Equality Requires Empathy: Spectrum’s Approach to this Women's Equality Day


Around this time last year, I penned a reflection for Women’s Equality Day. While a lot has changed since then—certainly more than we anticipated for 2020!—one thing that remains unchanged is Spectrum’s commitment to shaping a forward-thinking culture that recognizes, supports and develops talent regardless of an employee’s gender.

Women’s Equality Day is not about dedicating its 24 hours to spearheading awareness and initiatives for women’s empowerment. Rather, as our team has continued to support and develop the women within our organization—as well as foster a more supportive, inclusive environment for all—I wanted to share an update to hold our organization accountable and encourage others to use this time to reflect.

This is a time to check in on how far we have come, considerations brought on by this unprecedented season and where we still have room to grow.

Elevating Women Leaders

Previously I shared that, while our industry is dominated by women (75%), only 1 in 5 holds some sort of leadership position. As we approach two years with President Michelle Gross at our helm and Chief Strategy Officer Michelle Strier ensuring all client challenges are met with our hallmark integrated, strategic approach—both leaders within the agency for over five years—Spectrum continues to be an exception. All four of our practice groups are women-led, most by longtime Spectrumites, as are many of the knowledge centers that fuel our interwoven approach, including our copy, design, digital and business development teams.

One of the things I’m most proud of is Spectrum’s ability to develop talent. While the agency has seen interns become EVPs—notably, biotech practice leader Liz Bryan—just this past quarter we announced promotions of three rising women stars, Sam Kurutz, Jenn Melendez and Nikki Sullivan, to Vice President roles within their respective practice groups.

These are just a few examples of the amazing women making leadership contributions across the agency. I am delighted to call all these women my colleagues and profoundly privileged to learn from them every day.

Supporting Women Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented all our employees with unprecedented new challenges, regardless of gender. However, many of the impacts are being felt disproportionately by women—particularly millennial women and women with children—who also comprise a majority of Spectrum’s workforce.

For example, 74% of US mothers “feel mentally worse since the pandemic began”—with childcare being their primary cause of stress (Motherly)—while 44% of women report being the only household member taking on childcare duties, compared to 14% of men (USC). This disparity is greatest among working parents, with 1 in 3 working mothers compared to 1 in 10 working fathers.

CEO Jonathan Wilson has always emphasized that integrating one’s career and home life in a fulfilling way is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Stemming from this, Spectrum’s talent-centered model (even pre-pandemic) embraced policies allowing employees to utilize specific types of flexibility or accommodations to contribute their best work.

With each person’s unique home pressures exacerbated beginning in March, practice and knowledge center leaders went through their teams person by person to identify Spectrumites with significant challenges. Through empathetic conversation, we worked in partnership to establish a rhythm and make things work—we didn’t tell anyone to figure it out on their own. While we have reorganized schedules and teams, it’s still an ongoing partnership to solve evolving challenges together. And our channel for parents on Microsoft Teams is a great place to share tips and tricks—and commiserate!

As we continue to face the pandemic, we remain focused on empowering employees to meet their personal needs alongside the needs of our clients.

Supporting Women Means Supporting Black Women, Indigenous Women and Women of Color

Spectrum is committed to thoughtfully building an inclusive community that is open and caring. This has always meant hiring the best talent—regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation—but we’ve learned that this is not enough. We need to increase our efforts to hire and support diverse talent, identifying the channels in which women of color are actively looking for careers to recruit through those avenues.

Looking forward, our goal is to create a more diverse company as well as a more positive environment to foster that diversity—this takes time, education and purpose. Spectrum is making concerted efforts across all three areas in a way that feels accountable and credible.

While this journey began last year, we recently engaged a Diversity and Inclusion consultant to bolster our efforts. With their guidance, we will survey the organization to find out how Spectrumites are feeling at present, as well as what we can do as an agency to create a more inclusive environment. This will provide better insight directing our efforts as we move forward to establish focus groups and a diversity council forum, implement company-wide bias training and make changes to recruiting practices.

What’s most important to me is ensuring that these efforts are set up the right way—not just to check a box, but to truly bring and support diverse talent.

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I am proud to contribute to a company I know values positivity, inclusivity and empathy. While making a difference is part of our mission as an organization, this is not limited to within the health and science landscape. We also aim to impact at a corporate and organization level. There is weight behind our words, and we take our promises and commitments seriously across equality, diversity and humanity.

Fostering a forward-thinking environment that recognizes talent as potential and commits to nurturing it isn’t possible without the support of all our leaders across the agency. I am grateful and humbled to work with all the Spectrumites who’ve not only helped make us who we are today but continue to push us forward.

May we continue to go Beyond the Science Quo, together.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Andrea Sessler, Chief Human Resources Officer. 

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