Sabrina Sanchez
Mar 7, 2023

VMLY&R turns its DE&I focus to inclusion and belonging

EXCLUSIVE: The new framework focuses more on fostering and maintaining an inclusive culture than reporting numbers and checking boxes.

VMLY&R turns its DE&I focus to inclusion and belonging

VMLY&R has updated its diversity and inclusion strategy to reflect greater support for the employee experience, the company shared with Campaign US. 

The new position focuses on equity, inclusion and belonging as focal pillars that lead to a sustainable diverse workforce by taking the position that diversity should be the outcome of equity and inclusion efforts, rather than a step in the process. 

Tasha Gilroy, global chief equity, inclusion and belonging officer at VMLY&R, says the impact of the term “diversity” has diminished over time, as companies have treated efforts to transform the makeup of their workforces like a box-ticking exercise at the expense of accounting for intersectionalities. 

In Gilroy’s vision, employees from all backgrounds at VMLY&R will be valued for their unique qualities and contributions, connected to their co-workers, supported in their daily work and career development and, as a result, be proud of the company they work for. 

To operationalize this new framework, VMLY&R will invest in allyship workshops for employees to understand how to make others feel like they belong. VMLY&R introduced inclusive interviewing workshops and inclusive language training for all managers and leaders in 2023. 

This year, the agency will also roll out an “introduction to belonging” workshop to all employees to reiterate centrality of the inclusion to its DE&I strategy. 

The efforts are part of a gradual shift at the agency that was initiated in 2020. 

This year, VMLY&R launched a leadership program called ASCEND for mid- to senior-level staff who identify as Asian and Pacific Islanders designed to change their employee experience and increase retention by providing talent with the tools, visibility, resources, network, and the sponsorship needed to support their career growth, development and well-being. The program launched with 20 mid-level staff members representing various dept and disciplines. 

But in 2020, the agency also launched a program for Black talent called the Ujima Mentoring Program in the U.S., meant to help Black employees build meaningful relationships through collective experiences, exposure, and advocacy that will support their professional and personal growth. Of Ujima’s 21 participants in 2022, one participant received a Rockhurst scholarship for an EMBA program. 

This year, both programs will expand to the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. 

In Brazil, VMLY&R will start the Black Leadership Academy to help mid-level professionals across the ad industry to learn management and leadership skills. In the U.S., it will continue to offer access to McKinsey’s Management Accelerator, which had 11 EMEA participants and 23 U.S. participants last year, and McKinsey's Management and Executive Leadership program, which had two EMEA and 14 participants throughout North America. 

So far, the agency’s investment in equity, inclusion and belonging learning has increased by 20% in the U.S year over year.

“Diversity isn't really just about numbers. It's actually the outcome,” Gilroy said. “We want people to feel like they are able to give honest feedback, that the work that they're contributing is being rewarded and seen and that we're supporting them and helping them get access to development opportunities.” 

VMLY&R has invested heavily into DE&I efforts in recent years. In 2018, the company hired Gilroy and Subashini Nadarajah as joint directors of diversity, equity and inclusion after the mergers of VML and Y&R, before the rise of DE&I leadership positions at agencies in 2020. Prior to the merger, both women were with their respective agencies in similar roles with Gilroy at VML and Nadarajah at Y&R. 

In 2021, VMLY&R launched an inclusion consultancy to support brands’ DE&I efforts and help them to become more culturally sensitive. Last year, the agency expanded that practice to the U.K., bringing its diversity efforts to a global scale.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the ASCEND program launched in 2020 and the Ujima Mentoring program launched in 2022. 

Campaign US

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