Carter Murray: Doubling down on diversity

Carter Murray is the worldwide chief executive officer of FCB, an IPG-owned, global, fully integrated marketing communications company with more than 8,000 people in 109 operations across 80 countries.

Diversity umbrellas / Pixabay

If there is one thing that I have learned on the topic of diversity, it is that the starting point in any conversation, however obvious, is to get everyone to acknowledge that it is not a level playing field out there, professionally or in life. You would be shocked at how hard it is to get everyone aligned on this fundamental truth.

In advertising and marketing, we need to own this truth like everyone else to properly work out what to do with it. I would argue that our industry should be doubly passionate and determined to get things right, for women, for people of color, for people with disabilities, for the LGBTQ community and many more. We are in an industry that builds popular, mainstream brands, and as such, we need to understand the whole marketplace, not just a slice of it. We are also in an industry in which creativity is at its core, and I passionately believe that diversity drives better insights and better creativity.

Most importantly to me, we are in an industry that advises clients to find a truth in their product and their service, and a purpose in their brands. If we are to have a purpose as an industry, surely it should be in allowing everyone to express his or her talent and creativity to the max on a level playing field.

Action starts with getting leadership right. Diversity in management is a prerequisite to better culture and better business. It is not just common sense but also proven in many studies. At FCB, like most companies I can think of, we have much work to do. However, step one is admitting it is not right, that it is not fixed, being aware of the issue, committing to do better and then holding ourselves accountable for the progress.

Central to faster change, I believe, is for the white male leaders — yes, people like me — to become more self-aware, better listeners and more committed to change.

When the unrest in Ferguson happened in 2014, I penned an article with strong tones of outrage at what African Americans still had to endure in this country. When I showed it to Cindy Augustine, our amazing head of HR, who is African American, her reaction was, “You cannot publish this.” “Why not?” I asked, “Will I offend too many people on the far right?” “No,” she replied, “You will anger people in the African-American community. They will be wondering how on earth did you not know this was going on?!?”

It is only in being surrounded by diversity that we can better understand the people around us and the world in which we live. We may think that we are doing right by others, but ultimately, we can never stand in the body of another. Listening makes all the difference. Then empathy. Then action — at least in my experience to date.

When I started this job, Cindy insisted that I do an implicit bias test. The test had a profound impact, and in the last four years we have rolled it out as a workshop that is mandatory for our leadership around the world. Side note: I found that making this voluntary does not work because often those who need it most don’t show up!

Change must also happen in the nuts and bolts of an organization’s operations. A quick example: recruiting. One eye-opening fact on this topic: if there is one woman in a pool of four applicants, the odds of her being hired are almost zero. If there are two women, the odds are fifty percent. Obviously, addressing structure is profoundly important.

Free The Bid is another strong move to fix legacy issues and achieve change for the better. For years, directors in many industry categories have been primarily male. So, when a client does a multimillion-dollar shoot, they understandably want to see the portfolios of directors who have that level of experience which, of course, is traditionally only men. This means that three men end up making the final cut and then a male director is appointed, all ensuring the cycle continues. Free The Bid has clients and agencies commit that one of the three bids will always be a female director to give them the chance to break through. The results have been remarkable. In the first year alone, we had over 30% of bids go to women. I am so very proud that many agencies in our industry, including ours, have signed on to this — but we need everyone to do the same.

When Susan Credle became my creative partner, she took me aside after a few meetings and said, “Carter, I love that you want to get this right and to try and fix it, but it is depressing just talking about the problem. Please, can we also celebrate the brilliant women, the brilliant people of color, who have broken through, who have succeeded?” Of course, she was right. There are so many who have, and thankfully ever more so, whom we should celebrate, recognize and listen to intently.

For me, pure creativity is a moment, or moments, of genius, of lateral thinking, even of magic. These are the moments when we bring clients and their brand a real competitive advantage. Moreover, the buildup, creation and execution of it are always fueled by thinking differently, by deep understanding. Creativity is better when fed from different perspectives and many studies that prove that diversity fuels creativity.

Our industry is going through rather intense times (although I suppose when hasn’t it?). More than ever, I believe culture is critically important for us to produce our best product. Whilst culture is driven by many things, most important is having a place to work where you have people with the most diverse backgrounds possible, where people have an equal chance to succeed, to learn, to progress, to feel safe and love their work life. For me, this is when companies will find the most enriching and sustainable success. In a scaled business, I know this does not happen for everyone, every day, but I believe this should be — in leadership, in our industry and life — our ultimate goal.

Carter Murray's column is part of The Drum's network of influential senior industry leadership that includes Cilla Snowball, group chairman and group chief executive of AMV BBDO, Mark Read, Wunderman chief executive and more.

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