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Diversity and Inclusion: Pillars that will Shape What “Work” Looks Like in the Future

Featured Events , Future of Business Education Gabelli100 | Oct 09, 2020 |

By Claire Curry 

Digital acumen, data-driven decision making, a growth mindset, open-mindedness, and empathy are the skills that will be most essential to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce, according to Jacqui Canney, global chief people officer at WPP and keynote speaker at the Gabelli School’s Future of Business Education Conference held on October 1.

“Empathy above all is key,” said Canney. Addressing academics in the virtual audience, she said, “If you weave that into your curriculum and rise that up in your students, they will be the leaders of the future.”

Society’s desperate call for empathy and inclusion resonated around the globe this year as the world battled the COVID-19 pandemic and faced brutal truths about racial inequality. The crises also caused WPP to do some deep introspection and to jump start efforts to create the “best” workforce, Canney said, one that is people-centered, diverse, and inclusive.

“It really pushed us to think about what we are doing and how we are doing it,” she explained. The company began with a top-to-bottom review of its human resources processes, examining how employees are hired, promoted, and rewarded.

“We were all really committed to the fact that this was everyone’s job,” said Monique Nelson, chair and CEO of the multicultural marketing agency Uniworld Group (UWG), who has worked closely with Canney on WPP’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. “We talked about it in a framework. ‘What are we trying to solve and how quickly can we do that? How can we hold people accountable, and not in a way that is punitive, but in a way that is additive and creative?’”

The two discussed the three pillars of WPP’s mission: to become the employer of choice for all people; to modernize an inclusive experience where data and insights drive decision making; and to build a talent pipeline that encourages managers to build their own capabilities so they are better equipped to build the capabilities of their teams.

The longer-term goal is to affect change of scale both internally and through the work WPP creates for its clients. The global creative transformation company employs 100,000 people in offices around the world and produces one out of every three ads that are published, broadcast, posted, and streamed.

In helping clients ensure that their messages reflect the DEI mindset, Nelson said that everything is viewed through a “culturally dynamic lens” so messages are delivered “glocally,” a term they coined that means having global value as well as local relevance. Further, to help fight racism and inequality even more globally, the firm committed $30 million to charity and training.

“I think other organizations were timid around leaning into this,” Nelson said. “I’m so proud to be part of an organization that jumped in feet first, in the deep end. We’ve had lots of conversations in safe rooms talking about being vulnerable as leaders.”

While much progress has been made in just a short time at WPP, Canney said that this is only the beginning. She and Nelson agreed that reshaping the work environment to become more inclusive, dismantling stereotypes, and stopping racism will be a journey and that ongoing conversations will be critical.

Responding to a question about how to handle those sometimes difficult conversations around DEI, Canney emphasized the importance of “meeting people where they are” and listening with both mind and heart because everyone’s experiences and approaches to problem-solving are different.

“It’s not just about the goodwill of wanting to change this from a moral imperative, but it’s good for business,” said Canney, adding that people want to feel safe and welcomed first, but ultimately, they want to be cherished and celebrated. “If we had 100,000 people that we have working with our clients every day producing those one in three ads and they all felt cherished and celebrated, what amazing work would be there – and what a fulfilling career that would be.”

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