Gabey Goh
May 10, 2016

Diversity should not be a reactive exercise: Havas Group

SINGAPORE - Patti Clifford, Havas Group's chief talent officer, sat down with Campaign Asia-Pacific to discuss efforts to encourage diversity in leadership, which she believes comes down to respect for individuals and integrity of process.

Patti Clifford
Patti Clifford

Clifford spoke with Campaign during a trip to Malaysia and Thailand, where she was taking part in workshops for NextGen, a career-development initiative for high-potential employees.

Globally, Havas currently boasts a gender mix of 56 percent women and 44 percent men within its ranks, and the ratio is consistent across each continent, give or take a percentage point or two. In addition, women hold 38 percent of management roles.

Clifford added that at Havas, many of the large agencies currently boast women in top leadership positions, namely Arnold, BETC, Havas Health, HWW Paris, HWW New York, HWW Canada, HWW Russia, HWW South Africa and Havas Helia.

“So we have some great role models,” said Clifford. “For us, we talk about who is leading and performing and why—we like to understand if there are certain behaviours that can be shared across the network.”

Clifford believes that due to recent events, the topic of diversity has enjoyed welcome dialogue and attention.

However she adds that in her experience, many initiatives that have “popped up” in reaction to specific events have not proved as successful as those driven as consistent programmes.

“I do think ‘opening up’ the thinking and dialogue is important," she said. "There is also value in bias training as it raises self-awareness. With higher awareness, there is more potential to evolve as leaders are more likely to be owners of change.”

When it comes to what it will take to “move the needle”, she noted that it’s really all about two things: respect for the individual and integrity in decision-making.

“With those in place, a lot improves,” she added.

Leaders at Havas are and always have been encouraged to support diversity in their organisations in a way that is authentic to them and has integrity, Clifford shared. 

Focus on diversity:

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Is it time to give up on on chief diversity officers?
Diversity leads to advantage? Then do something about it
BNP Paribas' Michelle Toy talks diversity and localisation
How diversity makes us more creative

“We are not big on forcing “corporate’ programmes,” said Clifford. “If people don’t feel ownership, there is little chance of success.”

Asked whether the level of discourse around the topic of diversity in leadership is nuanced enough or still in its early stages of awareness, she said it “really depends.”

“At Havas, there is always a healthy dialogue going on regarding how we continue to grow and develop all our leaders, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, etc,” she said. “I try to listen and understand the perspectives and get leaders to do the same.”

Clifford noted that it’s interesting that sexism and harassment can happen in ways that can be quite subtle; sometimes people don’t realise it until they reflect on what happened.

“I think it’s important to communicate about the situation," she said. "Talk it through with someone you trust and then have a conversation with the offender.”

It takes a village

Clifford joined Havas in 2012, and assumed the role of chief talent officer for Havas Creative in January of 2013.

She stepped into her current role in 2015, overseeing all aspects of human resources functions and talent development for the Havas Group.

Clifford spent the bulk of her career in the financial-services sector, and said her entry to Havas and the wider advertising scene was a deliberate choice.

“I was interested in learning about the business itself—the intersection of brands and consumers,” she said. “I was fascinated by the pace of change given the influx of data, technology, and social, and now even AI and VR.”

A big draw of the industry was the ranks of dynamic personalities with “tremendous energy and passion for their work.”

“I learned early on that when developing talent programmes, you have to make sure they work for the wide variety of people and perspectives that exist in an agency environment,” she added.

Explaining Havas' overall approach to talent, Clifford described it is as “full of opportunities”.

“There are always many things that need to be worked on, but we try to pick a few at a time so we can focus, innovate and really make things happen,” she said.

Clifford said the company is focused on global programmes that support its ‘Together’ strategy, while providing great learning opportunities for employees.

In addition, the team has implemented an experiential learning programme for people with high leadership potential (NextGen), where candidates are exposed to a variety of topics and concepts from a faculty of internal and external experts and influencers.

Another recently launched initiative is a mobility programme called Lofts, where employees get the opportunity to embark on a month-long immersion into another agency in another country.

They are matched with a coach, have specific learning objectives and also get the opportunity to experience another culture.

Clifford shared that the agency is also about to roll out a new onboarding site that educates employees about the Havas Group and other associated companies such as the Bollore Group and Vivendi.

“Regardless of where an employee joins the Havas Group, they will know they are part of a bigger connected family,” she said. 

With respect to recruitment, Clifford said the company is in the process of working on its employee branding, adding that there’s been “great success”, with many of its agencies conducting innovative intern programmes. 

“On the horizon, we are hoping to develop a learning approach that helps our managers with their people leadership skills, and we’ll be testing regional mini-Lofts programmes as well,” she added.

Asked about the company’s approach to talent in Asia specifically, Clifford said with many markets in Asia evolving rapidly, the focus on talent has become more central to business strategies.

She added that there are some common areas that are essential to be competitive in the marketplace: a strong employer brand, a clearly defined culture and ensuring that training and development opportunities are robust and communicated.

“There are two workforce dynamics that I think also pose as both challenges and opportunities in Asia," she said. "The rising prominence of women in the workplace and the influx of youth into the workforce. Both are pushing some cultures that are deep in tradition to evolve and change.”


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