CARLA HENDRA: They can’t undo that they’re white. They can’t undo the way they grew up. We have to give everybody the tools, the people that are in these executive jobs, they’re not lazy. They’re not just doing nothing. They have to work hard, and you have to make it part of their incentives
PORTER BRASWELL: From HBR Presents, this is Race at Work. The show that explores how race impacts our careers and lives. I’m Porter Braswell. I left a wall street career to start a company called Jopwell because I wanted to help corporate America build a more diverse workforce. Each week, we talked to a different leader about their experience with race and how it impacts our daily lives.
When it comes to talking about race, privilege is definitely something that needs to be addressed. Dr. Devon Lee broke it down for us in the first episode, in the simplest terms.
DEVON LEE: Privilege is typically described by certain benefits that someone is born with in society.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s something that comes up when we think about corporate America. Why? It’s been historically populated by a white, majority male demographic, often from affluent backgrounds. That’s especially been the case in the advertising industry, which looks different today than the former mad men era.
In this episode, we talk to Carla Hendra, Global CEO, Growth and Innovation of Ogilvy — a worldwide advertising, marketing, and public relations agency. We started our conversation by talking about the current climate in corporate America, from her perspective, given everything that’s been going on.
How have recent events around race affected you or other employees of color at your job?
CARLA HENDRA: I run a fairly small group within a 12,000 person operation. So I did have a situation in the midst, actually of the trial in Minneapolis and the outcome of it and we had one senior person on our staff who really just had combination mental, medical issue and the only reason I found out about it was because she lives, she lives in another part of the country and she was on the phone with my global growth, chief growth officer who lives in Dubai, believe it or not, but is a 30 year veteran.
And she manages this for him, she started talking to her and realized that there was something serious going on and she got to me right away. I got to the person, I got to our head of talent and people in HR and said okay we’re all going to now watch this and put out help and see what we can do. So those kinds of things are just because Ogilvy kind of operates like a family at times, but I can do that better than others because we have a smaller team, and we hear about things more often.
So, but we’re trying to do that at scale to some degree.
PORTER BRASWELL: So that word family, you know, operating as a family, when we have just lived through the things that we went through in 2020, and we’re still living through it right now, whether it’s the pandemic or it’s the social injustice that’s playing out on our television screens every day.
How do you create boundaries? Because as colleagues there tends to be a more natural boundary, but when you think about family and thinking of your colleagues like family, those boundaries get blurred. So how do you approach that? Trying to drive that culture of a family dynamic?
CARLA HENDRA: Well, if I have a management meeting with my top seven people or something once a week to count everything and make sure we have enough people and all that stuff, I really have to make sure and ask, are these people okay, what, what is going on?
Has anyone reported any issues? And you know, I have to continually ask because sometimes people, they just shove that down to the bottom and they don’t, they don’t really talk about it. But I guess, because I have a family orientation in general, it’s just natural to me and I like being in teams, not as solo artists.
So it’s just my natural inclination to try and make sure that people are, if they have trouble, that they have a way of dealing with it. Or, if they’re doing well, that they have a way of sharing that.
PORTER BRASWELL: So as the global CEO of growth and innovation, how does the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion impact your job?
CARLA HENDRA: So we actually have just redone our offerings because we have a new CEO for the whole company and the growth and innovation group includes an offering that’s under the heading of sustainability because sustainability is about corporations being able to continue to exist. So our clients are largely, they’re either big legacy corporations or they’re startups.
[00:05:00] And every one of them has the subject of D and I, um, it has become something that people are looking for advisory on. People are asking what, what, like sometimes they ask us what have you guys done globally? So we’ll talk to a major client and say, here’s our programs in Brazil, in India, in London, in Germany, in the U S because they all have to be different.
And, and we are actually doing things there, but we have worked with a partner sister agency called UWG, which is a Black founded and run company for 50 years and our holding company is a minority stakeholder. So the management of it, they still have controlling interest, but they’re a partner because of course that’s how the advertising business evolved in trying to deal with new markets, was to have them segmented and become specialists.
