Behind the birth of W2O’s diversity, equity and inclusion practice

The firm has moved aggressively to place DE&I at the heart of its mission -- and the mission of its clients.

L-R: W2O's Abby Hayes, Karla Talley and Marcia Windross
L-R: W2O's Abby Hayes, Karla Talley and Marcia Windross

When W2O launched its diversity, equity and inclusion practice this week, the agency made clear that its goals were twofold. It hoped to bolster the agency's internal practices while offering counsel to clients struggling with DE&I-related concerns.

The events of 2020 have led to a reckoning for many in the healthcare industry, as COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have laid bare many long-lasting inequities, both in healthcare and society broadly. That's why W2O has moved aggressively, in terms of adding people and services.

"We gathered research and information from both Vaya Consulting and through our employees and our business resource groups, groups that we set up two years ago in the areas of racial equity, gender equity and sexual orientation," explained W2O global president Jennifer Gottlieb. "We knew that we needed to hire a leader, or look internally for a leader or leaders, to help make this a reality. We decided that we wanted not to just hire a person but to create a department for DE&I that would report up to the C-suite and that would assure we have flexibility to build it out as needed."

To that end, W2O tapped former Interpublic Group senior leader of DE&I Marcia Windross as head of DE&I and promoted three-year W2O veteran Abby Hayes to the post of practice leader, DE&I engagement. Windross will drive the company's internal DE&I practices, while Hayes will focus on client counsel.

"We wanted to join [Windross and Hayes] together as partners, so that we could focus people in the areas where they have the most expertise," Gottlieb said. "We are coming at it from both sides and they will now build out the rest of the practice."

W2O also hired Karla Talley as director, DE&I, and Toni Pringley as manager, DE&I. Mary Stutts, who has contributed to DE&I efforts at organizations like Bristol Myers Squibb, Genentech and Bayer, has been added to W2O's CEO advisory board.

W2O's decision to grow its DE&I practice was prompted in large part by clients turning to the firm for help navigating related issues.

"We have been called in to help clients on the internal piece," Gottlieb noted. "They tell us, 'We would like to do more. Can you help us understand best practices right now? How much more can we do and how do we communicate it in the right way?' I think that is an art, and we are helping them figure it out."

This story first appeared on mmm-online.com. 

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