Lisa Osborne Ross, managing director of APCO Worldwide’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, led a panel discussion at the 2017 ColorComm (C2) Conference on the barriers that prevent women of color from advancing to the senior-most positions in communications agencies. C2, held for the first time in 2011, is an annual business retreat that brings together more than 400 women of color in the communications industry from across the United States.
Ross was joined at on the panel by seven industry executives, who together, represent four global communications agencies: Brad Staples, CEO, APCO; Brad MacAfee, CEO, Porter Novelli; John Saunders, CEO, FleishmanHillard; Matthew Harrington, COO, Edelman; Mildred Galvin, Senior Vice President of Talent Development, FleishmanHillard; Soon Mee Kim, Executive Vice President and Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead, Porter Novelli; and Trisch Smith, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Edelman.
“Last week’s panel was extremely impactful,” said Staples. “It was candid, authentic and focused on actionable ways to answer the question: What can we do to promote a more diverse, inclusive workplace? This question is at the heart of who we are as global communicators and I appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from industry professionals about their concerns, insights and recommendations for change.”
The caliber of individuals who participated in the panel was “a testament to the importance of diversity and inclusion in our industry,” Ross said. “At APCO, we talk all the time about diversity of opinion, diversity of thought and diversity of race, understanding that we need people on our teams who reflect the communities around us. This panel allowed us to engage a broader group of industry allies—including those at the C-suite level—in an honest conversation about women of color in communications.”
The panel followed a series of listening sessions organized by the E3 Taskforce. Sparked by a discussion she hosted at the 2016 C2 Conference, Ross brought agencies together to establish E3 to empower people from diverse backgrounds to elevate their voices and emerge as indispensable leaders in the industry.
“Last year, I came to ColorComm and encountered all of these amazing women,” said Ross. “As a long-time agency professional and Deputy Director of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission under President Clinton I started thinking about what could be next for them. I was shocked to find that so many believed that they would never reach the highest levels of our industry.”
Under Ross’ leadership, E3 has been powered by 15 leading communications agencies, PRSA and the PR Council. In addition to the C2 panel and listening sessions, E3 has spent the last year convening monthly, collecting stories and conducting research to explore the barriers to inclusion and advancement.
According to Staples and Ross, the global executives on the panel left the session inspired to take greater action, committed to ensuring diversity and inclusion as a priority is communicated top-down, and equally as important, to hold each other accountable for achieving results.
Read an op-ed from Ross here.