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Hard but meaningful: Creating an inclusive workplace through radical empathy

April 15, 2021 - 9 min read


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It starts with listening

Three pillars for inclusive culture

Hard work, meaningful outcomes

Diversity, equity and inclusion is top of mind for many businesses today, but it can be tough to know how to turn ideals into action. How do you make it real for your people and make it stick for the organization? 

Despite good intentions, many leaders and corporations aren’t yet walking the walk when it comes to inclusive leadership and programming that really encourages employees to be themselves and show up fully to work. 

In an inclusive workplace where belonging is prioritized, people bring their whole selves to the table — openly sharing their ideas, experiences, and fresh perspectives without excessive fear of being misunderstood or judged differently than others. This benefits the person and benefits the team, enabling better innovation, collaboration, and productivity. 

Creative agencies win by having access to the best and broadest range of fresh ideas and deep talent to create impact that resonates and represents. Marc Wilson, EVP of Strategic Inclusion at global advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding is more than walking the walk when it comes to building a program that fosters an inclusive culture and supports the unique needs of the people and the business at every corner of the organization.  

It starts with listening

As the first leader of Strategic Inclusion at FCB, Wilson wanted a plan that would resonate and have staying power. He kicked off a listening tour to unearth patterns and themes across teams and individuals. 

What he discovered? A “deficit of empathy.”

Empathy is the root of human connection. Wilson saw this gap as an opportunity to build a roadmap to strengthen FCB’s collective “empathy muscle.” 

He zeroed in on two areas that would move the needle:

  • Empathetic leadership
    You can’t convince an organization that empathy is important without leadership showing that it is. To start, all FCB officers participated in an Inclusive Manager training that provided a toolkit and coaching on how to more thoughtfully connect with underrepresented individuals and groups. This global Inclusive Learning Series (including topics on unconscious bias and microaggressions) was spearheaded at the global level, and leveraged by branches across the agency. These sessions underscore how every interaction adds up and how, when leaders model inclusive behavior and seek to listen carefully and understand the experience of others, every “micro-moment” builds a safer and more welcoming environment. 
  • Inclusive coaching
    While coaching had typically been reserved for a select set of executives and leaders, Wilson championed expanding the impact through an inclusive coaching model aimed at supporting employees participating in ERGs (employee resource groups). He also supported introducing Coaching Circles to connect small groups of employees with a professional coach to work together through a single topic. This interactive, social learning experience forged relationships, strengthened belonging, and built deeper trust within the community. Evolving the current culture and inclusion group to be more inclusive of all ERGs has helped amplify the unique experiences and perspectives of the diverse employee population across the agency. 

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Three pillars for inclusive culture

While specific activities and training supported the day-to-day experience, Wilson also applied an inclusion and belonging lens to critical business initiatives and spaces. 

FCB prioritized three pillars:

#1: Workforce 

  • People at the agency 
  • The demographic makeup of the team 

How this pillar comes to life: 

  • Recruiting 
    • 50% of the candidate pipeline must be represented by POCs 
    • 2 final candidates must be POCs
  • Retention: 
    • What programming is being provided and encouraged for employees to participate in so that they feel invested in? Coaching is one of FCB’s differentiators to equip employees with ongoing learning and development

#2: Workplace 

  • Environment 
  • How do we cultivate a warm environment where people feel they can bring their whole safe to work? 

How this pillar comes to life: 

  • Mandatory trainings on allyship, inclusion, biases 
  • Education on radical empathy and intentionality 
  • Training on how to relate to one another and repair our unconscious biases 

#3: The Work 

“The output is never going to be authentic and diverse in its richness... if you’re not doing what you’re doing what you need to in Workforce and Workplace.” Marc Wilson

  • How this pillar comes to life: 
    • Creative, professional solutions 
    • Scrapping antiquated constructs of business terminology (i.e. what are the terms that your business still leverages today that might not be as inclusive as they could be?)
    • Emphasizing that how we speak about their work internally matters

Hard work, meaningful outcomes

With incredible results, FCB is creating a strong foundation for continuing to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging: 

  • 20% increase in Trust Climate (psychological safety) 
  • 87% increase in social connection 
  • 28% increase in employee experience 
  • 36% increase in sense of belonging 

Intentional behavior that drives change starts at the top, is modeled in the day to day by managers and their teams, and is supported with coaching and resources for employees in ERGs and other communities. 

Published April 15, 2021

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