The 3 Percent Movement certifies first global agency and brand—Forsman & Bodenfors and Adobe
Forsman & Bodenfors (F&B)—the MDC Partners agency that absorbed KBS last year—has become the first network to receive certification from The 3 Percent Movement across all of its global offices in Gothenburg, Stockholm, Shanghai, Singapore, Toronto, Montreal and New York.
The announcement was made at The 3 Percent Conference in Chicago on Thursday, along with news that Adobe has become the first brand to be certified. This takes the grand total of companies stamped with 3 Percent certification to six, with F&B and Adobe joining VMLY&R, 72andSunny, Possible and Swift.
Michele Prota, global board member of talent at F&B, led the effort for global certification. She tells Ad Age that she’s “been a fan” of The 3 Percent Movement Founder Kat Gordon “for quite some time.”
“What started out as me as a frequent [3 Percent Conference] attendee has turned into me as the internal champion for certification,” Prota says. She helped run the merger of F&B and KBS, as well as the latter agency’s earlier 3 Percent certification in New York. She says global 3 Percent certification was a top priority once the merger was completed.
“The 3 Percent team was maybe my first or second phone call after the merger announcement,” Prota says, and it led the agency to enact certain further progressive policies such as setting aside dedicated time during the work week, when no internal meetings are held, for employees to focus on their own welfare like going to the dentist or doing laundry. Earlier in the year, F&B New York CEO Mike Densmore also told all employees not to demand a response from anyone within the company after 7 p.m., and advised on how to set clients up for the same expectation.
Only four people currently sit on the 3 Percent Movement’s certification team, even though the process is arduous and time-consuming. It is a three- to four-month process and involves an anonymous survey sent to all staff, in-person interviews with employees of all ranks and external research to assess female leadership, workplace culture and equal opportunity within an agency. The work an agency creates is also evaluated for inclusive content. For U.S. certification, the cost starts at $25,000, and globally $35,000, while additional fees can be tacked on for extended research or further assessments. Plus, companies must reapply for re-certification every three years.
“It takes months to do and requires a lot of travel and time,” Gordon tells Ad Age, “and we don’t make money on that. But it’s something we continue to do because we feel it’s meaningful.”
Hence, why only six companies have received certification since the movement’s founding seven years ago. Gordon says The 3 Percent Movement will continue being selective in its certification process, noting how important it is for every participant to “cooperate.”
“We need the right partners who make sure we can get our hands on the right data to ensure we’re doing an accurate read,” she explains.
Gordon says F&B was a good test candidate for global certification because the team “already had pretty high trust in their leadership” given that KBS previously went through the process. The organization did have to do a bit more “homework” to know the benchmarks for female representation in the various regions in which F&B operates for the global certification process, Gordon notes.
Still, as much as The 3 Percent Movement is selective in what companies it admits into the certification process—two absolute requirements are that an agency must have completed a wage audit, or commit to doing one, and offer at least 16 weeks of family leave to employees—not all agencies are ready or willing to undergo the process.
Three executives at three different agencies that have not been certified and who wished to remain anonymous expressed the same sentiment about the process: They’d prefer to do, or have done, their own internal assessments on gender equality and are unsure, beyond the stamp of certification, what they would truly get out of it. All of these executives said they continue to support The 3 Percent Movement in various ways, such as attending and speaking at its event (which sold out this year, as it did in 2018, at 1,400 attendees).
A spokeswoman for The Martin Agency—the non-certified IPG shop that has made headlines for undergoing a significant turnaround under CEO Kristen Cavallo and Chief Creative Officer Karen Costello that included equalizing pay—said in a statement that while the agency supports The 3 Percent Movement, and is sending “a small army” to its conference this year, it prefers to “continue owning” its own inclusion efforts.
“In the last year alone, we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of resource hours in diversity and inclusion initiatives within our agency—and we were humbled with IPG’s Outstanding Business Results Through Inclusion award, as we’ve seen double-digit revenue growth from this focus,” the spokeswoman said. “We think that’s money with legs, supporting a multitude of activities versus initial certification and recertification fees with a singular partner.”
Still, Gordon argues that bringing in an external partner is critical in truly evaluating the culture of a company. Prota agrees, saying the process helped F&B “understand pay equity in an authentic way." The agency has equalized pay in the U.S. and plans to do global pay equity assessments in 2020.
“No one is bankrolling us, no one owns us, we have no vested interest in the outcome one way or the other,” Gordon says. “It gives an integrity to the process.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that F&B was working to complete the equalization of pay globally in 2020, but the agency has only committed to doing global pay equity assessments.