Heide Gardner is determined to smash advertising's "gray-flannel-suit kind of image." As she put it, "You've got to put someone different in that suit, and you have to make sure that they're visible."
That, in a nutshell, is the main challenge facing the 46-year-old Gardner, the new director of diversity at Interpublic Group. Formerly vp of diversity and strategic programs at the American Advertising Federation in Washington, Gardner is charged with crafting policies to diversify IPG's 49,000-strong global work force. She also will launch internal training programs and work with outside minority businesses, opinion leaders and key clients.
Gardner, who starts this week in the new post, reports to human resources director Brian Brooks and associate general counsel Marge Hoey. Gardner will be based in New York.
The task before her is daunting, as the industry still is predominantly white. African Americans and Hispanics make up less than 9 percent of the marketing work force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Figures for IPG were not available.)
Gardner, whose late father worked for the District of Columbia and whose mother was a contract administrator at the Maryland Aviation Administration, describes herself as a consensus-builder, implementer and team player. "I'm not a bureaucrat," she said.
The Maryland native, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., spent six years at the AAF. There, she created the Most Promising Minority Students Program and helped bring about a 2000 executive order that requires federal ad contracts to fairly represent minority ad agencies.
"Heide has proven herself to be a leader in diversity issues," said IPG CEO David Bell. "I think our industry … needs to be seen as an industry where minorities flourish."