So there’s Black agency and Hispanic agencies and Asian agencies and I mean, that is the history of the industry, but anyway, we work with them to develop an idea called diversity ROI to try and show clients, especially big corporate clients, that there is a return on investment for diversity. So it’s up financial interest as much as it is of social interest.
And of course we want to have the social impact more than the other, but it’s like anything we do, we’ve learned over the years that if you explain why it’s good for their business, they’ll listen better. So we’ve developed that offering as part of our overall sustainability, which includes nGO advisory around the world, like we work for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and many other NGOs. We work for governments who need advisory on everything from climate change to social injustice and social issues and so we have a couple of, I mean, it’s small, but it’s a couple of expert people, and then we go out and we make partnerships with like UWG or whoever else that we can, we can get to work with us and together, we sort of bring a global network, plus the ability to do training. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. I mean, we’ve just sort of gotten off the ground, but we do find our clients are asking for help a lot.
PORTER BRASWELL: So let’s move the conversation to focus on privilege. To begin, how do you define privilege?
CARLA HENDRA: Well, I think it’s advantage when we talk to clients, we always talk about having a competitive advantage that is an unfair advantage, unfair, competitive advantage. But you know, in my business, the unfair competitive advantage was being white American or English male, but I personally had a lot of advantage.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. Let’s unpack that. Where does your privilege show up professionally?
CARLA HENDRA: I mean, I have had a career in the business where I did not move a lot and I only worked for CEOs and I was lucky. My very first job was the lowest on the, I mean, I was a receptionist, lowest on the totem pole, but I was at a startup and the CEO recognized I almost got fired because I corrected something he wrote.
And so he looked like he was going to literally fire me on the spot cause I changed his words, and then he went, oh, you’re right. And that made my career at that place. And there were, there was a lot of bias in the time that I, I grew up there and I left as a general manager, I had a lot of opportunity, but I didn’t have as much opportunity as some of the other people in the company that were male and that’s just the way it was. Then I went to a global, big place. I had a very enlightened boss who really just kind of evaluated everybody on results. Uh, it was a meritocracy. I happened to be very successful, a lot of big piece of business and run it for a long time and I only left because I got recruited and everybody else in Ogilvy was worried about advertising still.
I hadn’t really grown up in advertising and sort of grown up in digital and data and direct marketing as the internet was taking over. So I go in to work on the biggest account and was able to grow it. And so every everything else I think I got in my career, it came from being able to grow things. And, and that was sort of a balance to not being male because in general, whether it was client management or creative or anything, the client facing people, they weren’t all male.
You know, I hired a ton of women in my first a hundred days. I hired people that had skills that I needed and they just didn’t all happen to be the advertising usual suspects. And so I, I was able to actually build quite a lot of diversity into my team, some ethnic diversity, a lot of gender diversity and over time other things.
But it was mostly that I just had to, I had to find the people who knew how to do what needed to be done and that wasn’t always the way in the advertising business. People were hiring people. They hired people that looked like them and acted like that, and sounded like that. It was a brand. You know, I wasn’t really that brand, frankly, I felt like an outsider for a really long time, really long time at my company.
And maybe that’s just me always feeling like an outsider because I was from a different family. I don’t know. But, um, because certainly people were kind and embraced, embraced success, always.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. As you think about, you know, you kind of laid out different moments in your career where you had opportunity. If you were a woman of color, do you think you would have had those same opportunities?
You go back to the copywriting story. If you were a woman of color, do you think he would have accepted that the edit was correct?
CARLA HENDRA: I don’t know if he would have accepted if the edit was correct. I would just go a step back. I just don’t think that a person, a person of color would have been hired in most of the jobs that I was that I got.
Like, we did not have a lot of people of color in that company. I mean, we just didn’t and there was certainly no effort to recruit them and when you go to bigger companies, you automatically are working with people of color, but, you know, In our industry that was in the support and admin groups, the HR groups, the production groups, again, I don’t think people of color would be interviewed.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah.
So what about now in today’s world? How have you seen professionals of color lose out on opportunities because privilege exists for other communities?
