IPG's chief diversity & inclusion officer says that the most important catalyst for improved diversity is 'executive will'
There’s an oft-cited study from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company that lays out a business case for improving workplace diversity. But it doesn’t tell the whole story, Heide Gardner, chief diversity & inclusion officer at The Interpublic Group of Cos., tells Ad Age in a sit-down chat at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
“Representation doesn’t equate with participation,” she says. Businesses hoping to improve the diversity of their workforces merely to improve their bottom lines miss the point of inclusivity and can risk alienating the very people they want to attract. “We’re having to deal with tokenism in our work, in as much as we have to deal with it in our workforces.”
Rather than quarterly earnings, the real catalyst for change is in the C-suite, according to Gardner, and representation at the top is in short supply. “The odds of a black woman or Latino woman or Asian woman becoming executive level are almost worse than they would be randomly,” she says. “You have a better chance if people are picking names out of a hat than if you hang in with the industry.”
But there are plenty of people in the pipeline poised to move up if the opportunity is presented. “That’s important because we’re in striking distance in terms of moving women up—and let me say that means white women primarily—and it’s just a matter of choice,” she adds. All that is needed is for people with the power to effect change to actually value making their organizations more diverse and then acting on it.
“When you have a good slate of candidates,” she says, “it just boils down to executive will about who they’re going to hire.”