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How WPP Is Striving for Diversity and Inclusion

Overview WPP Global Head of Culture Judy Jackson highlights the ways companies can move diversity and inclusion from being an HR agenda item to the CEO and company’s attitude.

In an increasingly diversified and multicultural world, organizations are becoming more focused on strengthening their company’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) — both with the organization and in the way they do business.

However, much of the change has been external facing, said Jackson, who champions building a culture of diversity and inclusion internally at companies.

“D&I has been approached as a separate component from the talent strategy or the people strategy,” Jackson said. “It cannot be a separate entity in an organization anymore. We have to think about it differently.”

WPP CEO Mark Read — who was recognized for championing women throughout his career by the 2018 Financial Times & HERoes Champions of Women in Business list — has cited for WPP staff the need for “a strong, positive and inclusive culture, one that wants to attract the brightest and most forward-looking people.”


Building a Culture, Not a Checklist

WPP is focused on building a culture in their company where people can thrive. One in which employees are empowered to learn, grow and collaborate to do the best work in their career.

Although it may seem as though they are not talking about diversity, this has allowed the team to change the conversation, according to Jackson. It has allowed them to move away from conversations about “diversity,” which often meant race, and about inclusion, which only happened when a company or person had been called out for being non-inclusive.

It’s not about just saying, ‘we have a D&I agenda.’ It’s about feeling a change.

Judy Jackson
WPP Global Head of Culture

By cultivating a work environment where employees from all backgrounds and with many differences feel like they belong, it broadens people’s perspectives and understanding of each other, setting the foundation for diversity and inclusion.

“[D&I is] not a checklist item,” Jackson said. “It’s not even necessarily seeing results in a year or even two. It’s making an investment in who and what we want the company to be.”

Breaking Down Barriers

By starting to change the conversations, companies can change their level of influence and ensure that D&I is part of the business strategy, driven top-down as well as from middle management. WPP reinforces this in a few ways:

Get to Know A CEO Events

WPP regularly invites groups of its CEOs to sit down with their employees from all backgrounds to break down barriers among the CEOs, middle managers and junior new hires.

There were mentoring roundtable discussions where employees could ask more personal questions, and CEOs were open about certain failures or challenges in their personal lives. Questions that are less about the business and more about the individual made CEOs more human and accessible.

“At the end of the day, we’re all people, not just a black woman, or a junior hire with a disability,” Jackson said. “We need to treat these conversations as a human conversation instead of a diversity and inclusion conversation.”

Mentoring Moments 

Jackson said the importance of mentoring moments extended beyond established mentor programs.

By letting employees decide what mentoring is useful in their careers, companies are able to help make those touchpoints more influential and significant. Similarly, we can’t forget that senior leaders also need mentoring.

Unconscious bias training

WPP has also focused on unconscious bias training, that allows employees to recognize their tendencies and ingrained biases and understand how to consciously react in meetings and in non-inclusive environments to create a diverse and consciously inclusive space.

Make It Intentional

“It’s not about just saying, ‘we have a D&I agenda.’ It’s about feeling a change,” Jackson said.

From putting it into creative briefs for external projects to openly checking the teams’ work to make sure content is inclusive and unbiased, as championing D&I in content and advertising continues, it will soon become part of the organizational process.

Jackson emphasized the need to have tough conversations from which people have often censored themselves. By speaking openly, people are able to learn more about others and cultivate a safe and positive environment.

“Where you can create a culture to have honest conversations, it changes everything,” Jackson said.

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