CARLA HENDRA: Well, I just, I think that on the services side, like us. The change that has to happen has to be, again, it was pushed by clients and clients were ahead because they wanted the best talent and the best talent coming out of universities coming out of whatever they were hiring people of color.
I don’t know if they were promoting them, but, you know, we started to have clients who were people of color now that, it starts to change things, but slowly, and, you know, we have to compete with investment banks, consultancies, and they probably have better advancement tracks. But I wouldn’t say, I think the corporations, you don’t necessarily rise up in those companies to the highest level very easily. I think right now we are struggling to make sure that we’re in the consideration set because of course the reputation is if you go into the agency business, you’re not going to go up very far because, you know, unless you’re a specialty agency, like show me the entire landscape of agencies and tell me how many, you know, we have one Black man who is running one of our big operating companies. One.
PORTER BRASWELL: Do you feel that there is an opportunity to be more competitive if there were other CEOs that kind of look like him throughout the agency?
CARLA HENDRA: Yes. And I think that, I mean, again, he’s in a different operating company, so again, WPP has done this recognition that they have to create a different landscape at the executive level.
So for instance, in addition to all of the Ogilvy’s and other agencies, there’s a layer of management at WPP and some of those, those jobs are running a country and running all the WPP assets in the country. So the UK, which is a giant market, our, our, our global CEO of the holding company appointed Karen Blackett, who’s an, uh, Black woman, very, very well known in the industry and in the UK and she, she runs the country. That was a great move. And, and it said something to people and he also appointed, he took a lot of. The kind of mad men era. I mean, oh, WPP had a lot of people who had stayed and ridden the curve of advantage because it was a good thing to do. And as they got to a certain age and, and, you know, he was, he was starting to deal with retirements and wanted to make change, he appointed a huge number of women into CEO jobs. Again, looking for, also Asian women, especially Indian, you know, to, to be able to take some of these jobs and because they, everyone has to be able to know how to do the job. And of course we had, we lost huge amounts of talent from the industry of all types.
PORTER BRASWELL: Well, as I think about privilege, one of the things that comes to mind, especially as you defined it with the unfair advantage, I think it can play out in very subtle ways. So in my experiences, before the murder of George Floyd, there was a reluctance to acknowledge and to accept that there’s a different existence between white America and Black America.
Right. And because there was that reluctance to accept that, that knowledge, it would play out in the context of work where underrepresented communities are dealing with and thinking about a lot of things white America never had to think about. One story comes to mind. A Jopwell member reached out to me and we were just catching up and just kind of chatting about her experiences and she’s Latina.
And she works in finance and she recalled a day where she walked into the office and she was walking down her, her aisle to go to her seat and all of the people on the desk, who did not look like her started saying, hey, it’s Jenny from the block because she wore her hair naturally that day. And she chuckled at it.
She didn’t want to make a scene, but that chipped away from her. She sat down, she started doing her job. She went on that later afternoon to a meeting and in that meeting, she told me that she had to check her laugh. She, when something funny happened in the room, she had to put on her corporate life. And so she was telling me of all the things that she has to deal with on a daily basis that her colleagues don’t have to deal with. That’s privilege. That’s an unfair advantage that they don’t have to think about those things. Whereas communities of color, we’re constantly calculating 24/7, and it’s distracting and most importantly, it’s tiring.
And I think that that’s how privilege can play out in a subtle way that I think culture did not necessarily recognize. Until what we’re now living through.
CARLA HENDRA: Oh, I completely agree. There was a lack of recognition. And so who wants to recognize something horrible about an entire ethnic group, but you know, it’s there.
I think what a lot of people who are, have good intentions are trying to figure out what can I do? What is the individual thing I can do? Because like I see a global CEO of a big, 150,000 person company that person can make some process and policy decisions and push them down. But every individual can do other things.
