Our people

Fast read

Our goal

Our priorities are:

  • Attracting and retaining the best, most forward-thinking talent.
  • Improving diversity and inclusion.
  • Investing in training, development and skills.
  • Offering attractive compensation, flexible working practices and a stimulating work environment.

Business value

Strong employment policies and flexible and inclusive working practices enable us to recruit from a wider pool of talented candidates and to get the best out of our people.

A diverse workforce is more creative and effective and better able to serve our clients in all disciplines across our locations, including new markets where our industry is less well established.

Sustainability impact

Adopting leading employment practices protects the human rights of our employees and enables more people from all backgrounds to have successful careers in our industry.

Challenges and dilemmas

There is fierce competition for talent in our sector and this can contribute to employee turnover.

The most senior levels of our workforce do not yet reflect the full diversity of the markets in which we operate and women remain under-represented among our leadership.

Workplace stress is a challenge in our fast-paced and client-focused industry.

Management approach

WPP’s Talent Team supports leadership and human resources professionals in our companies, providing guidance on current issues and facilitating best practice sharing. Our Code of Business Conduct, Human Rights Policy Statement and Sustainability Policy set out our core principles for people management. Detailed policies and implementation are determined at operating company level, reflecting local circumstances.

Data in this section relates to our employees in our wholly-owned companies only, and does not include employees in our associate companies.

External frameworks

GRI indicators in this section: G4-10(M), G4-11, G4-15, G4-16, G4-EC6, G4-LA1, G4-LA3, G4-LA6, G4-LA8, G4-LA9 (M), G4-LA10, G4-LA11, G4-LA12, G4-LA16, G4-HR3

Global Compact Principles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Progress on our KPIs in 2017        
49% women in senior management Increased
35% women in executive leadership
21% ethnic minorities in senior management in the UK and US
No change
28% ethnic minorities in our workforce in the UK and US
No change
£44.9 million training spend, £334 per employee
74% satisfied with work-life balance


Improved Improved

No change No change

Reduced Reduced

WPP: a global company

We directly employ 134,000 people. When our associate companies are included (those in which we have a minority stake) the figure is almost 203,000 people in 112 countries.

We believe a diverse workforce is more collaborative, creative and effective and we aim to achieve gender balance in our workforce at all levels. We invest in our people’s skills through training and development and provide paid internships and apprenticeships to bring young people into our industry.

Here we show data in our mature markets as well as some of the world’s faster-growing markets.*

Data in our mature markets split out into different size pie charts. Each pie size is relative to the total permanent headcount in each country.


  • Male
  • Female

Executive leaders

  • Male executives
  • Female executives
  • Paid apprenticeships and internships
  • Training spend per person

*The size of each pie chart is relative to the total permanent headcount in each country.

Diversity and inclusion

A blend of views and experience helps our teams to create work that connects with our clients’ diverse and global consumer base.

We promote and monitor inclusive working practices and support our companies to increase diversity through awareness raising and training, recruitment, policy development, mentoring and flexible working practices. Diversity is already included in our online ethics training completed by all employees and, during 2018, we will add further modules on unconscious bias.

WPP is a signatory to the 4As diversity and inclusion pledge in the US.

Gender balance

We aim for gender balance at all levels within the Group. We have achieved this across the business overall but, despite a small increase this year, women remain under-represented in senior leadership. Addressing this is a priority.

We run mentoring and development programs to support career progression for our senior women. These include:

  • Walk the Talk, our award-wining program that aims to address the gender imbalance at leadership level. It gives participants the chance to focus on their ambitions and develops their confidence to take the next steps towards their goals. Over 870 senior female leaders had participated by the end of 2017.

  • The X Factor, led by Charlotte Beers, the former global CEO of Ogilvy & Mather and chairman of J. Walter Thompson, prepares participants for the next level of executive leadership. 114 senior women have participated to date.

  • WILL: Women in Leadership Lessons is our growing collection of programs targeted at enhancing the professional development of the Group’s high potential and mid-career women. WILL programs have run in three countries, with 264 women leaders from 57 WPP companies attending to date.

  • Our WPP Stella network aims to address barriers that could prevent women progressing to senior levels within the Group and to facilitate the sharing of good practices between our companies. It runs events, coaching and training and a speaker database to raise the internal and external profile of our senior women. Piloted in the UK, we will be rolling out the network to additional geographies in 2018.

    We support the UK Creative Equals program, which aims to get more women into creative departments and creative leadership roles. In the US, we support the 3% Movement which aims to increase the number of women and people of colour in creative director roles.

