‘A reality that is unacceptable’: Heimann pledges action as Weber Shandwick releases staff diversity report

CEO Gail Heimann vowed that her firm is ‘actively confronting’ its own lack of diversity in its ranks.

Weber Shandwick CEO Gail Heimann
Weber Shandwick CEO Gail Heimann

NEW YORK: The percentage of U.S. executives at Weber Shandwick in 2019 who were Black or African-American was in-line with averages at comparable businesses, while the diversity of its overall workforce was lower than others. Agency CEO Gail Heimann called the numbers “unacceptable” and vowed to improve Weber’s workforce diversity. 

The agency broke down the 2019 numbers by three levels: EVP and above, SVP and VP and all other professional staffers. It compared those groups to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data in seven categories: Black or African-American; Hispanic or Latino; Asian; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; American Indian or Alaskan Native; two or more races; and white.

In 2019, 2.5% of Weber U.S. employees who ranked EVP or higher were Black or African-American, compared with 2.4% in the professional, scientific and technical services category tracked by the EEOC in 2018. The category includes PR firms. 

Weber found that 4.1% of its SVPs and VPs were Black or African-American, compared to 4.8% nationally in similar businesses, while 5.6% of the rest of its professional staff were Black or African-American, compared to 6.7% in other companies, as reported by the EEOC.

Some 88.9% of Weber’s EVP and top executive staffers were white, compared to 82.5% in other companies, while 84.7% of SVPs and VPs were white, compared to 72.5% in the similar EEOC category. Finally, 75% of the rest of Weber’s professional staff was white compared to the 66.4% of people in comparable roles in similar U.S. businesses.

Asians saw the greatest disparity. Weber reported that 6.2% of staffers at the EVP level and above were Asian, while the EEOC said the group makes up 10.1% of leaders in businesses in the professional, scientific and technical services category.

Only 5.5% of Weber’s SVP and VP staffers were Asian, compared to 15.2% at similar levels nationally. And 9.2% of the rest of the agency’s professional staff were Asian, almost half of the 18% in comparable positions.

“These numbers show a reality that is unacceptable, and one that we are actively confronting,” said Heimann, in an emailed statement. “While we have focused on building a diverse workforce and inclusive culture for many years, we haven’t made nearly enough progress.”

Weber published the statistics in response to commitments Heimann made in a post on the agency’s website in early June, in which she said the firm would “hold ourselves accountable; we will set benchmarks and we will share our progress.”

This is the first time Weber has released its full staff diversity breakdown for the U.S., according to an agency spokesperson. The Interpublic Group agency is planning to release the data at the start of each year to account for full-year data. 

Neither the decision to publicly share the data, nor the timing of its release was in response to the Hold the PRess initiative, which has demanded that agencies distribute their diversity numbers, the spokesperson said. However, it did send the statistics to the executives who launched the project. 

Heimann added that the agency will “fast-track our ability to attract, retain, mentor and sponsor BIPOC employees and commit the resources necessary to make meaningful inroads.”

She did not elaborate on the type of fast-tracking the firm is planning. An agency spokesperson declined to comment on specific recruiting plans.  

“We are making significant new investments in recruiting (including outside partners) and training (such as microaggressions, cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias training) and other initiatives that promote inclusion, for example, but can’t share more details at this time,” the spokeswoman said, via email.

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