Culture Moments Podcast: Around the World in 20 Years with Lukeisha Paul of GroupM

Today, we continue our Around the World in 20 Years journey with Lukeisha Paul, the head of diversity, equity and inclusion for GroupM US. Before taking on her current role, Lukeisha had been with Mindshare, MAXUS and GroupM for 15 years overseeing print media for a vast array of accounts in pharma, retail, CPG, QSR, and finance. She also serves as GroupM’s representative on WPP’s Collective Inclusion & Diversity leads across their network.

Lukeisha’s passion for her work has garnered her industry recognition such as Adweek Executive Mentor, Ad Club of New York President’s Award, and a multitude of other awards and honors in the advertising space. We only began working with GroupM and Lukeisha in 2019 but wow, what a journey it’s been! Our conversation, which took place at the tail end of 2020, covers the shifts we had to make from in-person to virtual training, and from unconscious bias to discussions about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. We also talk about all of this within a global context, as GroupM serves clients and employees all over the world. And finally, Lukeisha, who is fairly new to this work herself, shares some great advice for new DEI practitioners. Let’s begin.

Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 29:12) or scroll down for the full transcript. 

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Show Notes & Highlights

(2:22) The journey from DEI Champion to DEI Leader in advertising

(9:18) Creating “Courageous Conversations” at GroupM

(18:22) Shifting the internal DEI conversation to clients and vendors

(23:00) The inclusion gaps in the advertising industry, and what needs to change to close them

(25:25) Advice from a newer DEI practitioner


Show Transcript

Tanya Stanfield:  Well, Lukeisha, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation today. We really appreciate your partnership over the past couple of years, and we’re really excited to really dig into this conversation with you.

Lukeisha Paul: Thank you so much for having me, Tanya.

Tanya Stanfield: Great. Well, I’ll just sort of dive right in here. Tell us a little bit about your journey into the DEI space, as a DEI professional.

Lukeisha Paul: Sure. So, I currently work in the advertising industry, and I’ve been in the advertising industry for now 20 years. I would say, 15 of those years I’ve been with my current company in a media planning and buying space. And in that space, over the years, I’ve been working with the Advertising Club of New York to help diversify the industry. And I would usually go to our HR departments and say, ‘the ad club is having an event and we’d need to sponsor some people’, and in 2018, this is where my journey began. This is where my journey began officially.

I went into my HR group and I said, ‘we’re usually having these conversations across the board and our clients are there as well as some of our competitors. And they’re speaking about what their companies are doing from a DEI perspective’. If they were to ask me what is GroupM’s action currently in that space, what would my response be? And at the time my HR leads said, ‘we really aren’t doing a lot, at all’, and I quickly responded. That’s not a good enough response, and with that, they had mentioned, she had mentioned, that they were currently looking at maybe having someone take on the role of doing DEI across all of our companies.

Just one single person, and before I could think about my response, I automatically just said, ‘here I am’. And I, and I say this to this day, before I can think about it, I said it, and that’s because my passion led me to respond, ‘here I am to do this’. But I didn’t think about what it would actually take to get this done knowing I’ve been with this company for a long, for a long time, and I’m seeing some of the voids and the gaps that I definitely wanted to be a part of filling because I love the company that I work for, and I knew that once we got this piece in place, we would be a dynamic company on a holistic view.

That said, it took us a few months, well, to get this position started, but I officially took on the role in January of 2019 as the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for GroupM US. This entails, me heading up all DEI across our operating companies, which is about nine of them and across the US markets.

It has been such a great journey since then. I have always worked in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I mean, just from being a person from an underrepresented group and undergoing certain things like microaggressions or seeing opportunities where individuals from underrepresented groups weren’t given the same career path alignment as others were given.

And once I was able to affect change in terms of how, I progressed in my career. I, definitely, made sure that something on my to-do list was to create inclusivity with all the teams that I had and bring in more diverse backgrounds. So, it’s kind of been in the pipeline for me. It’s been in the work that I’ve been doing, but officially January 2019 is when I assumed this role.

Tanya Stanfield: That’s great. Thanks for sharing that journey. So, when did you and GroupM first begin working with LCW?

