Mark Read

Cannes Lions 2023

Holding company chiefs on AI and inclusion: Mark Read

The WPP chief executive tells us his thoughts on inclusion at his company and how AI could impact upon it

By Mark Read

In the second of our Q&As with the holding company chiefs ahead of Cannes, Mark Read talks to us about WPP's DE&I initiatives and the potential threat of AI bias:

As CEO of WPP, what lessons have you learned about the role of diversity in the success of your business, and the work you do for your clients?

Creativity thrives in a diverse culture. That’s one of the reasons why we make it our business to encourage and inspire a diversity of talent throughout WPP. By embracing different perspectives, we not only deliver extraordinary work for our clients that authentically reflects the diverse world we live in, but we also attract and retain the best talent.

What are your ambitions around diversity over the next five years?

My ambition is to get meaningfully closer to a workforce that represents our societies and a culture where people feel they belong. Diversity is not only a moral imperative but also a powerful business opportunity and it will continue to be a key priority for us. What this means in practice is that we will continue to invest in diversity initiatives that not only build a talent pipeline for WPP, but for our industry as a whole. Two examples bring this ambition to life. We’ve launched Visible Start, a programme with the Uninvisibility Project and Brixton Finishing School to get more midlife women into our industry; this year we have 320 participants, and 19 of the first cohort were employed across WPP agencies. We’ve also backed ONE School UK, a One Club for Creativity initiative helping more Black creatives build top careers in advertising.

Are there any areas of DE&I that you think the industry has not started to address properly?

While solid progress has been made to advance racial equity, there is still a lot to do and progress requires continued attention. To mark the three-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death last month, we published a series of reflections on what’s changed in the last three years, and where we need more focus. Karen Blackett OBE, President of our UK business, explained why racial equity is crucial to the future of our industry, and what we’ve learned through initiatives such as WPP’s Consumer Equality Equation Report – a ground-breaking study that shattered misconceptions about minority ethnic audiences in the UK. Pedro Reiss, CEO of Wunderman Thompson in Brazil, passionately sets out the case for allyship, demonstrating what can happen when an organisation makes a collective effort to transform its culture and practices. And LJ Louis, our Chief Talent and Inclusion Officer, reminds us that while we’ve achieved “solid early returns”, we’re only just getting started.

Critics say that AI is already reinforcing and exacerbating many challenges already faced by society, such as bias, discrimination and misinformation. How do you think this is going to impact the use of AI in advertising and marketing?

There are some well-publicised biases in AI, not just in how the models work, but also in the underlying datasets and how they are applied. All of this means greater vigilance is needed. We’ve rolled out a set of principles, guidance and legal advice internally to help our 115,000 people across the world navigate these challenges and we’re consulting to clients to help them as well. Ultimately, there will be regulation in various forms to provide the right guardrails – and beyond this the smart combination of AI and people to make sure we can identify the pitfalls as well as the opportunities.


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