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HP Challenged Itself to Increase Diversity — Here's What the Tech Giant Learned

Courtesy of HP

This article was written by Antonio Lucio, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, HP, and originally posted here.


A year ago, HP announced its plan to transform the advertising industry with its agencies. HPchallenged partners to significantly increase the number of women and US minorities in top creative and strategic roles on its accounts.

Admittedly, an announcement is just words — and, over the years, there have been too many promises from all corners of the business world to diversify without enough action. But in 2016, HP stated that the time for just talking had come to an end. The company is nowpublishing the first proof of its commitment and, more importantly, sharing its learnings and path forward.

Overall, HP's five global agencies made significant progress. They increased the participation of women, and all but one noticeably increased the number of women in senior leadership roles. Today, 61% of people working on HP's account and 51% of people in senior leadership roles are female. That's 5% and 4%, respectively, ahead of the targets agencies had set for themselves.

While advances were made, particularly in the second half of 2017, there is still work to be done to increase representation among US minorities. Three out of five agencies saw a positive, upward trend in minority representation. However, minority representation still fell  below the target for 60% percent of HP’s global agencies. Overall, 8% of all employee growth across HP’s global agencies year-over-year were minorities.

In addition to sharing the progress made so far, HP is also updating the challenge for 2018. The company is asking agency partners to define specific underrepresented groups by country and to set clear objectives, measurements, and plans to increase diverse talent on HP business. HP is proudly working with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on a new program that will enable underrepresented talent to network and get a foot in the door of the creativity community.

The numbers, however, are only part of the story. Sharing learnings is the most important and lasting contribution of our journey. These are HPs top findings from its efforts.


1. Industry Transformation Requires a Holistic and Systemic Approach

To transform the industry, representation and inclusion among clients, agencies, and production houses — with a focus on directors — must increase and improve simultaneously. If these three sectors do not move at the same time, HP will not be able to deliver the type of work that its diverse audiences require.

Clients analyze data, identify audiences, and write the briefs. Agencies generate the creative work to emotionally connect with customers. Directors bring that work to life through their unique interpretation. The process is an alchemistic combination of deep analytics and creativity. Having a diverse mindset included throughout the process will ensure that HP connects with our customers more effectively.

2. The Key to Transformation is Client Activation

Clients drive the advertising industry. They own the paycheck and set priorities. A group of committed clients could change the industry overnight. But clients cannot require agencies to do something that they themselves are not doing. So clients need to work on improving representation on their marketing teams while creating the inclusive environment necessary for sustainable results.

HP started by working on our marketing and communications teams first. Today 50% of its most senior roles are held by women. Seventy percent of HP leaders have had meaningful experiences outside the US and 30% are other underrepresented groups. The company waited to have its own house in order before inviting agencies to participate in the efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.

In retrospect, HP believes change could have been accelerated by moving client and agencies together. Each one committing to the other. Jointly setting plans and meeting to improve representation and inclusion. 

3. Objectives and Plans Must Be Set by the Agencies Not by the Client

What gets measured gets done. No strategic initiative ever moved without objectives, specific plans of actions and measurement. Agencies need to have skin in this transformation game. They need to set and own their own numbers, develop their own plans and report back progress against these objectives.

Each of HP's agencies was able to set a stretch goal toward increasing the percentage of women and people of color working on its account. Agenices were able to define their own plan of action and HP credits the results it was able to report to the commitment and hard work of its agencies.

4. Accountability Is Everything

Another key step in driving the numbers was the establishment of quarterly reviews. In each quarterly meeting, HP met agency CEOs individually to monitor progress, discuss challenges and opportunities, and give them the opportunity to share the programs they created in order to increase diversity recruitment and inclusion. More than 15 of these programs were developed by the agencies.

The quarterly meeting was critical, as was CEO involvement. Both ensured that progress was being made. If what gets measured gets done, what gets reported becomes your bond.

5. Free the Bid Was an Amazing Change Catalyst for Agencies and Production Houses

Alma Ha’el‘s organization, Free the Bid, ensures that every RFP or “bid” for production includes at least one female director. In an industry driven by the momentum of the tried and true award-winning directors, 95% of which are men, this was an enormous step forward.

Additionally, their website now showcases more than 450 women directors, allowing agencies, production houses and clients the opportunity to review the reels of these outstanding women directors. The impact has been huge. Through Free the Bid, HP and its agencies have discovered extraordinary talent that has delivered impactful, business-driving creative work.

HP will continue to fund Free the Bid’s efforts to give women director’s equal opportunities to bid on commercial jobs in the global advertising industry.

To improve numbers of underrepresented minorities resources for qualified diverse candidates need to be strengthened.

HP did not make strong progress with US minorities, instead learning the hard way that neither external agencies nor its own internal recruitment teams had a meaningful pipeline of diverse candidates to fill teams. It took several rounds of revisions to get to the right candidate profile. This was hard work and required commitment and focus from the top leaders. As HP moves forward, it believes its companies will need to tap into different sources for talent identification like specialized agencies and universities with high diverse populations.

The Time for Action Is Now

Transforming the tech industry requires a holistic and systematic approach. Clients should drive. But agencies and production houses must do their part.

Transformation is definitely possible, but it requires commitment, focus and bold action.

The time for talk is over. The time for action is now.