4A’s Will Soon Debut Yearlong Leadership Program for Black Professionals

Agencies including BSSP, Leo Burnett and R/GA are participating

The 4A's will soon officially debut Vanguard, a program dedicated to increasing Black leadership in the advertising industry. 4A's
Headshot of Minda Smiley

The 4A’s is debuting a program called Vanguard in November that’s focused on helping Black people in mid- to senior-level roles prepare for and achieve executive leadership positions.

The inaugural Vanguard program is set to begin Nov. 2 and wrap up on Oct. 31, 2021. Dozens of agencies, including BSSP, FCB, Initiative, Leo Burnett, R/GA and Spark Foundry, have signed on to participate.

It’s the latest initiative to crop up in the advertising industry that’s dedicated to helping Black professionals climb the ranks and enter the C-suite. In for 13, which launched earlier this summer, is trying to raise the percentage of Black people in leadership roles to 13% by 2023.

Holding companies are also forming initiatives of their own. Omnicom, for instance, said in June that it plans to form a “Talent Advocacy Program” that will pair employees from marginalized groups with a mentor who can advocate for their advancement.   

The 4A’s is taking a multilayered approach that is somewhat involved. Agencies taking part in Vanguard will be asked to choose a fellow, or fellows, to participate in the program. Fellows must be Black employees that hold titles such as director, vice president or senior vice president; essentially, the roles one holds before taking on an executive-level position.

Fellows will be assigned both a sponsor and a mentor within their agency. Sponsors are the agency’s CEO or a direct report to the CEO. Simon Fenwick, executive vice president of talent, equity and inclusion at the 4A’s, said the fellow’s mentor should be a leader within the agency who understands “what they do and will help them navigate throughout their career.” The agency’s HR team will serve as the “central point of contact” for the program.

Additionally, the 4A’s is assigning each sponsor a Black coach that Fenwick said will give them “perspective on what it is like to be a Black executive in the industry.” The 4A’s said the coach will be asked to “provide a sounding board” for uncomfortable conversations and offer constructive feedback. The coach will not interact with the fellows.

So far, the 4A’s has brought on James Jones and Marie Deveaux as coaches. Jones is an executive coach who spent the majority of his career at the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications. Deveaux’s business, High Tides Consulting, specializes in helping women and people of color “magnify their voices in business spaces.”

How it works

Ultimately, Fenwick said the goal of Vanguard is to help agencies kickstart a succession plan that incorporates Black leaders. However, fellows who opt to participate in Vanguard are not guaranteed a promotion upon completion. Rather, Fenwick said it’s up to each agency to determine how it wants to proceed.  

A good portion of the language around the program is vague, but the all-encompassing approach is meant to serve both leadership and Black employees. Much of the sponsor’s time will be spent working with their coach and attending workshops related to creating equitable teams and having constructive conversations about race, while the mentor will take a more hands-on approach with their fellow. Mentors and sponsors are asked to dedicate 20 hours to the program over the 12-month period.

Jeanne Nicastro, R/GA’s global executive director of talent transformation, said the “reverse learning” that CEOs and direct reports are required to take part in as sponsors is part of what made Vanguard appealing.

“It has as much to do with the leaders as it does the fellows,” she said. “Leaders gain an understanding of what needs to change and how to sustain that change.”

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.