U.S. and stretches into all areas of gender equality and inclusion, say organizers. A "handful of agencies" went through the first process, says Lisen Stromberg, chief operating officer of 3%, declining to discuss any other than 72andSunny and VML.

Agencies pay $25,000 for the privilege of becoming 3% certified, but Stromberg makes the case that it's good for business. Almost every RFP recently, she says, asks about an agency's commitment to diversity and gender, so this provides an "automatic chance to stand out among peers."

She says it also will help in attracting new talent and retaining current employees.

"It's a pretty vulnerable experience opening up the company to a third party, but we believe that to achieve the progress that we want and to be leaders in the industry on this issue, it was a leap we had to make," says 72andSunny Global CEO Matt Jarvis.

The process takes at least a month, but can take longer depending on access to information and what benchmarks need to be changed in order to achieve the certified status. For example, at the start of the program, VML's maternity leave was not up to 3%'s standard of at least 12 weeks off. Following the assessment, the shop quickly changed its policy.

"We went into this process knowing we weren't perfect and eager to learn how we could become better. The findings of 3% are inspiring us to drive continuous improvement of our culture and policies," says VML Global CEO Jon Cook. "One example of how we were willing to evolve our culture and environment of inclusion was by improving our maternity benefits."

He adds that the change was a direct result of the feedback and analysis the agency received from the study.

In order to achieve a certified status, agencies have to meet 3%'s proprietary "FORE" standards: Female leadership; opportunity for advancement; respectful depictions in work; and equality of work, wage and policies. The 3% benchmarks and best practices are based on the organization's own research and industry surveys.

"This isn't about getting a slapped sticker -- this is about understanding your best practices, what your employees are saying you're doing incredibly well and where you have room for improvement," says Stromberg.

Gary Stolkin, global CEO of The Talent Business, says it's fortunate that "an increasing number of agency leaders understand that diversity really does fuel creativity and innovation, driving competitive advantage and commercial success."

"The 3% Conference, now The 3% Movement, can take much of the credit for providing the platform and making the arguments that have started to shift attitudes and affect cultural change. In many respects they're well placed to advise agencies on tackling this change," he adds. "However, there are potential perceptual issues around selling both consultancy and certification. It would be a huge shame if The 3% Movement's campaigning position was weakened as a result of a commercial interest in a certification revenue stream."

Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Movement, says the program is "really rigorous" in that it goes beyond looking at statistics of female prevalence in leadership at the agencies. The 3% certification team goes into participating agencies' offices and surveys all employees and looks at whether or not the creative itself and its awards entries are gender equal. It also examines the shops' social media and public presence and checks if women are involved in new business pitches.

If an agency is close to being certified but hasn't met all the requirements, Stromberg says 3% gives it a "pending pass" until they make improvements. For those agencies that are still very far off, 3% will consult with them and help them figure out what they need to do. Then, within a year, the program can reassess for a "nominal additional cost," adds Stromberg.

The 3% certification program is inviting more agencies to participate in 2018.

"The more data we have access to, the more rich and informative or benchmarking becomes," says Gordon, adding that she hopes hundreds of agencies participate.

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