New JWT CEO Doesn’t Think Agencies Will Solve Their Diversity Problem Anytime Soon

Tamara Ingram also calls VR the biggest trend at Cannes

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CANNES, France—Tamara Ingram assumed the top role of chairman/CEO at J. Walter Thompson Worldwide in a tumultuous period following the departure of her predecessor Gustavo Martinez.

Ninety days into her new job, she tells Adweek that she has a clear vision for the organization moving forward and that she has already moved to double down on her efforts to increase diversity. This is a topic she believes the ad industry at large will continue discussing for the foreseeable future—however difficult resulting conversations may turn out to be.

"The business challenge I see for JWT, as I do for all agencies, is to diversify our business and diversify our talent," she says. "Unless our talent truly reflects the communities that live around around us, we can't diversify our business."

This means disrupting (for lack of a better word) the current system, which tends to function as a sort of closed circle that consistently rewards individuals who came up through the same schools, agencies and real-world social networks. She tells Adweek that agencies, companies, politics and the corporate world need to more closely resemble the public at large, "because otherwise there's going to be disengagement."

Many inside and outside the industry would surely agree with her, but the question remains: How can agencies and holding companies turn these noble aspirations into reality?

"First of all, we are very clear about running a diversity and inclusion council where I am the leader," she says before championing the blind application process that JWT hopes will allow its network to achieve the goal of "not worrying about where people come from but really looking at the best talent."

"You have to understand the barriers to promotion," Ingram says. Many other agency leaders agree with her on the value of blind hiring, though that practice alone may not prove to be a cure-all for the industry's demographic challenges moving forward.

Of course, Cannes is more about celebrating creativity than discussing the best available hiring practices.

Despite some skepticism from late adopters, Ingram tells Adweek that virtual reality will be unavoidable in the years to come: "People think it's far away; I think it's much closer than we think."

In terms of her own network's most innovative projects created over the past year, Ingram cites JWT Amsterdam's efforts to produce a "new" Rembrandt painting via algorithm and the Costa Rican office's work tying domestic violence to major soccer matches. 

She also believes that Y&R's Burger King McWhopper campaign will be among this year's big winners—and Adweek agrees.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.