Lukeisha Paul: Yeah. So, that’s a great story, and you would hear to today that I would say Monica Marcel, who works for your company, is my best friend, literally, my best friend. In 2018, when I assumed this role, I reached out to some people in the industry that I had, that I had known, particularly, Mita Mallik, who was at Unilever, as well as Diversity Best Practices, and I utilized them to help build the foundation, and they recommended LCW as a company that I would like to, that I should investigate for our unconscious bias programming that we were going to do. That was one of the first things that I wanted to implement at our company because I knew that once people were aware of their biases, it would help mitigate the microaggressions and then be able to cause more inclusivity.

So, I contacted LCW, and I was put in a partnership with Monica. So, this was before I officially filled this role, and Monica really helped to act as a partner since then in how I can visualize and then implement what unconscious bias is going to look like for our company and put together a very strong program for building the foundation of this office.

I remember saying to Monica all the time, ‘I’m so very grateful for all your guidance and your consultancy as a partner. I just want to let that once I get a budget, once I assume this role, officially, you are going to be the absolute first person that I call to make sure that our company is investing with your company and putting into practice the great things that you’ve already shown me’.

And ‘so said, so done’. Monica was the number one person that I called, as soon as I officially filled in this role, and we’ve been with LCW since January 2019 up until now. We have done such great work together. One thing I really love about Monica, about LCW, that I understood very, from the onset, was customization to our company.

I had done research into other companies that do unconscious bias programs. I had done research across our companies in terms of who we have utilized in prior years, and I’ve gotten a few names, and for the most part, I’ve heard they’ve been kind of cookie cutter programs. I knew that I didn’t want to have a cookie cutter program because I want it to be unique to our company.

Our company, in itself, is a unique company, and we’re a leader in this space.   I wanted us to have that authoritative stance in this industry from a DEI perspective, and so, I believe that what really solidified my partnership with LCW was being able to customize a four-phase program, that started out with focus groups and pulse surveys, to understand where our company currently was and where we want it to be.

What were the goals? What are some of the key points that came out of those focus groups and those surveys? And then, we then decided to share that information with our company to say, ‘this is, these are the things that we’re going through. This is where LCW is going to come in to help really steer our company in the right direction for diversity, equity and inclusion’, and from there, we’ve been rolling out program after program out of this, and with the changes that we’ve been encountering, on a whole, our country in a whole. Especially throughout the heightened emotional stages and awareness within 2020, LCW has been there with us re-customizing, reviewing, re-imagining what we’re going to do, evaluating what we’ve had in place and how we can help increase awareness across the board based on current activity. So, so grateful for that first day and that first conversation with Monica at LCW to see where we are today, and I continue to recommend the services of LCW to any client, to any company that I come in contact with that asks for, anyone that asks for a recommendation around a company that does unconscious bias programming.

Tanya Stanfield: Are there any stories that you can share through this journey, and thank you for describing it, so, so thoroughly, because it feels like it’s been longer than since 2019, but we’ve really been on a journey together. So, are there any stories, I think, especially in the past several months alone, that really, sort of, highlight the impact that’s been made through these programs? Even if it’s just an individual impact or on a team level or an organizational level.

Lukeisha Paul: Yep. Absolutely. So, I would say right after the murder of George Floyd, companies across the board were really trying to figure out how they can be of assistance to their employees. I’ve witnessed a huge emotional surge across the board. Within the black community, within the people of color community, as well as the non-people of color community, every employee wanted to know ‘where are we going to go from here’.  We had our people of color communities that were looking for a place where they can have a voice and be heard.

We had the non-people of color community that wanted to know how can we help? What can we do to help make a difference? Well, I contacted LCW and said, ‘I really need you in this moment to help me provide a program and event something that can help out with this ask’, and so, we created a courageous conversation event.

Our company has 5,000 plus employees; almost 3000 employees attended this event where LCW educated on the history of racism in America, behind the global context as well, and then ended with tools and resources of how individuals can also have these types of conversations on their teams to help this moment where people really just needed to have a voice.

And so, that’s one thing that’s significantly stood out to me because after that event, we had received such positive remarks of how effective that courageous conversation event was, how life-changing it was, and people actually said it wasn’t just from a professional perspective, but from a personal perspective, and that means so much more to me because now we know that we’re impacting the lives of people and not just how they’re dealing with their teams at work.

