Dentsu Canada invites employees to write progress together with ‘Inklusive’

Dentsu Canada wants to rewrite the story around workplace diversity and inclusion, and has created a special ink to represent its efforts.

The agency created “Inklusive” from items donated by dentsu staffers that were carbonized and ground into the ink. Each donated piece represents what the agency describes as “meaningful pieces of their identity story.”

About 30 dentsu staffers from across the network participated, with one Senegalese employee giving the petals that go into her country’s popular drink bissap (“they remind me of home,” she said), while another provided a kind of Cantonese tea, and another provided a tennis ball that belonged to his dog, a pet that taught him about compassion and responsibility.

A small vial of the ink is being distributed to all current and future dentsu employees in a box bearing an invitation to “Write Progress” together. It includes a dentsu-branded fountain pen, and a personal letter from Marème Touré, dentsu Canada’s vice-president of diversity, equity and inclusion, about the project and how it reflects the agency’s ongoing efforts around diversity and inclusion.

Touré said that “Inklusive” is also designed to encourage employees to voluntarily share personal information like race/ethnicity, sexual identification and orientation. The company started this initiative in July of 2020, but despite HR encouragement, only about 40% of its approximately 1,200 employees had participated.

Touré said that “Inklusive” is intended to show that the company is committed to workplace diversity, and using the data to help it make material progress on inclusivity. It’s about demonstrating that by bringing a literal piece of themselves into the workplace, they become part of a greater whole, she said. The hope is that employee participation in self-identification can rise to as high as 60% by the end of the year.

An accompanying short film features a voiceover by Toronto multimedia artist Matthew Progress—who wrote the film’s poetic verse and collaborated on the ink project with a team including art director Amanda Spagnuolo.

Toronto ink maker Jason Logan, whose Toronto Ink Company makes artists inks from foraged items, also worked with dentsu on the project, which was developed using the agency’s new Neverland work process.

Neverland was developed by dentsu ECD’s Caitlin Keeley and Josh Day as a way of bringing what the former described as “artistic thinking” into the creative process by inviting teams to collaborate and brainstorm with artists from a variety of disciplines in the early stages of the ideation process.

“We think there’s an opportunity [for collaboration] between the commercial world and the art world, and we’re trying to open it up and make it mutually beneficial.” said Keeley. “Josh and I have found that some of our favourite projects were when we worked with a director or developer right at the very beginning.”

Keeley said that Neverland would likely be used by clients for “special challenges” rather than day-to-day marketing, although it plans to use “Inklusive” as a case study that demonstrates its capabilities.

“It can show what can happen when we give ourselves the time and space to think about something in a new way,” she said. “Especially for things that are really challenging that we want to dig into.”

Chris Powell