    We support wider efforts to tackle gender equality through our Common Ground initiative, see social investment.

    Walk the Talk

    The business imperative is clear: companies with greater gender balance in their leadership teams outperform their peers. So how can we help lead a change in gender equality in the advertising industry?

    Walk the Talk is our award-wining program that aims to address gender imbalance and help ensure our leadership is more reflective of the world around us.

    During this two-day program, senior women are challenged and coached to build a bigger vision and plan to give energy and focus to their professional and personal lives. Participants have the chance to explore their ambitions through self-reflection, networking, sharing and practical guidance, and to develop their confidence to take the next steps towards their goals.

    The program was developed at Maxus Global and we are now implementing it at Group level. Over 870 senior female leaders had participated by the end of 2017.

    Gender diversity 2013–2017

    Gender 2013-2017
    % women 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
    WPP Board 25% 29% 29% 24% 29%
    WPP Board Non-Executive
    30% 33% 33% 29% 36%
    Executive leaders and
    directors (operating
    35% 34% 33% 31% 32%
    Senior managers 49% 48% 47% 46% 47%
    Total employees
    (full-time equivalent)
    54% 54% 54% 54% 54%

    Gender pay gap

    We published our first UK Gender Pay Gap report in March 2018. Our pay and bonus gaps reflect the lower proportion of women in our upper pay quartile. We are committed to improving the gender balance of our leadership teams, which is the key to tackling our gender pay gap. The report is available at www.wpp.com.

    Workforce gender balance (UK) %

    Pie chart of workforce gender balance UK. Men: 51%. Women 49%.
    • Men 51%
    • Women 49%

    Gender pay gap, group median (middle)


    Gender pay gap, group mean (average)


    Women Men
    Proportion receiving bonus 43.4% 44.9%
    Median Mean
    Gender bonus gap            46.3% 84.1%

    Executive leaders in 2017 by region

    Bar graph showing executive leaders by region 2017. Africa: 38%, Asia Pacific: 32%, Europe: 31%, Latin America: 37%, Middle East: 16%, North America: 41%

    Flexible working and support for working parents

    Flexible working arrangements help us to recruit, retain and engage a diverse workforce, including parents and those with caring responsibilities. We estimate around 23% of our workforce have flexible working arrangements which include part-time working, flexible start and finish times, home working as well as career breaks and sabbaticals.

    We track return rates after maternity leave, a stage at which we risk losing female employees. Our data, which covers 67% of our companies, shows that 91% of women return to work after maternity leave, including 24% who return part-time. Almost half of our companies (48%) offer parental leave benefits that exceed local legal requirements.

    In the UK, we have published our Family Friendly Best Practice Guidelines to help our companies implement best practice parental leave and flexible working policies. All our UK companies must match or exceed the practices specified in the guidelines by the end of 2018. UK employees can access helpful resources on our Parent Portal and participate in Parental Coaching, that helps working parents manage their professional and personal responsibilities and avoid stress.

    Women returning to work after maternity leave

    Bar chart showing women who return to work after maternity leave. Split into: do not return, return part-time and return full-time

    • Do Not Return
    • Return Part-Time
    • Return Full-Time

    Support offered to parents returning to work after parental leave

    Bar chart showing support offered to parents returning to work. Split into: other, guidance/information, childcare support, mentoring, coaching, phased return to work

    Ethnic diversity

    We aim for our workforce to reflect the ethnic diversity of the markets we operate in. We measure ethnic diversity in our businesses in the UK and the US, using national definitions of ethnic/racial minorities: the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK and the Equal Opportunity Commission in the US. In 2017, 28% of our people in these countries were from ethnic minorities (2016: 28%).

    Our companies operate a number of programmes to increase the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnically diverse candidates and employees. This includes partnering with specialist recruiters and diversity organisations such as the US’s One Club, Emma Bowen and LAGRANT Foundations. Many of our internships and apprenticeship programs are designed to help us attract diverse candidates, and we support programs such as PRCA’s PR Internships For All in the UK and, in the US, Ladders for Leaders, The Marcus Graham Project’s summer bootcamp and the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP). At a Group level we established the Micro Fellowship for students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

    Our companies also attend career fairs targeting diverse candidates and work with colleges that have a diverse student base such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the US. Many of our businesses have established employee networks and resource groups to help them attract and retain diverse talent and create an inclusive work environment.