So, that’s one thing that I would say. There are so many moments with LCW. I really feel like they are a true friend, not, not even just the partner, but a true friend in times of need. Because we often come up with these, I often call on LCW and say, ‘I need your help’, and they’re right there, and they say, ‘okay, well, Lukeisha, let’s have a brainstorming on what we can do’.

I want to talk about our unconscious bias program that we have. We started this program to be an in-person facilitated program. We rolled this out across two of our markets, or we started to roll it out across two of our markets. We were successful in Chicago, and then we were just about to start LA when COVID-19 hit.

And when COVID-19 hit everyone, including our own company, went to virtual. So, how are we going to make this effective without having the in-person facilitated sessions that we were having? And that was crucial to me. I did not want this to be a program where it was just digital, and employees would just clicking really quickly on the, on the “yes” buttons that they can fast forward through everything and say that they’ve completed it and then check the box. That is not my intention for any of the work that I do, and certainly what I was getting from LCW. I believe that they were intentional as well. And so, in putting our heads together, we then transferred our in-person facilitated program to being virtual online facilitated program.

And to this date, we have successfully been able to usher the program into a number of our employees. Now, this is a required program that all 5,000 plus of our employees have to go through. We have gotten nothing but positive remarks about Larry. He’s the one that has been doing the facilitating of the sessions.

People are talking about how engaging he is, how personable he makes it. People are learning more. I mean, we thought that going virtual was going to take something away from the program, but it absolutely did not do that. In fact, people were able to, to really bond with this, with the education that they were getting, with the information that Larry was putting out, and with Larry himself through these online programs.

And so, thankfully, LCW quickly came up with a solution, and they’ve been using Adobe Connect to do so, and it’s been working well with our groups, with our company, and so again, that’s another moment in time that I’m thinking of how our partnership between LCW and GroupM just continues to be strengthened along the way, and especially during such a fragile time within our country.

Tanya Stanfield: That’s so great to hear. I’m curious, I know that your unconscious bias program is highly customized, you know, with the events that have happened in the past several months, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the murder of George Floyd, the ignition of the Black Lives Matter movement, has any of that content shifted or changed at all within that program itself or has it pretty much stayed the same?

Lukeisha Paul: So, I would say the unconscious bias program that we put in place, because that was customized to inputs from the company, that pretty much stayed the same, but what we were able to do was then look into the race matters workshop sessions that LCW does, and the race matters session when we looked at it together, though, it was relevant, it wasn’t as timely. And so, we decided together, again, in customization, which to me always translates to intentional. We were able to update the information to be more current, taking into account the death of George Floyd. Taking into account the fact that we were now virtual because of COVID, and there was so many heavy, there was such heaviness with COVID itself, that, compiled with the racial disparities that’s happening in our country, we were able to tweak the program to offer up something that can allow our employees to be equipped with the tools, to have the common conversations that were happening. To be able to answer some uncomfortable conversations, and to be able to have these conversations in their team dynamics.

So, what we’ve found is that there was such a need and a demand for, “Tell us, what can we do? What are we missing here? What’s happening in this community?” That, for some they weren’t privy to before, until it became broadcasted globally. Right? So, and that, with the race matters session, we’re able to have those conversations, and we purposely do our unconscious bias, as well as our race matters session, in small groups to make sure that there is a lot of engagement happening. We want people to ask questions, and we want to be there to respond to them. So, LCW has been doing a great job in terms of making sure that the programs that we’re moving forward with are more timely and are result of the, right now in this moment, here’s what you need.

Tanya Stanfield: Shifting away a little bit from sort of the current work that’s going on with GroupM and LCW, let’s talk about the DEI space in general, and knowing that you’ve been in this space for a long time, but you’ve been in this leadership position, in the span of  what probably feels like a decade with so much that has gone on.

How do you think the DEI world has shifted or changed since you’ve entered the field? And does it need to shift and change even more? What are you thinking about right now?

