5 Takeaways From Allyship & Action on How Execs Can Be Better Allies

Activists don't want lip service and empty words

black background that says allyship and action summit
Allyship & Action invited agency CEOs to discuss efforts toward finding tangible inclusion. Allyship & Action
Headshot of Emmy Liederman

Performative allyship is not going to cut it. That was the message from industry leaders during Allyship and Action, a Freelance Cyber Summit that featured industry leader insights on how to effectively address antiracism.

Earlier this week, talent agencies Palette Group and The Avail List facilitated conversations on race that went beyond holding committee meetings and checking boxes. The event offered insights on how to effectively address racial justice in the workplace and set long-term goals to ensure antiracism does not become a fleeting movement.

The summit’s agenda included a summit on how agency leaders can be allies, inviting the CEOs of VMLY&R, Havas New York and Vaynerx to reflect on their own inclusion efforts while learning from each other’s successes and mistakes. Here are five main takeaways from the panel:

Address racial justice separately and distinctively 

Laura Maness, CEO of Havas New York, stressed that if agencies want to facilitate real change, antiracism cannot be lumped in with other social justice conversations.

“I am grateful for a Black woman who wrote me privately and said, ‘Don’t put women and people of color in the same sentence,'” she said. “Words matter, and the emphasis now is on our Black employees.”

Check on your employees

On July 22, Havas released its 2020 diversity data and promised to #CommitToChange, joining several agencies in committing to nonprofit 600 & Rising’s 12-step plan for antiracism. But before initiating these changes, Havas wanted to ensure its employees were offered ample emotional support.

“Safety and wellbeing was our first concern,” said Patti Clarke, global chief talent officer at Havas Group. “Our initial response was that we needed to take care of our employees first by making sure we had support systems in place.” 

The best way to ensure that employees of color feel empowered and comfortable in the workplace is by committing to representation, according to Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerX.

“All of our initiatives are based on retention,” said Vaynerchuk. “It’s having the biggest voices at the table care about where the diversity numbers are and making a clear path. We need C-suite Black executives.” 

Recognize when your efforts aren’t working

While diversity programming is important, Jon Cook, CEO of VMLY&R, acknowledged that executives don’t turn to a committee when they want to accomplish something. They get it done themselves.

“If you’re hiding only behind programming and committees and checklists, you’re not doing enough,” said Cook. “You need to use the skills that got you where you are as a leader—like bold decisions and taking risks—if you want real change to happen.” 

Integrate inclusion into everything you do

Cook promised that instead of being addressed as a standalone topic, diversity and inclusion will be embedded into his agency’s three pillars: business, work and culture.

“Too often, people just jam diversity objectives into the cultural bucket,” he said. “It can’t just be seen as a softer, side cultural topic, but rather a core part of the way the entire business operates.” 

Set standards and allocate resources

In order to create tangible change, the CEOs agreed that budgets and diversity KPIs must be established. Vaynerchuk shared that 50% of his agency’s recruitment budget will be dedicated to hiring diverse employees.

“We’re going to hit numbers the way we hit numbers for the bank with our loans,” said Vaynerchuk. “Without dollars, most things are just lip service.” 


Emmy is a senior journalism major at The College of New Jersey with minors in Spanish and broadcast journalism. She has previously worked as editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, The Signal, as well as an intern at Tribune Publishing Company. Emmy is looking forward to contributing to Adweek as an intern working with its breaking news and audience engagement teams.
{"taxonomy":"","sortby":"","label":"","shouldShow":""}