Surekha Ragavan
Feb 6, 2020

Mandate for Change: How are media agencies taking on diversity and inclusivity?

Top APAC media agencies detail their recent efforts for a more inclusive workplace.

Mandate for Change: How are media agencies taking on diversity and inclusivity?

In 2017, six media agency groups signed Campaign’s Mandate for Change, a pledge to improve gender representation and inclusivity in their workplaces.

The pledge outlines four distinct goals (detailed below), and since its inception, Campaign has reported on the groups’ progress including internal initiatives and programmes. As we’ve hit the six-month mark since the last update, here’s what the groups have been up to in the period since.

Omnicom Media Group

OMD New Zealand celebrates Pride Month

One of the single biggest areas that the group needed to address was improving work-life balance and as such, it rolled out a number of approaches to flexible working in all markets. This includes allowing flexible start and end working times for staff as well as remote or mobile working arrangements.

Changes were also made to parental leave policies. Besides flexible working to help new parents, this also applies to any primary caregiver (those with ailing parents, partners, etc), and those with physical injuries themselves.

On top of that, training has been put in place to ensure employees understand what constitutes harassment, discrimination and workplace bullying. Every single employee across the region (and globally) must pass an in-depth online ethics and code of conduct module, with new courses added on a regular basis.

In the various markets, other initiatives are tailored to local needs. These include Empower in Singapore, Omniwomen in China, and the Mental Health First-Aid Course and ‘Wearing Our Heart on Our Sleeves’ initiatives in Australia.

Australia also celebrated indigenous culture by running aboriginal art and cooking classes during NAIDOC Week and bringing in an aboriginal speaker to share perspectives during National Reconciliation Week. 

Publicis Media

The group launched Talent in Motion, an internal mobility programme that offers employees the chance to move locally or internationally to a new permanent role, and has seen nearly 100 internal moves across APAC, more than half of which have been female.

They’ve also expanded its Activity Based Workplace (ABW) concept in Singapore to pilot ABW+ in August, which allows for remote working and provides clear guidelines. The Publicis Learning University Singapore (PLUS) was also recently launched to provide customised learning skills for employees – complete with e-learning modules and live training – that incorporates competency-based skills such as consultative selling and collaboration programmes.

Also in Singapore, new training was rolled out around unconscious biases and the 'power of empathy'. The latter provides leaders with a framework to motivate and inspire employees through emotional intelligence.

In ANZ, a mental health programme was launched, and the region closed its offices for World Mental Health Day in 2019. And also in this region, parental policies are being accessed while 'parental leave swap' has already been rolled out to encourage fathers to move from secondary to primary caregivers.

Navaneeta Das, APAC head of product & client development, Publicis Media, said: “We also increased paid paternal leave up to 18 weeks, according to tenure, and provided extra ‘cub care’ days in ANZ to care for newborn children if they get sick.”

On Publicis’ existing Viva Women programme, the agency recently hosted 60 delegates across the group to participate in LAB1 in Singapore – an immersive training initiative development of talent. Participants represented 15 countries throughout APAC, of which 32 (53%) were female and 28 (47%) male.

Overall in APAC, 43% of staff is female. In looking at specific disciplines, nearly half of leads (43%) working across the technological teams and 16% of agency creative leads are female. In Singapore, 70% of the workforce is female, with 51% of them in senior and management positions.

IPG Mediabrands

In June 2019, Universal McCann launched the Remix Culture in APAC, a study involving 81 countries and more than 56,000 active internet users to understand what identity and culture mean to APAC residents. Remix has been integrated into UM’s Moments Tool, the group’s proprietary communications planning tool to ensure that diverse perspectives and an understanding of under-represented segments are now embedded into the core planning process.

In Australia, Initiative became the first agency to partner with the Pride in Diversity programme, a national not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTQI workplace inclusion specialising in HR, organisational change and workplace diversity. And for that, Initiative won the gold standard at the Australian Workplace Equality Index Awards, Australia’s national benchmarking instrument for LGBTQI workplace inclusion.

Also in Australia, IPG partnered with local foundation Headspace, resulting in 85% of staff experiencing a notable reduction in stress and 90% seeing an improvement in their sleep. The leadership team there has also been trained in mental first aid, and this is intended to be replicated across APAC in 2020.

Overall, the group has also relaxed their policies around working hours and remote working, as well as accessing maternal bias and ensuring new mothers have a seamless transition back to working life.

“Many of our markets have introduced private areas for nursing mothers, and a buddy scheme to help assimilate back into the workplace,” said Leigh Terry, APAC CEO of IPG Mediabrands.