[00:15:00] Lukeisha Paul: Yeah. So, I would say absolutely. I’ve seen a definite shift and change. I see that companies are more willing to work together with one another to help the progression of diversity, equity, and inclusion, whereas in the past, it has been in siloed. So, you’d have companies doing their own work and almost really resembled a competitiveness between one another, like who’s doing a greater job, as opposed to really recognizing that there is no competitiveness in who has more underrepresented individuals than another, but really an action item to help all underrepresented groups, to listen and hear from all underrepresented groups.

What I’ve also seen is DEI is now touching all aspects of the business, whereas historically it hadn’t been. Historically, it’s kind of sat within HR. It really defaulted to a lot of talent acquisition and recruitment of underrepresented groups. I see companies of being more intentional in terms of ‘let’s get to the root of diversity, equity and inclusion’.

What are some of the areas and the growth opportunities that we have, saying outwardly and very clearly, ‘we are working this year’. Not that we are downplaying any need that is out there, but we are placing an emphasis on the black, African-American community and the Latin X community. One. Two in terms of it touching the business, I work in advertising. So, we’re not just talking to our employees internally within our agency. We’re also having conversations with our clients. We’re also having conversations with our vendor partners about what we can do holistically. I’ve been, now, my role has been expanded to having a consultative arm for our clients in terms of what can they do better, one, at their companies internally, but also, with their target audiences, with their consumers. So now, we’re not just speaking to them from a media perspective for all of a general market, but we’re really honing in on target audiences of the multicultural background and helping to shape what that now looks like.

How do you have those conversations that remain relevant, especially in this time? So, that’s definitely a shift that I’ve seen. Also, I’ve been asked to speak globally in some markets, like the UK, around giving them context to what’s happening in the US, because we are seeing people protesting the same way they are in the UK in the US, in the UK, and in other countries as well. Around the world, you have individuals that are holding up signs that say ‘Black Lives Matter’, and you have countries who have never had that conversation before, who have never seen that before. So, they’re reaching out to their US counterparts to ask, ‘what is the context here? Help us the better understand this’, and then to better be able to relate to our employees that are asking these questions, not just outside on the streets, but are bringing their concerns into the business.

So, there’s so much that I have witnessed, in terms of changing, from a DEI perspective within the industry, and I intend to see so much more continue to change because this isn’t just a ‘Black Lives Matter’ moment. This is a moment for all underrepresented groups to have a voice and to let their voice be heard.

You are now witnessing, and if you’ve seen any of the marches and the protests, you’ll see that there is every color, creed, race, size, gender, so forth, and so on that are locking arms together to make sure that we are all heard, and so, I don’t believe that this is going to be something that is going to go away.

That’s another big shift that I’m seeing. Historically, we’ve been here before, but somewhere we’ve forgotten it, and then we’ve gotten back to the norms, but not the case anymore. Citizens aren’t allowing people to let this go. Our countrymen are not allowing, and women, are not allowing anyone to let this go.

This is going to be a continued conversation that we have, from today and onward, and we also have a togetherness of seeing other groups rise to the top, as well. So, this is something, also, that I’ve seen as a shift. We’re not just making movements for our individual wants, desires, and needs; we’re making movements for ourselves and for those behind this, no matter who those people represent.

Tanya Stanfield: Wow, that’s really powerful. Thank you for sharing all that. I’m sensing this unity theme. First, you touched on the fact that companies aren’t being as competitive anymore. I’ve definitely noticed that but noticing that’s how this has become a global movement, as well.

I think all that is so spot on, so, thank you for sharing that. I think this is a good point to segue to talking about the future of DEI. As LCW is sort of wrapping up its first 20 years in business, we’re definitely looking to the future of what the DEI cultural competence looks like.

What are you hoping for that will sort of take place or shift in this industry or in this field in the next 20 years?

Lukeisha Paul: Yeah, I am looking for us no longer having to say ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’. I am looking for, it to just be embedded into everything that we do, that it is the norm. That we are no longer saying ‘the percentages of black representation in our industry remain at 4% within a manager and above levels as it has historically been’, but that we truly see a shift in the actions that we are putting forth today.

