‘We have our work cut out for us’: How Havas is launching a major campaign to overcome its lack of racial diversity in the U.S.

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With just 6% of the 4,000 people it employs in the U.S. identifying as black, Havas’ hasn’t done enough to spread racial diversity across the group. But the company has vowed to change — starting with a plan to ensure the non-white employees in the U.S. get more support and opportunities.

The initiative was launched internally last month during a series of virtual town halls where global chief talent officer Patti Clarke outlined seven steps: data transparency, providing industry access, breaking systems and evolving, education and ownership, accelerating careers, amplifying diverse voices and compensation accountability.

Each area consists of another list of initiatives that have target start dates, said Clarke. She is in the process of identifying owners for each point and from there will work with those execs to have project plans with set objectives, all focused on building a more diverse business and a stronger culture. Once those execs are assigned a project, targets will be set.

Those plans will lean on insights taken from a company-wide audit, which saw it update its employee profile systems as previously race was an optional field in its talent management system. For employees in the U.S. the company made it mandatory. WPP, Omnicom, Publics and Dentsu have also shared demographic breakdowns of their workforce in the U.S. Havas will review the data quarterly and publicize the numbers annually. 

Despite the commitments, there’s a long road ahead for Havas. Clarke, however, is optimistic the business won’t lose sight of its refreshed equality goals. Digiday caught up with the senior agency exec to hear more about the steps Havas is taking to create a more diverse and inclusive business. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Why has it taken the holding group this long to share this data? 

We didn’t just want to rush to share the data and do so without sharing a plan along with it. For us, the data was just the first step in better understanding our issues — because we have to understand where we are to figure out where we need to go. Fully committing to change and advancing our business at-large meant taking the time to create a thorough, transparent and actionable plan and sharing that plan widely with our employees and our industry.

To draft the plan, we had conversations with advocacy groups, industry leaders, as well as many of our black employees at all levels in the US and beyond. We assessed our business from end to end and produced what we feel is a comprehensive U.S. action plan that will optimize our ability to make real change in how BIPOC employees gain access and opportunities in our organization and how they experience our business overall.

Will Havas look to share the same data in other markets?

Like many, we have our work cut out for us, but we shared this plan openly with the ambition that we can all learn and grow together across our industry. For now, our immediate focus is on piloting our plan across the U.S., but we believe that our approach and many of our programs can be scaled globally, pending of course on the needs and context of each region.

Based on the feedback you’ve had from recent conversations, what are the main things that need to change about how Havas has dealt with diversity and inclusivity in the past?

I would say that the main change is the 360-degree approach to the plan. Since 600 & Rising’s Call to Action letter was published on June 10th, I have spoken to nearly all the Havas signatories as well as, along with my team, conducted several hundred conversations, with employees as well as industry thought leaders such as 600 & Rising, Allyship & Action and Curiosity Labs. We met widely with industry DE&I experts and completed a full 360-degree assessment of our current DE&I plans as well as the systems and processes that exist within our business. All of this was taken into account as the plan was developed. It encompasses initiatives, actions and programs that will be enacted across Havas US, with some having potential to scale globally.

Among the many notable issues brought up, the one that weighs so heavily on my mind is how many told me that while they love their teams, they do feel a profound sense of aloneness being the only black or person of colour on a team. The 7 steps above address how BIPOC employees enter our business, but also important aspects of their experience while they’re here.

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How do you make sure Havas’ plan doesn’t heap more work and subsequently stress on those execs who aren’t white?

This is a very important question. We will leverage the insights of our BIPOC employees, but we have been very conscious that they cannot be burdened with bringing everyone else along. We’re committing to a cultural change and everyone in our business is responsible for looking inward, doing the work, and learning along the way.

Our plan has been developed with leadership roles for executives and senior management — particularly white executives — where they can help advance some aspect of our plan through listening, learning and leading. They will be accountable for these things as leaders in our business.

Within the plan, numbers of different areas of our business will have areas of accountability, and at all levels. One key aspect of this is education. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out the first phase of our education approach for our U.S. employees — this first tier will be mandatory for all employees. The education process then scales — the more senior you are the more education you will be part of — as when leading teams and organizations it is crucial to have inclusive leaders. We purposefully say “education” rather than “training” because learning shouldn’t feel transactional — education is an ongoing process.  

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