Racial equity at WPP: what is the vision?

“At WPP, we're just getting started,” says LJ Louis. “We have solid early returns and we have a lot to do”

“The brief is to systemically drive inclusion by incorporating DE&I principles throughout the entire employee life cycle. That means evolving our strategies and policies to attract top talent, engage and retain the talent that we have, advance that talent and prepare our people for succession to senior management roles,” Louis says.

“Ultimately, we want to drive outcomes. Firstly, acknowledging DE&I is a unifying cornerstone of the business and using this focus to build a culture of belonging and transparency. Secondly, DE&I is a core business issue, and it should be embedded in every part of our business strategy. Thirdly, DE&I is a key client priority. It helps us both win and keep business. So, building diverse teams at WPP is part of our competitive advantage and should be kept top of mind.”

Louis says that being part of an organisation that has made racial equity commitments – in terms of words, actions and dollars – is a fortunate position to be in. “But we're just getting started. I am thankful that we have leaders that care about DE&I, that care about racial equity, and teams that are supporting this and making it part of our DNA at WPP.”

DE&I has been on its own journey of late. “In the middle of 2020, there were big spikes in hiring DE&I leaders, in making commitments to combatting DE&I issues and in establishing Employee Resource Groups,” says Louis, adding that these issues have become less of a priority at corporations of all sizes as the global economy has softened.

“As we reach the third anniversary of George Floyd's murder, and questions arise over what companies have done across that period, there may be fresh focus on these issues. We're talking about hundreds of years of systemic racism that certainly are not going to be solved by three-, four-, five-year strategies.”

What is the focus right now?

“For WPP, one focus is executive recruiting,” says Louis. “If you look at the first of the 12 Commitments, it specifically referred to increasing the number people of colour in our industry, but especially into leadership positions. We’ve already begun to make inroads here.”

And its progress made while getting the right data infrastructure in place. “I can only imagine what we can do once central HR systems are truly up and running. But what we’ve been able to achieve so far is really about being intentional,” she says.

“It’s been about making sure that we're taking that extra step to get into the talent pools that we might not be as familiar with, to reach out to the people that maybe haven’t worked in this industry before, and creating a welcoming environment where these leaders of colour feel they belong and can be successful.”

Engagement with leadership is vital

Shifting the dial on racial equity only happens when there is engagement with leadership. At a complex organisation like WPP, even the concept of leadership requires unpacking.

“For me, leadership engagement is about talking to all stakeholders that can impact broader employee groups – it’s beyond a specific title or level,” says Louis. “We presented our talent and inclusion strategy to the Executive Committee and asked them to help steward five key initiatives through their agencies this year. Additionally, we’ve aligned the strategy with several other groups of stakeholders, including chief people officers, DE&I leaders, learning leads and members of Employee Resource Groups. They all play a vital role in progressing the DE&I agenda across the WPP network.”

The WPP Inclusion Council – composed of a diverse group of leaders located across the globe – was established in 2020 as part of the 12 Commitments. Its aim was to help shape diversity and inclusion policy and monitor progress. “We needed to make sure we’re not only looking at the DE&I journey at the global level, but also understand what resonates with our people in our local markets,” she says 

Where are we with the 12 Commitments?

Apart from the Inclusion Council, WPP is delivering significant training as a means of honouring our commitments. One thousand people managers across the WPP network completed an inclusion training pilot and we’re scaling a new ‘Inclusion as a Skill’ programme this year. This 12-week intensive training for people managers will launch in the third quarter.

“When you have specific measurable goals paired with a public commitment, that is where you are able to harness the power and the scale of WPP to make progress,” she says.

“To this end, the Count Me In campaign, our self-reported demographic survey, will help us get more granular in terms of understanding the demographics of diversity that exists across our top 20 markets. We really want to understand who our people are and make sure that we're we are offering the right resources and benefits to ensure our employees feel a sense of belonging at WPP.”

LJ Louis


published on

23 May 2023



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