In one of his first acts after assuming control of Interpublic Group in 2005, chairman and CEO Michael Roth could see something was wrong.
"The first meeting I had, I pulled all the agency CEOs in a room and they were all white males," he said. "It struck me immediately that something was wrong. We're in the marketing and communications business and who are we communicating to but to consumers who represent a broad and diverse community?"
Roth shared the story with Gail Heimann, president and CEO of Weber Shandwick, during the PRWeek Decoded session the Equity Imperative: A Call to Action for Every Business Leader. A Personal Mission for One.
As a native New Yorker, Roth said the concept of diversity never seemed alien to him.
"I'm from Brooklyn and grew up in a neighborhood that at the time didn't appear to me to be any different from any other neighborhood but it was a diverse neighborhood, so I grew up with diversity," he said. "I had a working mother who was very involved in the household producing income for the family, so I recognized early on the importance of women in the workforce."
Roth acknowledged that while there has been progress on diversity, corporate America and the entire country has serious problems to grapple with, and sometimes the approach falls short.
"Everyone focuses on the numbers, but we're well past the numbers now," Roth said. "The real goal is to have real inclusivity...We have a way to go in that respect."
Yet while he said business needs to be creative and break out of traditional hiring practices to attract the diverse talent it needs, corporate America has started to understand the issue and is serious about tackling it.
"I do believe we are at a tipping point in this country," Roth said. "Corporations really get it and we are starting to see real activity. It has to be done. Let's face it. We're representing our clients to consumers, and our consumers are diverse in all aspects."