WPP commits $30 million over next three years to combat systemic racism
WPP is the first holding company to announce a commitment to taking "decisive action on each of the 12 points in the 'Call for Change'" open letter sent to agency leaders last week. WPP also announced an investment of $30 million over the next three years to fund inclusion programs within the holding company and support external organizations fighting racism.
Nathan Young, a group strategy director at Minneapolis agency Periscope, and Bennett D. Bennett, who runs independent consultancy Aerialist, led the charge last week with an open letter to U.S. agencies outlining 12 actions they should take to achieve true equity for people of color in the industry. At the time of its publication, the letter garnered more than 600 signatures from Black agency professionals and, as of Wednesday, has accrued over 1,200.
The recommended actions include making a commitment to improving Black representation at all levels of the agency that is “specific, measurable, and public”; regular and consistent tracking of diversity data at agencies in order to provide a baseline for accountability; regular policy and culture audits to ensure an equitable work environment for employees of all backgrounds; broader outreach for talent to a diverse representation of schools; an expansion of internships and training programs to candidates with transferable skills, as well as leadership training for existing staff; a wage-equity plan to ensure fair compensation for women and people of color as well as a number of diversity and inclusion mandates spanning leadership and internal programs.
“Over the last three weeks, I have heard an outpouring of pain, anger and frustration from Black colleagues, along with clear demands for change," WPP CEO Mark Read said in a statement. "This is the moment to embrace that change, and to use our creativity, our scale and our influence to make a difference in the fight against racism. WPP must support and elevate Black employees, and those from other under-represented groups, not as a diversity and inclusion initiative, but as a business and moral imperative.”
WPP said at the holding company level, as well as within individual agencies, the 12 actions ranging from "investment in the career paths of Black employees" to "measurable commitment to improving Black representation in senior management" have either already been implemented or are in the process. The company said it will set targets, track the progression of underrepresented groups and publish its racial diversity data.
The company said it will invest $10 million a year for the next three years to fund internal programs, make donations, and offer WPP's services and work pro bono to support charities and other organizations fighting racism, developing minority talent, and addressing issues affecting Black and other minority communities. WPP said it also will match employee donations to charities selected in consultation with the WPP Roots steering committee—which works to change the way in which the industry talks, discusses and approaches ethnicity, race, culture and religion within advertising—of up to $1,000 per person, to a total of $1 million.
WPP said it is also committing "to use our platform to enlighten, educate and inspire action" through the work it creates. The company said: "We will engage with clients, partners, peers, industry bodies, event organizers and suppliers to ensure that Black and minority ethnic talent is fairly represented, not only in the work but in our industry and wider networks. We will formally commit only to participate in events or panels where people of color are represented, in line with the pledge WPP CEO Mark Read signed some time ago not to participate in male-only panels."
According to WPP, a new global inclusion council will be established to work with Read and other executives to ensure the commitments outlined today are met.
Interpublic Group of Cos. CEO-Chairman Michael Roth was the first holding company leader to speak out about the letter, saying in a leaked internal memo last week that "as the signatories of the letter point out, change must accelerate and be sustainable." Roth didn't go as far as to make a commitment to each 12 step in the letter but pointed out several actions IPG would be taking to increase diversity and inclusion, including by holding its own executives more accountable. He said CEOs' compensation going forward will be based on them achieving "various goals related to the hiring, promotions and representation of people of color and women." In the memo, he also shared for the first time IPG's minority makeup within its executive ranks. A chart showed that only 2.6 percent of IPG's senior executives and managers are Black or African American; 5.5 percent are Asian; 84.9 percent are white; and 5.2 percent are Hispanic or Latinx.