Verizon, HP and Unilever marketers discuss how to advance the diversity and inclusion conversation

Antonio Lucio, Aline Santos Farhat, Diego Scotti and Forbes editor of the CMO Network Jenny Rooney

Verizon, HP and Unilever are among of a handful of brands that have made headlines over the past year for taking tangible steps to make the advertising industry more diverse and inclusive.

At Advertising Week New York, HP’s global chief marketing officer Antonio Lucio, Unilever’s SVP of global marketing Aline Santos Farhat and Verizon’s chief marketing officer Diego Scotti gathered to discuss what progress they’ve made in this space so far and what more needs to be done.

During the panel, Lucio discussed the results of HP’s agency diversity challenge, which began last September when he tasked the company’s agency partners with hiring more women and minorities. Earlier this week, HP revealed how its agencies - which include BBDO Worldwide, Fred & Farid, Gyro, PHD and Edelman - have stepped up to the challenge over the past year.

According to HP, 61% of the people working on the brand’s agency account teams and 51% of senior leadership are now women, both of which exceeded goals. The company’s two lead creative agencies also significantly increased the number of women in creative leadership roles: BBDO went from zero to 40%, while Fred & Farid went from zero to 55%.

Despite the significant strides made on the female front, Lucio acknowledged that the agencies did not make as much progress with minorities. While three of its five agencies saw a “positive, upward trend” in minority representation, three of them did not meet their targets.

Lucio said that the reason its agencies didn’t experience as much success with minorities is because they weren’t looking in the right places to find talent, explaining that it’s easier to find women through traditional means of recruiting than it is people of color.

“In many ways, the reason that we made such significant progress [with women] is that those women were part of the pipeline,” he said. “They were just given an opportunity for the first time. The reason why we did not make progress on underrepresented minorities is because they’re not part of the pipeline.”

To combat this issue, HP is partnering with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to develop a program for underrepresented groups that will provide them with the chance to network, meet jurors and share creative. The company is also awarding a grant to Adcolor that it said will “fund a professional development solution focused on growing young talent in creative industries.”

“We need to look for talent in very different places than where we’re looking for talent today,” said Lucio.

Verizon has also recently taken to similar steps to get more diverse marketing and advertising talent into the workforce. Last year, it asked 11 of the agencies it works with to submit details on how they plan to increase the number of women and minorities working across different roles and senior leadership positions.

According to Verizon, the company's agency partners have recently made strides to keep up with its demands: 31% of those in agency leadership positions are people of color, up from 22% in 2016. In addition, 51% are female, up from 48% from last year.

The company recently rolled out a program called AdFellows, a paid fellowship that will give 20 diverse young marketers the chance to work within the company and at its partner agencies over the course of eight months. Participants in AdFellows will rotate into positions at Verizon as well as agencies including McCann Worldwide, Momentum, Rauxa, Weber Shandwick and ZenithOptimedia. Verizon is aiming to place 90% of AdFellows participants into full-time positions once the fellowship is over.

During the panel discussion, Scotti said that he doesn’t want AdFellows to be a solely “Verizon” initiative; rather, he said he wants other brands and companies to see it as an invitation to implement similar programs.

Scotti also said that Verizon is working to make both its own culture and its agencies’ cultures more inclusive so that diverse talent can feel comfortable once they’ve come on board. While he didn't elaborate on details, he said the company has implemented a inclusion training program over the past two years that has helped employees become “more aware and receptive.”

“You can bring all the diverse people [in] that you want, but if you don’t fix the working environment, they’re not going to feel at home,” said Scotti. “Unconscious bias is a real issue in corporate America.”

Santos Fathat said that Unilever is also working on inclusivity efforts, although the CPG giant's are primarily focused around ridding the workplace of gender stereotypes and discrimination. The company’s ‘Unstereotyped Mindset’ study released earlier this year found that 60% of women and 49% of men believe that stereotypes personally impact their career, life or both. In addition, the report found that “men and women overwhelmingly believe that men don’t want women in the C-suite.”

As a result of the global report, Unilever said it is urging senior leaders to recognize that “stereotypes, social norms and unconscious bias are contributing to the ever-widening gender gap.”

“Diversity is when you invite people to a party. Inclusiveness is when you invite them to dance,” said Santos Farhat. “When people feel included in a company or in a group, they are much more effective.”

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