Supporting our Black Communities

Mark Read's message to everyone at WPP

WPP’s purpose is to build better futures for our people, clients and communities. We can’t be true to our purpose without supporting our Black colleagues, or without acknowledging their pain and the injustices they continue to face. Racism has no place in society and no place at WPP.

The killing of George Floyd and other racially motivated incidents have created a wave of hurt, outrage and protest. They should not, however, have come as a shock – they are only the latest manifestations of the systemic unfairness and prejudice that Black people have to contend with day in, day out, throughout their lives.

Yesterday we held our first “safe room” town hall for our people in the United States. It will not be our last. Hosted by our Head of Culture Judy Jackson and with panellists from across our company, it provided a forum to process recent events, share thoughts, fears and reactions, and discuss actions we can take to address inequalities. A thousand of you took part; there will be another US-focused session on Thursday for those who were unable to join, and more in the future, including in other countries.

I was deeply moved by the heartfelt contributions of the panellists and candid comments from participants. There was inspiring passion and strength but also weariness and anger. It is shameful that members of the Black community still feel they do not fully belong in our industry, and as a leader of that industry I have to accept my responsibility for that situation – and my responsibility to change it. One participant said “Non-Black people cannot place the burden of making change on to Black people. We all need to do the work.”

A clear message from the town hall was that it is essential to voice support for the Black community right now, to send a signal that their lives matter, they are supported and their pain is recognised. That’s not about grand statements but what we can do as individuals. Summing up her feelings at the end of the event, a panellist said “We want all the leaders to know that you have people in pain. Checking in would mean the world to them.”

What is equally clear, though, is that voicing support and acknowledging the issue is not sufficient. Our focus needs to be on action – and not just today. Another comment that hit home was this: “Brief pulses of outrage aren’t enough. We need everyone to be committed, consistent, persistent for this to work. We can’t go quiet when the news cycle stops.”

We will be forming a global WPP Inclusion Council to advise me and our Executive Committee. It will be tasked with developing a coherent approach that each of our agencies can follow, so that we can track progress centrally and ensure that it extends across WPP. It can learn from programmes like WPP Roots in the UK and now in the USA as well as the important work done by our employee resource groups, but we recognise that this is just the start and we need to take more fundamental and concrete action if we are truly to create change. A key goal will be more racially diverse leadership teams at the top of the organisation.

The global Inclusion Council will not be a siloed “HR” initiative but the basis for a set of commitments that will apply throughout the company and for which leaders will be held accountable. It will build on our experience with the UK Inclusion Board, which was established two years ago by our UK Country Manager Karen Blackett, who is also the UK Government’s Race at Work champion.

We have a broader role to play too, far beyond our own organisation, through our work with clients. We have a responsibility to make sure our work never feeds prejudice, and an opportunity to tell the stories of inclusion that educate, enlighten and inspire. Our agencies have a strong record of impactful work in this space, not least our associate UniWorld Group, led by Monique Nelson, which has been a trailblazer in multicultural advertising for half a century. I am writing to the CMOs of our major clients stressing our commitment to action and asking them what more we can do together.

We also need to be good neighbours to the communities in which we live and work, and to ensure that our people and agencies are connected to them. One example of how we are responding is the work that WPP has initiated with Black leaders across the industry to support communities adversely impacted by COVID-19. As a result of that, cross-agency teams in Chicago and Detroit will soon be launching a campaign addressing the inequities associated with the pandemic.

As ever, please email me with any questions, suggestions or comments you may have, or speak to your leadership or People team. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I am committed to building a culture of belonging at WPP, and to redoubling our efforts with our people, our clients and our communities to make a difference.

Mark Read

Chief Executive Officer, WPP

published on

02 June 2020



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