Empowering HR in Ad Agencies With a Seat at the Table

Hr Pov Illustration V02

As the Time’s Up/Advertising movement builds, HR professionals can play a key role in helping foster safe, respectful and inclusive agency cultures – if only agency senior leadership would let them.

After attending this year’s 4A’s Talent@2030 conference, I learned that many HR professionals are essentially powerless when it comes to fostering safe and inclusive workplaces because, in part, of their limited representation in the C-suite. The HR and talent professional audience was asked if they had a seat at the table and a relationship with their CEOs. As I proudly raised my hand in agreement, I looked around the room and was disheartened to see that less than half the group agreed. I wondered why so few raised their hands. How could HR professionals possibly foster inclusion and prevent discrimination and harassment if they did not have the support of their CEOs? No wonder the profession is feeling the heat in our #MeToo world.

While many HR departments are being vilified for allowing harassment to perpetuate, we should be taking a hard look at how the practice is viewed and treated inside organizations.

Being a part of the problem should never be tolerated, but if HR directors don’t have a connection to leadership, problems will persist and change will not happen. HR does not have the power to do this alone; they need senior leaders who share agency values and vision, as well as have their backs. Together, HR, CEOs and senior leaders need to foster an inclusive culture of zero tolerance and enforce it consistently.

My hope is that the industry will recognize how active training, accountability and reinforcement can nurture a human-centered culture with dignity and creativity, and how HR professionals can play a key role. For HR professionals, there are four ways to facilitate the process.

  • Earn your place at the table, no matter how difficult it may seem. Provide thoughtful insights and counsel to the CEO and senior leaders on how to strengthen your agency’s reputation as an employer of choice.
  • Ensure you have an anti-harassment and discrimination policy as well as a code of conduct policy that includes zero-tolerance. Once in writing, communicate what it means, and make sure everyone knows it’s supported by the CEO and senior leaders.
  • Include a no-retaliation policy that states employees will not be subjected to retaliation of any kind because they reported an incident of suspected harassment, discrimination or misconduct or because they participated in an investigation of such alleged conduct.
  • Take an active role in nurturing a culture that values people as its most important asset. The ad industry is notorious for tolerating big egos, people who may be talented but may also create a culture of incivility. You are better off replacing them with new hires who are talented and able to foster an inclusive and inspiring culture. 

 It’s clear that policies and training alone will not prevent discrimination and harassment. It takes HR professionals partnering with their CEOs and senior leaders to protect agencies’ cultures and their most important assets. Fortunately, I work with a team of female and male senior leaders who respect the HR practice and always value my experience and knowledge. Let’s make this the norm.