Last year also saw seven IPG Women’s Leadership Network events for the group, one of them being a bias training workshop in collaboration with Facebook. Another one was The Silk Prologue in September, a flagship event and IPG’s inaugural Women’s Breakfast held for the first time outside of Cannes. The event was hosted by IPG Chairman and CEO Michael Roth and attended by 200 partners.

A particularly note-worthy project was born in India where the LGBTQI community was once persecuted under an archaic law that criminalised homosexuality. Last year, IPG partnered with The Humsafar Trust to gather petitioners and activists in a poignant rendition of the country’s first pride-themed national anthem.

Havas Group

Havas’ existing Femmes Forward accelerator programme is aimed at advancing women leaders, and the last eight months has seen 20% of promotions for women who have attended the programme.

It seems that most initiatives have been born out of the Australia office, where they’ve already achieved one of their 2020 goals to double the ratio of non-Caucasian to Caucasian staff. Applications from all backgrounds including Aboriginal and Torret Strait Islander people are encouraged. This office has also recorded a 50/50 gender split in the leadership team, and recently passed the WGEA Gender Equity report for no gender pay gap in 2019.

Also in Australia, the agency are founding members of a newly established industry body to promote mental health and continued to sign the Mental Health Minimum standards. They have held four talks on mental health issues this year, both internally and for the wider industry.

In Havas Shanghai, employees were made aware that there would be zero tolerance against homosexual discrimination within the company and eliminated gender fields in the recruiting process. In Hong Kong, Pride Day was launched. In Vietnam, training programmes for female staff were rolled out to provide them a clear and transparent career growth map.

In Malaysia, to celebrate the diversity of races there, employees are encouraged to don their ethnic costumes and learn the characteristics of each race. Early dismissals on the eve of main festivities are also allowed.

Dentsu Aegis Network

It was a volatile year for DAN with multiple headline-worthy exits. A challenge that they faced in keeping to the mandate was the “pace and continued change experienced by the industry”. But despite challenges, the company told Campaign that it hadn’t halted its commitment to enabling gender equality across the network.

Since [email protected]’s launch in 2018, it held a series of events across three pillars: social, inspirational and developmental. The events include Behind-the-bio, a panel featuring DAN female leaders who discussed their careers, and Brand YOU!, a panel focussed on personal branding and how female executives at DAN have built their own brands. The programme now has over 100 members and will look to grow in 2020.

Worthy of mention is Female Foundry, an accelerator programme founded by iProspect Singapore that was also rolled out globally in September. In the programme, entrepreneurs are paired with an experienced mentor and are invited to attend a three-day bootcamp to develop their business growth strategies, including creating customer personas and exploring new revenue strategies. They also enter a global community of fellow female founders.

Female Foundry has now launched in five markets – Singapore, India, South Africa, Chile and Mexico—with 71 women having gone through the programme.


GroupM has previously struggled with female CEOs in the past with only 6% of market CEOs being female and zero for regional female CEOs back in 2017. Nowadays, the group’s current data indicates that 42% of its leadership roles across the region are now represented by women. However, it’s unclear how many of the 42% include market and regional CEOs.

MediaCom's inaugural LookUP session in partnership with Facebook

A new development by Mediacom is the launch of LookUP, a business acceleration programme for the media and creative industries to collectively discuss best practices in their businesses. The partner list already supporting the programme include Facebook, Spotify, Google, Unruly, LinkedIn, Mediacorp and Netflix. Each partner will host a workshop and share content that has been curated by a diverse and divergent group of individuals with particular focus on creating a level playing field for future leaders.

The inaugural LookUP workshop in partnership with Facebook took place in Singapore in October and was centred around managing biases in the workplace. This course offered actionable strategies attendees could use to increase awareness of and counteract unconscious biases in the workplace.

Also, GroupM has vowed to recognise diversity and inclusivity practices through small day-to-day efforts such as recognising individual preferences for gender pronouns, acknowledging a broader spectrum of civil unions, and providing support to dependants.


The mandate detailed four distinct goals, with signees committing to at least one:

  • Plan for action: Develop an on-the-ground plan for promoting and raising awareness of gender equality among both men and women.
  • Flexible work arrangements: To provide training to help managers and directors understand how flexible work arrangements can be incorporated into agency life. Seek to develop new ways of working that enable them to perform duties from a variety of locations and situations.
  • Development opportunities: Senior executives in local offices to personally mentor and coach someone/a successor of the opposite sex.
  • Pay parity: Conduct pay audit within your organisation to determine and understand the scale and differentiation in pay.


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