Memo to New CEOs: Prioritize Diversity

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And to think that all these years, we said healthcare marketing had a gender diversity problem. Silly us!

If you were also under that impression, consider the results of this month's MM&M Career & Salary Survey, which asked respondents to rate the healthcare marketing industry's progress on advancing women to the C-suite. A surprisingly high percentage (71%) noted their organizations made headway.

Why so many painted a rosy picture, when three decades of data have shown low numbers of women holding executive roles, is anyone's guess. Regardless, this reveals a huge perception gap. Management turnover has brought the opportunity to take corrective steps.

See also: How to get more women in the C-suite, according to IPG, Unilever, and AOL

Newly minted CEOs Kåre Schultz and Dr. Vasant Narasimhan are set to take the helm at Teva and Novartis, respectively. During their first 100 days, these business leaders will introduce new ideas to win hearts and minds, embark on listening tours to get a pulse on the workforce, and lay the groundwork for turning these businesses around.

While they'll have many issues on their plate, from pricing to payers and everything in between, these new regimes simply must make gender and racial diversity a priority. To that end, here are some tips for putting “corporate muscle” behind such efforts, gleaned from the leadership track at Advertising Week NY.

Favor the roundtable, not the long table: Katie Vanneck-Smith, president and chief customer officer for Dow Jones, encouraged CEOs to introduce deliberate changes to uproot subtle biases among leadership and employees, and foster inclusion. “Unless you physically change processes, furniture, the way you talk,” she observed, “nothing changes.”

Long live quotas: Indeed, there is a place for policy. Salesforce.com just mandated equal pay for equal work, reportedly spending some $3 million to make its salaries more equitable.

And then there are hiring quotas, which flow all the way through the organization and can ensure the right mix of diverse candidates, but these must be supported by organizational changes.

Dow Jones CEO William Lewis instituted a 40% female leadership quota. Its flagship newspaper is representative of corporate America, which is largely white and male. Sound familiar, big pharma? “If we want to be part of the dialogue to change that, we have to behave differently,” Vanneck-Smith said.

Down with quotas: Incidentally, Vanneck-Smith said she is “personally uncomfortable with” quotas, as she favors a meritocracy. “You have to put quotas in because nothing's happening, but I hate the fact we need them,” she said. Clients, too, have put quotas on agencies, but the jury is still out on those.

Message the change: It's incumbent on marketers to change the way brands communicate to society, said Chris Macdonald, president of McCann North America. He pointed to the network's campaign on behalf of Microsoft that encourages young girls to “Stay in STEM.” 

Turn words to action: McCann participates in Verizon CMO Diego Scotti's recently launched paid diversity fellowship program, Ad Fellows. Such programs are another kind of response to the need for more diversity in recruiting. “We've got to become action-orientated to tackle these things,” Macdonald said.

Perhaps the surest sign that women and minorities have broken in will be less talk and more action. For now, it's going to take a lot of education to help get the business culture on-board.

Marc Iskowitz is editor in chief of MM&M.

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