    Ethnic minorities (UK and US) %

    Bar chart showing ethnic minorities in UK and US. Split into executive leaders, senior managers and all employees

    • Executive leaders
    • Senior managers
    • All employees

    Age diversity

    Our industry has traditionally employed a young workforce but our age diversity is increasing over time. A mix of ages is beneficial to creativity and helps us create work for clients that appeals to the broadest consumer base, enabling clients to respond to the ageing population in many of our key markets.

    Around 18% of WPP companies have introduced measures to support the recruitment and retention of older people.

    Age diversity 2017 %

    Pie chart showing Age diversity in 2017 %
    • 19 or under 1%
    • 20-29 35%
    • 30-39 37%
    • 40-49 18%
    • 50-59 7%
    • 60 and over 2%

    Age diversity by region 2017 %

    Bar chart showing Age diversity by region in 2017
    • 60 and over
    • 50-59
    • 40-49
    • 30-39
    • 20-29
    • 19 or under


    Disability, mental illness or other health conditions may affect anyone at some point during their working life. We aim to provide the right support to enable people affected by disability to play a full role in our companies.

    Nationalities and local recruitment

    We operate in 112 countries and value the diversity of perspectives our multinational workforce brings to the Group. There are eight nationalities currently represented on the WPP Board. We estimate that globally 68% of senior managers were recruited from the local country or region in which they work.

    LGBT diversity

    We encourage the recruitment, retention and development of people from the LGBT communities. With LGBT buying power significant and growing, we also work with clients to reflect LGBT diversity in marketing.

    Our companies’ involvement includes: attending, sponsoring and hosting LGBT-related events; attending careers fairs targeting LGBT candidates; establishing LGBT employee resource networks (such as Burson PRide, Global Team Blue Pride, Grey Pride, Ogilvy Pride and PrideM); and working with external partners such as the PRCA LGBT Group, Stonewall and Reaching Out MBA.

    Gender transition, when a transgender person makes the decision to publicly change his or her gender, can be a challenging time for the individual. Our companies need to be able to provide the right support to people undergoing gender transition and their colleagues. We have issued guidelines to our heads of human resources in all WPP companies globally on how to manage gender transition in the workplace. These include information on how to address concerns and misconceptions as well as practical steps the company may need to take.

    Mentoring for success at Kantar

    Mentoring for Success is Kantar’s global mentoring programme. Initiated by CEO Eric Salama in partnership with the Global Learning and Leadership team, it aims to tackle the lack of representation of women in senior executive positions and on Kantar company boards.

    Since its global roll-out in 2014 more than 100 people across Kantar have benefited from focused mentoring and development. The programme involves pairing with a senior mentor and personalised development through a global event and regional support network. It also provides a platform for conversation, challenge and debate about how Kantar can develop a more inclusive culture.

    Part of the ethos of Mentoring for Success is a “pay it forward” mindset. Those who have taken part are expected to share their learning and support others as they develop and grow in their careers.

    Non-discrimination and anti-harassment

    WPP does not tolerate harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination or offensive behaviour of any kind.

    We select and promote our people on the basis of their qualifications and merit, without discrimination or concern for factors such as race, religion, national origin, colour, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or disability. These commitments are set out in our Code of Business Conduct, which applies to all our people and is available on the WPP website, in our Policy Book and on our intranet. Employees are trained on our commitment through our online ethics training, ‘How we behave’.

    People are encouraged, in the first instance, to discuss any concerns or suspected cases of harassment or discrimination with their line manager, local human resources representative or senior manager. We also have an independently operated ‘Right to Speak’ helpline, which people can use to report concerns confidentially and anonymously.

    Internships and apprenticeships

    Our companies offer a range of internship and apprenticeship opportunities to attract young people into our industry and help them kick start their careers.

    Our companies offered 7,888 paid internships and apprenticeships during 2017 (2016: 6,413). Examples include:

    • Burson Cohn & Wolfe ‘Starting Blocks’: This South African program empowers candidates from previously disadvantaged groups through practical experience in public relations.
    • JWT London offers internships in partnership with the Drive Forward Foundation, that helps young people who have been through the care system.
    • Kinetic Brussels: Runs a two-year apprenticeship programme in partnership with a local college. Apprentices complete work experience as well as college courses.
    • Mindshare Academy UK: This future talent program aims to identify the best diverse talent and support social mobility. Apprentices are recruited from schools across London and complete a year-long apprenticeship with work experience, mentoring and placements.
    • Wunderman New York: Wunderman’s summer internship program enables college students to own a project from the beginning, working directly with the client. Over the eight-week program students also participate in training sessions led by Wunderman's creatives, strategists, analysts and account managers.
    • Y&R Z Academy: Offers three- to six-month apprenticeships to students from leading digital marketing, design and social science universities. Participants work on client projects and are paired with executives across Y&R’s global network.

