As conversations focused on #MeToo, inclusion and diversity take on ever greater importance in the agency world, the 4A’s unveiled plans to launch a certification program by which agencies can confirm that they’re on the up and up.
Keesha Jean-Baptiste, 4A’s senior vice president of talent engagement and inclusion, described the program, which is called Enlightened Workplace Certification, as an “additive” program aimed at changing “mindsets” rather than an “end-all, be-all” solution to concerns about sexism, racism and misogyny.
“[Behavior] doesn’t change without culture changing first,” Jean-Baptise said. “What does it look like to operate in a more positive, culturally aware way?”
Few aspects of the program have been mapped out in detail, so the answer to that question is not yet clear.
But the 4A’s has partnered with organizations like GLAAD and the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, a nonprofit that sets the standards for accreditation programs, to help develop content for the certification program and authorize the 4A’s to provide credentials to agencies and individuals.
The organization is also currently in the process of gauging interest from other possible participants. Jean-Baptiste said “a number” of agencies have already expressed interest in enrolling.
Certifications will be given on an individual basis, though agencies can enroll on behalf of their entire organization. But applications come at a cost. Jean-Baptiste explained all fees are applied based on individual and agency needs to be determined at the time of enrollment, adding that totals “are not being disclosed publicly.”
The certification program will officially launch in April, ahead of the 4A’s flagship Accelerate conference.
Under the program, there will be an initial assessment period to determine exactly what services and training a participant needs to get certified. For agencies, training may include help with enacting unspecified operational and behavioral standards or providing tools to identify and investigate internal complaints in a way that collectively supports victims, leaders, management, individuals and human resources representatives.
Jean-Baptiste said the entire certification process could take months or even a full year in some cases, depending on the needs of a given agency or individual.
“Out of the gate,” she said, the program will focus heavily on operations at the c-suite level and within human resources, a space under considerable scrutiny right now. In many of the recent sexual harassment cases being brought to light (both inside and outside the advertising industry), HR reps have come under fire for allegedly being complacent, covering up the wrongdoings of high-level executives, and, in some extreme cases, penalizing victims for coming forward.
Jean-Baptiste, herself a former HR director at Wieden + Kennedy, did not shy away from discussing the issue.
“Change starts at the top,” Jean-Baptiste said. “We know HR is in a compromising situation, in charge of helping employees and enabling a higher-functioning organization. As a former HR director myself, I have seen situations work out that when a complaint was made, I had to operate by the book. It’s what we knew we needed to follow.”
During the assessment phase, Jean-Baptiste said the 4A’s will look for policies agencies already have in place that go beyond supporting employees only when “bad things go up.”
Training experiences under the program will also be developed in partnership with Glenn Singleton, president and founder of Courageous Conversation, and Barbara Tint, Ph.D., a trainer, consultant and professor who covers power, status and gender relations, according to a statement from the 4A’s.
The certifications will span matters of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability status and nationality.