At Adweek’s Inaugural D&I Summit, Leaders Forge Ahead With Commitment to Equality

Global business leaders discuss why embracing failure is key to D&I and how to do visibility right

Omnicom's Tiffany R. Warren chats with Facebook's Antonio Lucio during Adweek's D&I Summit. Adweek

Key Insights:

On Wednesday, leaders from some of the top global corporations and nonprofit advocacy groups met online to participate in Adweek’s first-ever Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

The 13 D&I champions collectively represent hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate revenues. Each has made strides in their field to promote inclusive hiring, advertising and overall representation. At Wednesday’s summit, they took turns interviewing each other about the long road to corporate diversity and how the Covid-19 pandemic could threaten equality.

Nearly all of the speakers are also founding members of Adweek’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. And all agreed on one thing: The economic anxiety surrounding businesses during the pandemic means more effort should be put into diversity and inclusion, not less.

Adweek chief community officer Nadine Deitz started the summit by acknowledging that not everyone was going to like everything they hear during the event, which made an impression on Kai Deveraux Lawson, WPP’s director of community engagement. “I really appreciated the fact that the tone was set from the beginning—that somebody’s probably going to say some stuff today that offends you, jolts you and makes you uncomfortable,” she said.

“The more we can have real and honest conversations, the better it’s going to be [for everyone],” added Anne Elisco-Lemme, executive creative director at Duncan Channon. “So, I loved those real moments today because I do think that the time to just have nice conversations about this is so far in the past.”

Speakers also included:

Here are some of the key themes that emerged, including select audio segments.

D&I efforts shouldn’t be canceled by the pandemic

In front of nearly 4,500 virtual attendees, Dietz kicked off the conversation with Pritchard, who stressed that brands should double down on D&I programming right now, rather than backing away. Zalis questioned why anyone would want to “go back to normal” during or after the pandemic if normal wasn’t ever ideal in the first place.

Adweek · Adweek D&I Summit: Marc Pritchard

It can be tempting for employers to abandon internal diversity efforts, not just because companies are cutting costs everywhere but because diversity work is difficult. As Lucio said during the summit, D&I forces people to have tough conversations, to be embarrassed and to make mistakes. But if we’re to make progress, “we have to embrace failure.”

Adweek · Adweek D&I Summit: Antonio Lucio

Lucio added that companies should be cautious about who is most impacted by cutbacks, too: “Diversity and inclusion needs to be a filter” as companies engage in layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions to stay afloat during the recession.

Professionals of color carry the added weight of racism

Several speakers pointed to the ugly rise in bias incidents that have come to light during the pandemic. Warren referenced the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a Central Park incident in which a white woman called police on black birdwatcher (and Omnicom employee) Christian Cooper.

Adweek · Adweek D&I Summit: Tiffany R. Warren

As she spoke about “the ‘unmattering’ of black lives and Asian lives,” Warren’s Zoom background lit up with the names of Floyd and two other black Americans recently killed in racism-fueled incidents: Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

@MaryEmilyOHara Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.
@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.