Senior Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion Officer,
Interpublic Group of Companies, New York City
Four years ago, Heide Gardner joined the staff of Interpublic Group as the director of diversity. A promotion to senior vice president two years later made her the first African-American and one of three women in senior management at the global marketing services conglomerate. Gardner’s career benefited from the strength and resilience she inherited from her parents and open communication with senior executives. “My role here is to be a cheerleader for our progress, but it’s also to be a resource for solving some very tough problems. Trusting relationships with my CEO and other leaders is essential for assessing what’s working and what isn’t,” she says.
While Gardner is saddened that some of the industry’s role models from whom she drew inspiration and encouragement have left the industry in search of opportunities elsewhere, she is thrilled by the progress of newcomers she has worked with over the years. She is bent on effecting change so that this generation, including her two sons, would have similar opportunities to those she has enjoyed. “I want them to get the chances they deserve to be seen not as ‘diversity’ candidates, but simply as ‘included’ candidates,” she says.
The eldest of three children, Gardner says her parents’ sacrifices enabled her to earn a bachelor’s in economics and political science at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.
Gardner’s advice to those on a corporate diversity leadership path is: Be honest with the company’s leadership and have the courage to ask for what is needed; use vision and inspiration to help others connect the dots between the workplace and marketplace; open doors and create access for others; seek out spiritual renewal and humility. “Most of the opportunities in my life emerged while I was giving back to others. Everything came out of those moments when I was trying to make a difference,” she says.