Speech: Heide Gardner, 2015 Executive Honoree

KEITH BURTON: Lynn Farnham recently founded as founder and CEO of the IPG company, IB Media. And in September for advertising aid, she looked back on her 40-year career and shared her perspective on the progress we’ve made in diversity and inclusion. She reminded us in that piece than a decade ago, the spotlight was on the lack of racial diversity in American advertising agencies and communication companies.

In 2006, the New York Commission on Human Rights negotiated groundbreaking agreements with the city’s largest advertising agencies to diversify their workforces particularly in the managerial and the creative positions. Heide Gardner remembers those days. Three years earlier, she had joined IPG as Director of Diversity and she quickly ascended to Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, becoming the first African-American and one of three women in senior management at the company.

Working with IPG CEO Michael Roth, Ida helped the firm not only embrace diversity inclusion but also to advance it not as a mandate, not a matter of compliance, but as she described it always to me, a critical business imperative for driving performance and innovation. For becoming more agile, for helping understand and serve clients in the world in which we live.

To develop new cultural strengths, and to recruit and retain top talent. Ida also helped IBG set goals and introduce innovations one of the most important of which I remember is linking executive incentives to scorecards that measure agency diversity. She also introduced the firm’s first Annual Inclusion Award, a program that honors agencies and individuals who demonstrate leadership in driving diversity.

When we spoke recently, she told me that one of her proudest accomplishments of 2015 has been the development of a new program that is designed for high potential, diverse men and women. It has yielded 52 men and women inside of IPG companies who ascend to new leadership roles this year.

These 52 along with hundreds of others who’ve come out of comparable programs she’s been a part of helping to create, as well as signature programs like the American Advertising Federation’s Most Promising Minority Students program, which is an enduring major hiring pipeline for agencies, clients and media companies that she created.

These people are now ascending to new levels of leadership where they can and they will make a difference. Ida tells us that her career has benefited from the strength and resilience that she inherited from her parents, and open communication with the senior leaders that she serves and works with.

My role here at IPG she has said is to be a cheerleader for our progress, but also to be a resource for solving some very tough problems. Trusting relationships with my CEO and other leaders is essential for assessing what’s working and what isn’t. Ida has great advice for all of us about the path to true leadership and diversity and inclusion.

It goes like this. Be honest with the company’s leaders. Have the courage to ask for what you need. Use vision and inspiration to help others. Connect the dots between the workplace and the marketplace. Open doors and create access for others. Seek out spiritual renewal and humility. And as one of her mentees, I would add one more characteristic that is true of her.

Be human. Be real. Be willing to let others experience your humility and your vulnerabilities. There will be both tears and joy along the path. We have so much more to do as you’ve heard from hers tonight. The PR State Foundation, the Orthopaedic Society, the collective mind of her agencies and our corporate teams.

We all must go further and move beyond sometimes that are rather with what we feel into more action. Most of the opportunities in my life, Ida said, emerged while I was giving back to other people. Everything came out of those moments when I was trying to make a difference.

And she’s doing that. Please join me in honoring Heide Gardner tonight.


HEIDE GARDNER: Thank you so much, Keith. I want you to know that I consider you to be a mentor. And an inspiration to me and that your support over the years has meant everything. Thank you so much.

And thank you to The Plank Center. Congratulations to the other honorees. I’m so humbled by this and to look out and see all of you in this room to be in the company of such esteemed honorees means everything to me. Thank you. As Keith indicated, I’ve been working at diversity and inclusion in this industry now for, it’s decades, and there are times when I feel really positive about the progress that we’ve made.

And there are times when I despair. Today, we find that in the management ranks, we have 17% people of color. In the first to mid-level of management about 52% women, but when you move to the senior executive ranks you’ll find only 40% women, and only 10% people of color.

So we have a lot of work to do. One of the things that I have learned Is that mentoring is absolutely essential. For the past several decades we’ve focused a lot on the entry-level pipeline and it’s so important to keep that pipeline going. It’s so important to nurture our college students and to reach down into the high schools.

But what we often forget is to nurture the people who are in the business and to mentor them. I did some research, because looking at IPG, we’ve been there for ten years. We’d made some progress, but we were looking at our data. And we knew we need to do something different so we did what we do in this business, we do research, and found some insights.

One piece of data that I’ll share with you is that The Center for Talent Innovation found that 62% of Caucasian males senior executives reported that relationships were pivotal for their promotions. Women and people of color were far less likely to report having those kinds of relationships. Then there was another study done by professor David Thomas from the Harvard Business School.

And he followed the trajectories of senior multicultural executives. And what he found was that mentoring and sponsorship was absolutely critical for the upward mobility of those executives. He also found that mentoring relationships with their managers was very pivotal. And then there was another study. I’m going to end with that study.

And there was another study done by Mercer which was a global study. Over 1,000 executives and they asked them where the barriers to moving women and multicultural talent into the most senior levels and the response was access to informal networks. Again, relationships, mentoring, the second most cited reason was lack of visibility to senior leaders.

Again, relationships, mentoring. And the last reason had to do with unconscious bias which was the perceived risk of moving on traditional talent into key roles. And all of that is to say that mentoring is so very important but not just for that next generations, for the generation who’s here.

And I think the people in this room if you all reach back and mentor someone who’s different, keep that in mind we can really do this. We can make the kind of progress that we’ll all feel proud of. Again, thank you so very much and congratulations to the other honorees.


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