How Mediabrands is trying to lead the way on DEI

Executive-level buy-in and a three-pillar strategy not only aim to create internal change, but set an example for the industry at large.

IPG Mediabrands has always had elements of inclusion as part of its DNA, but after looking at the representation and inclusion gap in Canada’s advertising industry, it knew it could do better and hopefully inspire others along the way.

“We realized there was more opportunity to be more mindful around it,” says Leith Mellors, chief people officer for IPG Mediabrands. “Some of this existed last summer but with the events of Black Lives Matter, we really wanted to take a look at what we were doing, what we could do differently, better and realigning in terms of the level of priorities. There was a gap in the industry, and we needed to do better. We can play our role in that – and hope our peers are doing the same.”

Given the importance of Mediabrands Canada’s DEI goals, Mellors says the agency is in the process of hiring a dedicated head of diversity, equity and inclusion. It is working with BIPOC Executive Search to reach the broadest audience for this role.

“We have some pretty hefty goals over the next few years and want to make sure we have the right leadership in place, so hopefully we’ll be welcoming that person in the next few months,” says Mellors, who points out that an executive-level role at the level of a network as big as Mediabrands is a rarity within Canada and a key place where it can lead the way.

But in addition to having executive-level support, Mediabrands’ other activities have included all levels of its network and agencies.

The agency network’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy is built on three key pillars – “Our People,” “Our Work” and “Our Community” – with working groups for each to support and drive change within the organization.

Some of the “people” initiatives include The Neighbourhood, an online platform created for employees to stay connected¬†and have meaningful conversations, whether it be around shared identities or shared interests. Right now, The Neighbourhood has 880 users and 26 “blocks” or channels that include Asians Strong, Black Employees Network (B.E.N.), Girls on Fire (women’s empowerment in the workplace) and Prism (LGBTQ2S+) with programming supporting key cultural initiatives such as Black History Month, Mental Health Month, Indigenous History Month and Pride.

Mellors says The Black Employees group is probably the most active. “That group came forward to say we want to make an influence, want to come together, we want to help educate, create programming. We partnered with them on that and let them run with it.”

Recruitment and talent attraction is part of Mediabrands’ strategy for creating an inclusive culture. The Residency is a big piece of that. This internship program launched in 2017 and invites recent graduates with diverse experiences to gain practical experience over a 16-week period. In 2021 alone, Mediabrands welcomed nearly 70 post-secondary students for the summer. The agency consistently ends up hiring about 85% of the interns into full-time employment.

Mellors says the program allows the agency to meet a broad range of students who might not be considering advertising, to give them that experience and then hire them on.

“We’re really trying to bring fresh talent into the industry,” Mellors says. “We have a pretty robust outreach strategy targeting under-represented groups to ensure we’re casting that net as widely as possible and attracting the broadest set of candidates for our roles.”

In addition, she says a mentorship platform is also being built and will be beta tested with the Black Employee Network and the Girls on Fire network.

Several learning and development courses have been incorporated to support inclusion. These include pro-inclusion training through a global partnership with MindGym, a provider of online anti-bias, pro-inclusion training for employees recently rolled out globally to all employees.

Mental Health in the Workplace Training has also been developed. Mediabrands has partnered with CAMH since 2019 to offer mental health training to managers and individual contributors as a way to break the stigma of mental health in the workplace. In 2021, the agency certified leaders across the organization in Mental Health First Aid to give access to frontline support for mental health crises and acute support.