Q&A: CEO Lynn Power on Gender and Diversity at JWT After the Big Lawsuit

And how the internal and external perceptions of the agency differ

Lynn Power: "Sometimes the external perception doesn’t quite catch up, hasn’t caught up with the internal perception."
Izzy Levine

Adweek: What are you doing to encourage diversity and gender equality at JWT’s New York office?
Lynn Power: We talk a lot about diversity as a business driver—also because our world today, sadly, is more divided than ever and it’s important to recognize that it’s not just about what we think about in New York or the coasts. There’s lots of different opinions out there and there’s lots of different people out there and we need to reflect those opinions and people and consumers and humans in the work that we do. So the best way to do that is to embrace diversity of thinking, diversity of different types of people across all walks of life, and finding ways to bring people in that may not have thought of advertising as a place that they were logically drawn to or their first thing that they wanted to do.

With the Erin Johnson case [in which Johnson, JWT’s chief communications officer, sued the agency for discrimination and accused its former CEO Gustavo Martinez of making “sexist and racist comments”], the perception of JWT has shifted. What would you say it is now?
Well, I think there’s an internal perception and an external perception, and I’d say internally, we’re rocking. I think people are feeling really good about the direction we’re going and the momentum we have and I think the culture has changed quite a bit. And certainly since I’ve been there [three years ago], it’s changed a lot. Sometimes the external perception doesn’t quite catch up, hasn’t caught up with the internal perception. … If you think about just in the past few months, we launched some work with Black Lives Matter, which, to me, is action. Really living our beliefs, not just talking about it. We’re doing some work for HeForShe and we are [working for Save the Children].

How do you change the external perception of the agency?
It really comes down to the people and the agency. We hire lots of people. We’ve had a really good new business track record and I always say to people, “You know what? Make up your own mind.” You can come in. You can meet the people in the leadership and the people you’re going to work with, and you can decide if this is a culture you want to be part of. So I’m not trying to convince people to think of us a certain way or tell people what’s right or wrong.

As a woman in a powerful position at an agency that has just spent a year dealing with whether or not it was good to women, do you feel as though the onus to make change is more on you than on your male colleagues?
Look, I have my own experience having worked at the agency and my experience was a good experience. I guess I feel like it’s an opportunity. I’ll think of it that way. Clearly when something like that happens—we can’t talk about that case—but it creates a lot of conversation. I look at it as, “If I can drive that conversation into a place where we can lean in even harder and do even more because we are an agency that’s now talking about it, that’s a good thing.” I’m in a position as a woman to be able to kind of have an unapologetic stance on pro-equality, pro-women, pro-diversity, supporting women’s leadership, helping women figure out their own voice. And not just women, but diversity across the board. So I feel good about that, because I think I am in a position where I can hopefully have a bit of an impact in a good way.

This story first appeared in the June 5, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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