NEW YORK — Nearly two months after the start of widespread civil unrest — accelerating PR agencies' push to diversify — Weber Shandwick has released diversity data for its US leadership team, prompting CEO Gail Heimann to say: “It’s not a positive story, but it’s an important one.”

According to 2019 agency stats, which are published online, Weber Shandwick’s US team gets incrementally less diverse the higher you go up the leadership ranks. Whites account for 88.9% of the firm’s executive VPs and above; 84.7% of the firm’s senior VPs and VPs; and 75% of workers categorized as professionals.

Blacks and African Americans hold 2.5%, 4.1% and 5.6% of those roles respectively. Hispanics or Latinos account for 1.2%, 3.3% and 7%; Asians hold 6.2%, 5.5%, and 9.2% of those jobs.

“While diversity, equity and inclusion are core values we uphold at Weber Shandwick, the headline — on every level — is that people of color are grossly underrepresented in our agency. This data shows that our values simply aren’t reflected in the make-up of our workforce,” Heimann said.

“We have to do better. And we have to move as quickly as possible. It will be a formidable journey and it will require an action plan devised with more rigor and more resources than we’ve designated previously,” she said.

In releasing the data, Heimann said going public with diversity figures was a key step in laying the groundwork for improvement — and accountability. “We believe that real progress going forward will be accelerated by transparency on where we stand today. But change starts with clear benchmarks to measure long-term, lasting impact,” she said.

It was also a bold move for an agency, given the larger industry’s reticence to go public with how diverse — or not — it really is. In particular, almost all of the biggest firms have yet to reveal numbers, while several have stopped short of setting specific hiring and personnel targets.

A number of independent agencies have released their diversity numbers, including W2O (15% non-white at board level, 20% overall), Finn Partners (21% non-white overall), Praytell (40% non-white), and Ruder Finn (27.9% non-white).

Holding companies are starting to step up, too. On Monday, Omnicom published its US diversity data as of June 20, along with an eight-step plan to achieve equity throughout the organization. The stats showed 84.1% of Omnicom's executive leaders are white, 2.7% Black, 4.9% Hispanic and 7.2% Asian; 74.8% of mid-managers are white, 4.8% Black, 8.6% Hispanic and 8.9% Asian; and 70.1% of professionals are white, 5.5% Black, 10.3% Hispanic and 11.1% Asian.

WPP has committed to taking action on each of the 12 points made in the Call for Change letter issued by the ad industry's Black employee organization 600 & Rising, including releasing diversity data for the company as a whole, a spokesperson said.

WPP's agencies, however, are not answering the question on whether they will individually do so as well. When asked, BCW issued the following statement: "BCW is part of WPP, which has publicly committed to taking all 12 actions in the 600 & Rising Call for Change open letter to the industry from Black professionals, which includes publishing its racial diversity data." Hill+Knowlton Strategies issued the same statement, albeit replacing BCW's name with its own.

Other large firms, some of which cite holding company policy (Omnicom firms, for instance, claim they cannot disclose such figures), also have not indicated any plans to do so, despite making major proclamations of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Edelman, the world's largest PR firm, did not respond to requests for information, even though the agency already publicly reported in 2018 that 25% of its US workforce had racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds — and hoped to increase that number to 30% by this year.

Nor have those firms made it clear why.

“We know the numbers are not good. And we know that this is a moment where change is going to be demanded and our agency leaders want to effect change,” said PR Council president Kim Sample.

However, Sample said there also are multitudes of complexities agencies face in compiling and reporting data — let alone grappling with crises such as Covid-19 and its impact on the economy that make setting concrete goals difficult at a time of unknowns.

“I think the key is that this is not one size fits all,” she said.

Many firms have committed to addressing systemic racism and inequality — and, in some cases, are supporting those pledges with considerable resources.

Edelman and Weber Shandwick each have donated at least $1m in money and resources to Black organizations, as has a coalition of small agencies, on top of committing to internal initiatives including surrounding hiring, mentorship and training.

In a post, H+K Strategies global chairman and CEO AnnaMaria DeSalva pledged a series of actions including reaching out to young people of color about opportunities in the industry and hiring a diversity & inclusion leader. FleishmanHillard already did the latter, naming Emily Graham the firm’s first chief D&I officer. Golin has launched a task force to fast-track the implementation of its diversification strategy, and has turned over internal communications platforms to conversation, resources and podcasts aimed at ending systemic racism.

W2O has donated $50,000 to civil rights organizations, is recruiting from outside the healthcare sector and added software that tracks hiring, promotions and pay equity among other employee info. MWWPR also has donated $50,000 to pertinent organizations and committed to changing its relationships with vendors so that 30% of its service contracts are to be with minority businesses by the end of 2020 and 50% by the end of 2021.

Hotwire has enlisted employees of color to work with leadership on making long-term systemic changes, and will be expanding recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities. MMC is updating the employee handbook to include language associated with equity and inclusion. PAN Communications is matching employee donations to civil rights organizations, including Black Lives Matter.

None of which, however, reduces pressure on agencies to go public with the makeup of their workforces as employees, grassroots movements such as The Blueprint  and 600 & Rising and organizations, including PRovoke, call for accountability.

The employee-led Hold the PRess movement, for instance, is lobbying the PR industry to come clean by providing their numbers of Black employees, including executives; accounts that are Black-owned businesses; and diversity & inclusion action plans.

The organization has given agencies a July 31 deadline to respond, and will reveal those that do — and don't. We won't know until after that date whether agencies take the group's demands seriously enough to elicit the kind of response A Call for Change received from WPP.

Sample, however, believes agencies are indeed hearing calls to action. “People are taking it very seriously and they want to put together goals that they know they can achieve with the action steps they can commit to,” Sample said.

“I think it’s great that Weber, the second largest agency in the world has published their US numbers and also shared their preliminary action plan. I think that’s incredible and I am confident that others are going to follow suit."