    It is WPP’s policy that all internships and apprenticeships should be paid positions so they are accessible to people from all socio-economic backgrounds. Many internships focus on diverse candidates. In the US, for example, several of our companies participate in the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Multicultural Internship Program (MAIP). Participants gain real-world work experience, with access to training and development, networking opportunities and an alumni network. WPP companies involved include GroupM, Geometry Global, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, VML, Wunderman and Y&R.

    Education partnerships

    We partner with schools, colleges and universities to promote our industry, build skills and create a future pipeline of talent. Our involvement ranges from strategic partnerships with leading universities to work with schools local to our offices. Many of our people serve as visiting lecturers or teachers.

    Investment in skills is particularly important in faster-growing markets where our industry is less well established. Our key partnerships include: the WPP School of Communications and Marketing at the Shanghai Arts and Design Academy (SADA); our partnership with the Indian School of Design and Innovation, in Mumbai, which offers a three-year undergraduate course on marketing communications; and the WPP Africa Academy, in Johannesburg, which provides training and talent development opportunities in partnership with the Red & Yellow School of Logic and Magic, a highly-respected marketing and advertising school.

    In the UK we are participating in the Pearson College Rotational Degree Apprenticeship that enables young people to combine apprenticeships across different leading corporations with a business degree. Other examples include our work with the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, Portugal to collaborate in masters courses, co-teach executive education courses and support the School on its digital campaigns.

    Many of our companies work with local schools to help build skills and alert young people to career opportunities in our industry. In the UK, for example, we support Inspiring the Future, an organisation that connects state schools and colleges with employers and professionals, giving young people better insight into different careers, jobs and educational routes. Over 200 of our people have spent time at local schools talking to children about careers, CVs and interview techniques.

    Training and development

    We are proud to invest in many significant development programs that prepare our talent to respond to changing client requirements. This year we increased our focus on programs which equip our people to work horizontally, connecting across the breadth of our Group to deliver for the growing number of clients who seek this type of service.

    Overall, we spent £44.9 million on training in 2017 (2016: £45.1 million) with 63% of our people taking part in formal training programs, averaging 5.6 hours per person. Our Group training programs include:

    • Maestro: Orchestrating Client Value: Develops the effectiveness and confidence of our senior client-facing people inspiring courage, collaboration and innovation. There have been 4,369 participants from 158 WPP companies since 2003. We’ve now launched Maestro Fusion, a five-day course to help our client team leaders navigate complex business issues and to transform client and internal relationships from transactional to trust-based partnerships.
    • WPP Mini MBA: Workshops to help our rising talent broaden their business and marketing knowledge, develop leadership skills, and deliver client value. To date, 3,160 of our people have participated. Our latest module is focused on horizontality and how to help clients who look to WPP to provide an agile, integrated and bespoke partnership across multiple disciplines. It covers mindsets and skills including: relationship building, communication and influence, cross-cultural competence and discipline fluency.
    • WPP Fellowship: Our pioneering three-year program develops high-calibre management talent with experience across a range of marketing disciplines. 204 Fellows have gone through the program or are participating.
    • WPP MBA Fellowship program: A global multidisciplinary program for MBA graduates, with 82 participants to date.
    • WPP Leadership Toolkit for Managers: An interactive educational resource hosted on our Group intranet. Provides knowledge and tools to help users demonstrate effective leadership, nurture their teams, and align them behind organisational goals.
    • The Learning Hub: A new searchable database that enables WPP companies to share training resources and best practices. The database includes 310 resources so far.

    Within our companies, employees can participate in a further range of training opportunities to develop their professional skills, leadership competencies and functional expertise.

    Staff training

    Bar chart showing staff training £m. Split into years ranging from 2013 to 2017

    Training by category

    Pie chart showing training by category
    • Industry specific skills 30%
    • Business skills 22%
    • Function skills 4%
    • Privacy and data security 2%
    • Management skills 9%
    • Leadership, strategy and business development 15%
    • Diversity & inclusion 4%
    • English language 7%
    • Other 7%

    During 2017, 80% of our people participated in a formal appraisal process, and 70% of executive leaders and 68% of senior managers had a 360-degree appraisal.