No longer do I want to see we’re doing great from a female perspective. One, when we’re talking about gender, so, we’re not including other genders, but to say that we’re doing well from a female perspective and not looking at females or women, I’m sorry, on a whole, not including women of color in that. No longer am I thinking that we’re going to be in a place where observances like LGBTQ plus community only happens in June for pride month, but that we weave in awareness and cultural immersions throughout the entire year because of these individuals within our country, within our companies, are part of the fabric of what brings us all together and the work that we do.

And so, what I’m hoping to see is that we start to get to a place of humanity, of seeing one another for human beings, and it’s interesting, when I have this conversation now with anyone, but including our senior leads, and they’re usually cautioned by saying anything because they’re afraid of what to say in this moment.

I say, when you look at the murder of George Floyd, try not to look at it from a race perspective, because that’s what blocks you, but if you look at it from a humanity perspective, no human being should be treated that way, and I think that that’s at least my desire for DEI in the future is that we start becoming more inclusive, truly inclusive, truly.

This is often something that I’d say as well. We talk about bringing your ‘whole self’ to work. Well, within our society, all of these ‘isms’ currently exists: ableism, racism, genderism, and so forth, and so on. Truly, if we can bring those things awareness into the workplace, they happen, they’re there. They already exist, but historically, we’ve been sweeping this under the rug and not really having these conversations. Historically, we’ve been told they can’t talk about religion and politics or any of those things at work. Currently, politics, religion, all of that has to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion, and by the way, within politics, we’re seeing conversations of DEI.

So, right now, we’re in a moment of everything getting blurred, and the future is the vision would be very clear on the fact that we need to be more holistic and inclusive in this industry of diversity, equity, inclusion and stop looking at it as an afterthought or an add on.

Tanya Stanfield: That’s excellent. So, as someone who is a relatively new leader in the space, but has so quickly become, not just an expert, but a business partner, to people internally at GroupM and to clients as you’re consulting with them as well, I can think of no better person to give advice to any future DEI practitioners. What advice would you give them for someone who’s thinking of going in this field, for someone who’s very early in this field, for someone who next year or in the next 10 years might decide to go into this field? What are some pieces of advice that you could share with them?

Lukeisha Paul: So, I would say when I first came into this field, the advice that I was given at the time was ‘take some time to yourself in this. The work is very hard’, and I got full warned about burnout, and I came in here with my passion, leading everything, and so my motivation, my energy, is spurred by my passion.

I would say ‘don’t let that passion fade’, know that what you’re getting into. You’re going to receive opposition because we are trying to change thought patterns that have been ingrained for so many years. Once you know that, then you’ll be able to push on to see the progress that you want to be made. I, personally, try my best not to take things personal, and that’s the key because when I came into the industry, as a black woman heading up DEI, I wanted to make sure that everyone still saw me able to speak to all underrepresented groups and be a voice for all of the voiceless and to not just be seen as a black woman who has an agenda for the black community.

I have an agenda for every single community, and where the disparities are greater, those are the places that we’re going to focus on in the here and now. So, I would say don’t worry about it. I’ve spoken to counterparts who are part of the LGBTQ plus community that have also said they have tried to downplay that community and really speak for the rest.

No, we need to speak for everyone, including our own community. So, don’t put anyone on the back burner for any reason at all. I would also say, one thing I tell everyone, and I lead by this, as well: everyone is at different levels of understanding and awareness. That helps me be able to speak to many different people with different insights across the board.

There are some people that absolutely a hundred percent get it. There are some people that get it but are afraid to admit that, and there are some people who are just oblivious. And all three categories are okay: they’re okay. You have to meet people where they are. Don’t try to, let’s not judge. Let’s take the time, and let’s teach.

Tanya Stanfield: That’s perfect advice to end on. Lukeisha, thank you so much for this incredible conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I know others in the field and outside of the field as well. We’ll really appreciate all the insights that you provided here. So, thank you, and thank you for your partnership, you and GroupM for your partnership to LCW all this time, we really appreciate it.

Lukeisha Paul: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Tanya, and thank you so much to LCW. Really, I don’t think that I could have done it on my own without LCW helping me from the very, very beginning before we even had signed a contract. So, I applaud businesses like that, that look at the future of building a relationship because truly it has been a successful and impactful one between GroupM and LCW.

So, thank you.

Tanya Stanfield: Thank you. Thank you so much for those kind words.

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