A Quiet Discussion to a Loud Revolution: Patti Clarke, Havas Group

While there’s been improvement, it’s not yet time for a victory dance. There are still biases and micro-aggressions that women experience in the workplace—EVERY DAY.

To mark International Women’s Day, AdForum is gathering opinions from women working in advertising and marketing communications. We asked women from a range of job roles both agency- and client-side, for their view of the state of the industry.

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Patti Clarke
Global Chief Talent Officer Havas Group

How would you describe the overall culture at your agency / company?

I’m lucky as I get to experience the culture of Havas around the globe. We are a large global network, and yet there is still a “family feel” in all of our 60+ villages. You quickly feel welcomed as part of a larger team that is unified around the common vision of making a meaningful difference to businesses, brands and people.

There’s definitely an intensity around the work, but our villages are balancing that out with a priority on employee wellness and of course, there is always a bit of fun to be had.


In your opinion, what do you see as the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the glass ceiling?

I’d say the biggest change is that the conversation around women has gone from a quiet discussion to a loud revolution. Women have taken a stand and we now have a variety of groups focused on both improving industry behavior, as well as advocating equality in the advancement of women. Kudos to these groups for being a voice and power behind change.

This increased focus has also caused agencies to develop more programs focused on advancing women. For instance, at Havas we developed Femmes Forward, a global women’s leadership and advancement program for senior manager/director level women. It’s an immersive blend of leadership awareness, skills training around key topics like negotiation, inspiration from women leaders, networking, group coaching, and the development of a career advancement plan.

Since launching in 2018, we’ve run seven programs with 150 participants from 23 countries, and we’re finding a 50 percent promotion rate for women who have been out of the program for a year. I’d say the biggest factor in these promotions is that these women find their voice, put a plan in place and start asking for the things they deserve.

But, of course, there’s still so much more to do. At Havas, we’re committed to equality not just in gender, but also race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, and sexual orientation.


Do you think that women still face challenges in our industry, and if so, what are they?

While there’s been improvement, it’s not yet time for a victory dance. There are still biases and micro-aggressions that women experience in the workplace—EVERY DAY. This is deep rooted, cultural and will take consistent dedication to change.

Other areas that require our collective focus are advancing more diverse women into senior leadership roles and increasing women Chief Creative Officers. To tackle the latter, we have created a special edition of Femmes Forward to focus on women creatives as we are eager to see the progression of our women ECD’s and CD’s.


How should we tackle an issue such as equal opportunity?

At its core, equal opportunity is about fairness, meaning no artificial barriers, prejudices or preferences in how people are considered for roles. Given we know biases exist, this is a “saying it is easy, doing it is hard” situation.

I think it really comes down to leadership and requires someone to set the bar and hold it there—despite all the excuses that are readily given. Process-wise obviously there are ways to build in goals and objectives through your recruitment, promotion and pay processes. 

We are going to be beta-testing a new recruitment program focused on first-generation college graduates in our New York agencies. First generation students are statistically underemployed after graduating because they don’t have the same networks and exposure as privileged students. The programming we’ve designed is focused on having the Havas FirstGen hires start their careers in advertising in a more advantaged position. This includes an understanding of how the industry and their agency works, as well as a mentor to guide them through their early years. 


How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry and what professional achievement are you most proud of?

I landed in our industry following a long, multifaceted career in the information industry, including nine years as the Chief Human Resources Officer of a public company. I found myself no longer energized as the majority of time was spent on board meetings, policies, regulations, compliance, etc. I knew I wanted to do work that was more impactful to employees.

When Havas found me, I saw an opportunity to work in a completely different industry—one that is dynamic and always changing—and one that needed to step up its game in terms of talent management. For me, it’s been an exciting change as I’ve been able to use my creative skills to build out a new talent management strategy across the Havas Group. I have great support from our CEO, Yannick Bollore, and the senior leaders, and I’m extremely proud of all the successful initiatives and programs we’ve implemented.

Over the past five years we’ve developed programming covering network mobility (Lofts), high-potential leadership development (NextGen), global onboarding, global employee engagement (HavaSay), employer branding and most recently our programs in women’s leadership development and advancement (Femmes Forward) and diversity, equity and inclusion (ALL IN). I couldn’t be happier with my decision.


Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why? 

I’ve always been a fan of Madeleine Albright—an immigrant and divorced working mother who rose to be an incredible diplomate and ultimately the first female US Secretary of State. She was breaking down barriers and biases throughout her career.  And, I love how she used her famous pins to deliver messages to foreign leaders. And, of course her renowned quote: “There is a special place in hell for women who don't support other women!”