(Photo by Mumemories/iStock by Getty Images)

This year the McCann Worldgroup launched its second-ever global activation for employees, which the company calls A Day for Meaning. The event was the result of the company’s investment in a change-management solution driven by local markets, rather than micro-managed by top leadership.

“The model we created really allowed local markets in all our regions to craft their own DE&I, or what I call ‘conscious-inclusion action plans’ based on their own experiences,” said Singleton Beato, chief diversity and engagement officer for the company. “The local offices needed to have the tools and resources to discover what diversity meant to them.”

McCann Worldgroup is a marketing company with an integrated network of advertising agencies in over 120 countries and a global workforce of more than 20,000. During From Day One’s conference this month on inclusive leadership, Beato was in conversation with Sharon Epperson, senior personal finance correspondent for CNBC, about the strategic thinking needed behind initiatives to promote employee belonging, connection and shared purpose.

The conversation kicked off with Beato sharing her own personal journey that led to her career path, growing up in different places with her mom, including where she was one of a few Black kids at majority-white schools. “I began to learn about the complexity of ethnicity, race and identity,” she said.

Singleton Beato of McCann Worldgroup, at left, interviewed by Sharon Epperson of CNBC (Image by From Day One)

Employees bringing different life experiences to the table is crucial in DE&I work, Beato stressed. “Exposure is everything,” she said. At McCann, she has worked directly with leaders to understand personal accountability and “how they can approach some of these conversations with authenticity.” Being an inclusive leader, she noted, is “an active role to play … you have to be involved, connected to, and regularly interacting with people who are different than you in a way that is open.”

A Day for Meaning, McCann's global employee event, empowered local offices to craft their own diversity and inclusion plans with the goal of creating opportunity for deeper conversation. Remote conversation was an unexpected benefit, added Beato. “The connections were a little bit deeper this year than the in-person sessions we had last year.”

Remote work has also prompted the company to update its mentorship program. “We have done a lot more work to re-think community and mentoring,” Beato said. “Some mentoring relationships we might not have thought about fostering, we can do now. One of my employees in New York can have a mentoring conversation with an employee in California.”

There are smaller behavioral changes that help promote inclusive community inside a large company, Beato said. Instituting a “raise your hand” policy during virtual meetings can create more space for quieter employees to share their thoughts. In the same spirit, speaking up for someone in your team who’s being marginalized is a productive act of allyship. Teams can also think outside their base to seek diverse perspectives. “You can invite people in so that [teams] can be better and more expansive at what it is they’re trying to accomplish,” she said.

Throughout the long-term work of DE&I, it’s also important to celebrate wins publicly. “It can’t be a one and done. You need to put together a comprehensive strategy with accountability measures and milestones,” said Beato. “I integrate in my strategy ‘milestone moments’ that are internally public. Many of the milestones I put into place require leaders to share, with their entire global network, what their progress is on the goals we put into place.”

By doing that, accomplishing goals becomes a company-wide mission, as opposed to a siloed HR initiative. “It’s becoming a part of ingrained organization practices and communication processes,” Beato said, “that leaders must be front and center to do the work and speak to the work they’ve done to move the needle.”

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.