A Conversation About Inclusion With the Women Leaders of Organic

Prioritizing and empowering a diverse workforce

While inclusion is a critical topic for businesses year round, Women's History Month presents agencies across the advertising industry with an opportunity to take stock of where they are in terms of representation—in particular, gender equality.

As an agency with many women in leadership positions, Omnicom's Organic is well positioned to help lead the way in this regard. To get a sense of their priorities and initiatives around inclusion, Muse connected with five top women leaders at Organic. 

(Clockwise from top left):
Cathy Butler, CEO
Laurel Rossi, Chief Partnerships Officer
Perri Grinberg, VP, Human Resources
Betsy Jemas, Executive Creative Director
Isabel Kantor, SVP, Technology

We spoke to the five about their experiences in an industry that's been male dominated for so long, initiatives at Organic that address inclusion, the challenges of making changes, and why inclusion helps the agency do better work.

Muse: In your experience, what makes an office inclusive? Is inclusive culture HR-department-driven or leadership-driven?

Perri Grinberg: For an office to be truly inclusive, it means it must foster an environment in which employees feel they are welcome—that they belong and can be comfortable bringing their whole selves to the office. In order for this environment to feel truly authentic and organic, it must be driven by the entire agency, at all levels. It is not singly the job of human resources or leadership; it is the responsibility of every single employee who works for the agency. Organizations that I've seen have success with genuinely fostering and sustaining inclusivity are ones in which all employees are truly supportive of one another and are collaborative—where differences are embraced, and different perspectives are encouraged. The magic and synergy happens only when all employees welcome what makes one another unique and their commitment to inclusion goes beyond the requirements within a job description, but, rather, is innate in their beliefs.

Are there any rules or guidelines you've put in place to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace? How are those rules implemented?

Laurel Rossi: Our culture is diverse by definition, in that the work of the future is work that can only be done by including everyone. Organic is about the work of the future. Diverse thinking means neurodiversity, a wide variety of skills, and hiring and nurturing those from the widest spectrum of cultures. We use experts to help us understand nuance, and we are students of unconscious bias thinking and training. We build resilient brands for clients. That can only be done by practicing the diversity and inclusion that we preach.

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in building an inclusive community at Organic?

Cathy Butler: When I joined Organic, I brought experience from previous roles to build the inclusive community here. The biggest challenge was starting with a blank slate. But it is exciting to work with a team that is just as passionate about prioritizing inclusivity, championing women's career development, and being allies in equality. That has given us a lot of momentum.

Why did you decide to dedicate a specific Slack channel to female team members? How has that been going? Any surprising conversations as a result?

Cathy Butler: Our Slack channel, Women Unleashed, is focused on highlighting women's accomplishments, and fostering conversations about everyday challenges we face. The channel is open to both women and men, as our Organic men are great allies to us. The Slack channel has connected this community across all of our offices and has resulted in amazing ideas on what we can do to continue our own development. An example is our three-part training series, Everyday Leadership, specifically developed for our women, that's launching as part of International Women's Day.

How does being a part of a predominantly female leadership team differ from past agencies/companies you've worked at?

Isabel Kantor: As a woman in technology, I know what it takes to succeed in a male-dominated industry. Research has shown that generally, women who have female mentors and sponsors have a better chance of succeeding and advancing in their careers. As such, I've always made it a priority to be a champion for female colleagues in my industry, from mentoring other female technologists to being part of the iMentor organization to mentor high school students at the Academy for Software Engineering in New York City. I've fought hard for a seat at the table, and I want to empower other women in technology to pursue their passion and have the chance to do what they are good at. And that is because it makes a huge difference when change starts from the very top. Leadership is responsible for setting the standard, and this trickles down throughout the company from there.

Betsy Jemas: Women hold the purchasing power in this country—85 percent of all purchasing decisions are made by women. So, as a leadership team, that gives us a huge advantage to understand consumers better because we are them. It allows us to ask the right questions and challenge the right things so we can dig deep for insights and answers that ultimately create really thoughtful, poignant, effective work. On top of that, there's a sense of galvanization and accountability in a female-dominant leadership team. Nothing's ever been handed to us, and we respect that greatly about each other and do our best to honor the effort it's taken to get here. 

Where do we go from here? Dream initiatives? What other companies inspire you?

Cathy Butler: I'm excited to see our community and programs continue to develop with more participation, and to collaborate more with our own network, other agencies, and other organizations who share our same goals. This means more training and more initiatives to prioritize and empower a diverse workforce. We are very lucky to have Laurel on our team, as she's the co-founder and president of Creative Spirit, the first global organization that matches individuals with intellectual, developmental and learning disabilities with fair-wage integrated positions at the best companies in the world. The more we can do to drive awareness, conversation and action, the more we can do to create an inclusive environment for all of us.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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