Not that one would have expected gender equality to have become a proactive talking point for a company like the US-based Interpublic Group (IPG), but as part of its diversity and inclusion philosophy, IPG has spent two days of the week discussing its women’s initiative, Women’s Leadership Network, and what are some of the things a company can do to ensure a similar percentage of women in its top management, as is seen in the lower rungs of the company. Earlier in the week, IPG had hosted a discussion at the Palais des Festivals that could be attended by all Cannes Lions delegates.
In a closed door power breakfast later in the week, IPG invited its key officers and a few clients to speak on the subject. The panel included Lynn de Souza, Chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group. Michael Roth, CEO, IPG, said at the breakfast, “If you have not realised it yet, we are very serious about this initiative. Women professionals should be recognised for the sake of their talent and the different perspective they can get to a conversation. Metrics indicate that there are lesser women in the top management of a company, and we must know why, so we can change that.”
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Economist & Founding President, Centre for Work-Life Policy, drew a comparison with other industries to establish that the advertising industry was facing the problem of senior women professionals not making it to the top manager position. Quoting the primary research on keys to winning the war for talented women, she explained what some of the things were that could be done – both by women professionals and the company – to be able to increase the per cent of top women managers.
Speaking on the global industry, Hewlett spoke of mentors and sponsors, and how the latter was the one who played a crucial role in giving young professionals their next promotion. Women professionals had more mentors than sponsors. She stressed that sponsors made a quantifiable difference and research showed that sponsors were just looking for professionals with the ‘can do’ attitude – men or women. She said, “Some people, during our research, told us that women end up sharing too much. You share with your mentor, with the sponsor, it is all about getting the work done in the best way possible.”
Lynn de Souza pointed out that the Indian market was facing a slightly different challenge than the rest of the world. She said, “The issue is not even sponsorship, but equality itself to begin with. Women in India are either considered inferior by way of being someone who needs to be protected or very superior. Sponsorship is not articulated in the Indian market at all.”
Dawn Winchester, EVP and Chief Marketing Services Officer, R/GA, added that sometimes sponsorships could even be client sponsors, who played a key role in getting agency managers their next promotion or career direction.
The lesser women on top problem exist on the global client’s side as well and some companies have already begun to take some steps to address the problem. Trudy Hardy, Manager, BMW Marketing Communication and Consumer Events, BMW North America, spoke of the mentoring and grooming programme at BMW, called Women Interactive Network. Roberta Cocco, Central Marketing Group Director, Microsoft Italy, pointed out that the situation was even worse in Italy, but Microsoft took some strong steps to equalise the gender gap and it was now bearing results too. She added, “We are working to develop a specific programme for addressing this issue even further.”
Wendy Clark, SVP – Integrated Marketing Communications & Capabilities, The Coca-Cola Company, pointed out CEO support and reverse mentoring as ways to approach this issue.
In India, IPG’s WLN initiative was articulated in the form of Equal and Opposite. de Souza observed, “By the very definition of the initiative, we should not do something that takes the women professionals out and makes them stand out, the idea is about inclusion. Women are opposite, but complimentary. We are trying to understand more on the obstacles to succeed, and address them. But my learning from the conversations here is that in India, too, we need to step up and do this in a more formal way.”
The global leaders discussed work relationships, working professionals with families as some of the real problems that women professionals will face. They also said that many women professionals make the mistake of playing the role of a man. Women professionals should understand that there is a uniqueness they bring to the equation. While emotions can sometimes cloud perspective, they should not try to be someone else.
The breakfast was the first programme of The IPG Diversity + Inclusion Summit series, an initiative to build a more diverse and creative industry for all through events, dialogue and thought leadership.