And I will say it was a lightening rod. Now it’s not the first time in my life that I’ve seen that or been aware of it. In last May, everything just went up on its head. And for the first time, in my professional career, we were having open, open discussions with large groups of people telling them it was safe, but large groups of people, to express themselves and people were doing it. So even that had never happened before in my, in my career. And I have spent my career like the story you just told, being very careful about what I say in front of other people in boardrooms and client rooms and in internal rooms, because there was a different standard set for women as there were for anybody that looked different. Like I said, from the central casting.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. As you think about your peers that are also executives and white, what in your experience is the thing that they struggle most to understand about race or the thing that I don’t know, that they just are not grasping about, about this topic?
CARLA HENDRA: Well, I mean, I think they are grasping a lot, but don’t always know what to do. They can’t, they don’t, they can’t undo that they’re white. They can’t undo the way they grew up. They can’t undo do where they live. Well, they could, but, but you know, like we have to give everybody the tools, the people that are in these executive jobs, they’re not lazy. They’re not just doing nothing.
They have to work hard and you have to make it part of their incentives. It’s not hard if you, if you give people a bonus calculation and say, You have to change your numbers on your recruitment of senior people in your team to this level each year to get this part of your bonus, that will change things.
PORTER BRASWELL: So you think, it’s to incentivize folks?
CARLA HENDRA: Yeah. I mean, it’s the same thing that when we say there’s some things that you could just put from the top down, like we’re going to use Microsoft office, not some other software for our company, and everybody tries to go around that and do their own thing. But in the end, you lose, you have to use the software if you want to be in the company.
So there’s some things like that, you can just legislate. Other things are choices and people have to be measured and accountable for them. Our whole incentive system is a mess anyway, so it has to be redone. But when it’s redone this year, it will have recruitment targets in it. Honestly, if people run around and they’re just like, I got to find somebody with a pulse, and who can walk and chew gum to come in here and help me do this work. We had a crap year last year because of pandemic. We got to get some people. They’re thinking I got to find the people with the skills as quickly as possible. And I do think that we have to measure it and be accountable on a daily kind of basis or else it will, you know, things recede and, you know, it was very much at the forefront again, and with the trial in Minneapolis and the verdict and all that.
And so actually a sort of reset from what was done last May, has now started again in our company. Yeah, it’s good. And it was ongoing, but it had receded a little. Pandemic and vaccines were taking over a bit.
PORTER BRASWELL: Yeah. So I think now it’s undeniable that race should be discussed at work. What’s your advice for how to discuss this topic.
CARLA HENDRA: Oh, I think the only way that you can discuss the topic is, you know, openly and with frankly, a vocabulary and articulation that comes from Black people. If it’s about Black people that comes from Hispanic people, if it’s about Hispanic people, it comes from women, if it’s about women, because nobody knows what they’re going through, except them.
And I will be the first to say I’m white. I do not know what it’s like to grow up and to exist in America as a Black person. So all I can do, like most of my people right now are in US, UK, and that could use more racial diversity. We’ll hire more people and I can only do it one hire at a time. So that’s what I’m going to do.
PORTER BRASWELL: Well, I think your answer hits on acceptance and acknowledgement. And if you accept and acknowledge that there are different rules and laws that different communities have to experience just by starting with that level of acceptance, you can then have the conversation of how do you talk about race because you’re starting with the guard down and there is a sense of willingness to listen and learn. And I think that’s incredibly important from somebody in your seat because you, you have power and it gives me encouragement to hear from somebody again, in your position, that there is a level of willingness to understand different perspectives. And so I appreciate you sharing your perspectives and being on this episode with us and thank you for your time.
CARLA HENDRA: Thank you so much, Porter. It was a great pleasure. And I’m so happy that you asked me.
PORTER BRASWELL: That’s Carla Hendra, Global CEO Growth and Innovation of Ogilvy.
This episode was produced by Liz Sanchez. Special, thanks to Anne Saini and Nick Hendra. Next week, we’ll talk to NBA Portland, Trailblazer, CJ McCollum about what it means to be a leader at work, and in your field.
CJ MCCOLLUM: I can’t hoop forever. I’m going to be a Black man forever. And so I have to speak to the core on things that are important to me, things that means something to me. And I have to, as the saying goes, there’s a lot of people who are voiceless. I have to speak on behalf of those people who may not be heard.