Interpublic Group chairman and CEO Michael Roth said holding companies need to set the tone for their agencies and empower their people when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
"The statistics on women in our industry are embarrassing, but when you look at the statistics of people of color in our industry, it’s disgusting to see how our industry is so far behind what other industries are doing," said Roth at Golin’s Have Her Back event in New York on Tuesday.
"In the end, what do we have to do? We have to take action," said Roth. "If you don't have a diverse organization, you won't be able to compete; it makes good business sense."
IPG’s board of directors is more than 30% female, made up of three women and six men, and Roth said he’s looking to hire another woman, which would put the company in the top 15 of all Fortune 500 companies.
After Golin chief creative officer Caroline Dettman opened up the event and shared personal stories about sexual harassment and gender bias, Roth said the anecdotes were "eye-opening" and "pisses me off."
Dettman, who launched the Have Her Back initiative in March, told the audience that she didn’t speak up at first about the #MeToo movement, but it wasn’t because she didn’t have anything to say.
"I made the realization that I was overwhelmed and I had so many stories to tell and I didn’t know where to being," she said.
When Dettman was 23 years old, she said a client told her that if she didn’t sleep with him, the agency would lose its business. She said she’s been followed into hotel rooms, touched without consent, and been called inappropriate names. Recalling this and hearing "horror stories" from women of all ages in the industry inspired Dettman to create Have Her Back. Women, she said, aren’t opting out of creative; "they’re opting out of agencies."
"We have to sort this out because there are problems when you don’t have enough female senior leaders," said Dettman. "It’s up to us at agencies to create a culture for these creative women to come back."
An earlier version of this story appeared on campaignlive.com.