    To retain talented people within the Group, we offer opportunities for growth and development through our many locations and businesses. Around 21% of vacancies were filled by people already working within the Group. Springboard, our online Job Board, helps our people and new roles within our companies in the UK, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

    Health, safety and well-being

    Supporting our people in looking after their physical and mental health and well-being helps us to attract and retain the best people, improve productivity and effectiveness and reduce the costs of sickness absence. The main health and safety risks within our workplaces are stress and ergonomic injuries.

    Within our operating companies our employees can access a range of health and well-being benefits such as: fitness facilities or subsidised gym memberships (63% of our companies); health and nutrition services (56%), including health insurance and medical assessments; counselling services (52%), including employee assistance programs; and ergonomic risk assessments and specialist equipment (64%). Factors such as office design and flexible working policies can also play an important role in employee well-being.

    Stress is a particular challenge in our fast-paced and client-focused industry. We need to take a dual approach – ensuring we have the right policies and procedures to identify and prevent stress as well as an open culture where our people feel able to talk about concerns and get support when they need it.

    In some countries, there is a long-hours culture that can contribute to stress. In these markets, our companies take additional measures, such as restrictions on overtime and monthly review of overtime data by agency management, as well as targeted support for employees.

    Management and performance

    Health and safety systems and procedures are managed within our companies and include training, audits and risk assessments.

    The overall sickness rate was 3.4 days per person in 2017 (2016: 3.2 days). This includes both non-work related illness or injuries, work-related injuries and work-related occupational diseases such as work-related stress or repetitive strain injuries. There were no work-related fatalities in 2017.

    Days lost due to sickness

    Bar chart showing days lost to sickness

    • Days lost to sickness (including injuries and stress)
    • Days lost per person

    Monitoring progress

    We value feedback from our people on our policies and practices. We use surveys, and structured engagement with employee representatives as well as informal day-to-day dialogue to provide insight into our people’s views and engagement with their work.

    Exit interviews can also provide valuable feedback on our employee experience. In 2017, 80% of leavers had exit interviews (2016: 83%).

    Employee surveys

    Employee surveys are carried out at operating company level but we include a set of standard questions to enable us to compare results in different parts of the business. Results are published on our sustainability website.

    Question % positive
    Attracting, developing and retaining people with a diverse background is encouraged at my location
    My performance in my job is evaluated fairly and regularly
    I have the opportunity for personal development and growth at this company 45%
    My company takes an interest in my wellbeing
    My work schedule allows me sufficient flexibility to meet my personal and family needs
    I could discuss ethical concerns with my managers without worrying that my job would be affected
    My company is trying to cut its carbon footprint
    Generally we are encouraged to be 'green' in our office
    The support my company gives to charities and good causes is appropriate

    Labour relations

    We support the right of our people to join trade unions and to bargain collectively. We aim to have positive relations with unions and employee works councils. In our industry, trade union membership is relatively low. In 2017, around 8% of our people were members of trade unions across 37 countries (2016: 5%). There were 4,116 consultations with works councils, of which the majority were in Europe.

    We aim to avoid compulsory redundancies where possible and, in cases where redundancies are necessary, our HR teams and Employee Assistance Programs support affected people.

    We are transparent in reporting the number of cases against WPP companies through employment tribunals and other external channels. In 2017, 267 cases were reported, compared to 280 cases in 2016. During the year, 333 cases were finalised (including cases reported from prior years). Of these, 37 were withdrawn, 58 agreed between parties, 142 judged against Group companies and 96 judged
    in favour.

    Reward and remuneration

    Our companies offer attractive compensation packages to recruit and retain talented people. Pay and benefit levels are regularly benchmarked against other companies in our markets and sector.

    Employee benefits vary by market and may include retirement savings plans, life assurance and employee assistance services. Many of our people also participate in performance-related incentive plans.

    Since 1997, WPP has operated worldwide share option plans and has, since this time, made awards to over 167,000 employees, many who have gone on to receive considerable value based on the growth in the WPP share price.

    Senior people may also participate in share-based incentive plans that align their reward with that of our share owners.

    Compensation for our Executive Directors is set in accordance with our Directors’ Compensation Policy. The policy for our most senior executives, which is aligned to that of our Executive Directors, is designed to attract and retain the best-in-class talent. The policy looks to incentivise directors to develop their skills and those of their employees in order to optimise their potential and to be able to deliver a consistently excellent service to our clients and excellent return for our share owners. See our Annual Report and Accounts.