Consumers have increasingly high expectations for brands and organizations to promote inclusiveness, both in front and behind the scenes. For marketing companies where storytelling lies at the heart of their business, striving to be better at accurately representing the world is particularly critical.
Jeff Greenspoon is the President Solutions, Americas & CEO dentsu Canada, which is a part of the largest global marketing and advertising agency networks in the world. He described how the company has committed to building and sustaining a culture of inclusive and diverse thinking across the organization.
In an era of rapid digital transformation, part of the company’s work is to help businesses standardize their data in a way that they can use it, said Greenspoon. According to him, while distinct cultures tend to consume and converse similarly, brands should, more importantly, be looking at the various spheres of influence.
“There’s been a lot of focus on getting personally identifiable information, which is important to ingest, but when you start to act on it, what becomes more important are the trends across bigger cohorts,” he said. “We’re trying to help clients unbias their data by not looking at it based on gender, race, religion, or place of origin, but rather look at the actions taken by individuals — What do they buy? What do they care about, and who do they associate themselves with?”
As a means to successfully help their myriad of clients and their customers, the company recognized that it needed to first look inward to be able to properly serve the communities it intends to target. And so, it deployed a company-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy starting with transparency and accountability.
“We went on a very broad and deep exercise on education and continuous learning,” said Greenspoon. “We started to look at how different types of people are represented and sponsored through our organization.”
Different cohorts were created to bring employees from all levels of the organization together to learn about a range of topics, including inclusive leadership and how to implement sustainable structures that attract, retain, and promote diverse talent.
Marème Touré is dentsu Canada’s first director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She led the team that launched The Anti-Racism Action Plan that seeks to implant an anti-racism culture into the company through strategic partnerships. The action plan is split into five pillars that touch on: transparency and accountability, the collection and tracking of data, pushing for the understanding and awareness of BIPOC communities, continuous education on anti-racist actions and resources, representation and sponsorship, and positive community and client impact.
To truly understand what was happening within the company, Touré shared that they set up listening circles — safe spaces where employees were encouraged to share their genuine experiences and what was important to them to facilitate the difficult conversations needed to help everyone feel seen, heard, and valued.
“What’s been exciting is to see the different business resources start to form in response to this,” said Touré. “Some of the information we gathered was really valuable to lay the groundwork for our next steps in building our [DEI] strategy.”
From these circles have emerged several additional discussion groups for the company’s employees, such as a pride group for LGBTQ+ individuals or the parent’s business response group, according to Touré.
“We try to give a choice where people can self-select to opt-in, for example, conversations for Black employees, for Indigenous peoples, or that concern leadership,” she said. “It allowed building dialogues that felt safer and where people could really exchange.”
“We have groups that are dedicated to Black employees, but we are also talking about other things that impact them, and so we start to see intersectional trends very, very early on,” added Greenspoon.
The agency has partnered with the BlackNorth Initiative, a pledge created by The Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, to help the fight against anti-Black systemic racism in corporate Canada.
“Everything that we have learned is available to our clients and the industry at large because our goal is to help everyone be more diverse, inclusive, and equitable,” said Greenspoon.
Stephanie Ricci contributed to this story.