By Blake Wilcox
Glenn Eden began his professional career in scientific research but was always interested in the role of media and media relations in society. In 1999, he got his chance to switch careers when he came across a want ad in The Chicago Tribune for an account assistant at the company that would soon become Weber Shandwick. Twenty-one years later, Eden has made a lasting impact at the agency as well as in Chicago as a whole.
Eden led the charge when it came to workplace diversity, creating the agency’s first Diversity and Inclusion Task Force in 2009. After building his trust and credibility with the company for nearly a decade, he made a case to the management for a diversity program that has since led to several company-wide initiatives. “It’s led to some best practices at the headquarters level and the national level, which I feel pretty proud about because that’s something that I personally took as a passion point of frustration, but turns it into something positive and effective for the agency,” Eden said about the project. In 2011, IPG, Weber Shandwick’s parent company, awarded him the Silver Champion of Inclusion Award for his revolutionary efforts to create a diversity initiative before it was commonplace. “We are so proud of Glenn and are extremely happy that his dedication, passion, and creative approach have been recognized across our company,” said Susan Howe, the President of Weber Shandwick Chicago at the time, now Chief Growth Officer.
Since its creation, the diversity initiative has evolved and expanded to include various elements of diversity beyond racial diversity. “It hasn’t diluted its focus, but it has a really broad and wide definition of what inclusivity is,” Eden said. From LGBT+ identity to PR discipline, diversity incorporates a myriad of different elements. Eden said it’s important to acknowledge groups that have historically faced systematic oppression when talking about diversity at every level, from college and high school recruiting to partnering with minority-run professional organizations.
Eden also spoke about his experience with mentorship.
Andy Polansky, former Weber Shandwick CEO and and now chairman and CEO of Interpublic’s DXTRA, served as Eden’s mentor for many years, an “industry great” as Eden called him. When diversity issues are promoted and spearheaded by C-suite level professionals, it gives initiatives a much higher rate of success. “Each CEO puts a deeper stake in the ground and gets to own it and ingrain their vision for diversity and inclusion in the company,” Eden said.
With two decades of work and dedication at Weber Shandwick under his belt, Eden had a huge opportunity in 2019. Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot personally appointed him to chair the board of Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism and and conventions bureau. His love for Chicago and reputation as a seasoned public relations professional made him the perfect candidate for the position, plus he and Mayor Lightfoot are both alumni of University of Michigan which allowed them to bond and become friends. “I can think of no one more qualified than Glenn to boost Chicago’s brand and image as a global destination to visit, meet and do business,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said about choosing Eden for the position.
With such a glowing resume, there is no one better to comment on the current state and the future of diversity in communications field. Obviously, much work needs to be done to create sustainable diversity in the industry, but Weber Shandwick has consistently won awards for championing diversity efforts. As of June 2020, 22% of Weber Shandwick’s population is non-white. Eden’s aspirational goal is “To not even have to have the conversation; just for diversity to be part of our subconscious, just like how you walk without worrying about falling.” Diversity undoubtedly enriches professional environments, so his hope that one day companies will not have a need to focus so much time and energy on diversity initiatives is likely a common one, though he thinks that level of diversity will not be achieved for a lifetime or two. Eden thinks that with more advanced diversity efforts as time goes on, the industry will see a great future of innovation, “It’s more than just putting an inclusion statement on a company website,” he said. Eden said diversity is a tool to help practitioners better themselves and their relationships in the industry. Pledging to real, tangible action is vital, and the majority of leaders across the industry are committed to making the necessary changes.
From my conversation with Mr. Eden, I can tell Chicago’s PR scene is better because of the extraordinary work he has done at his company and at a citywide scale, proving that one dedicated voice can affect the course of an industry. He has proven his devotion to real tangible change in his career thus far, given his work with the diversity task force and initiatives over the years. He clearly sees the value of prioritizing these issues and will likely continue to be a voice for diversity efforts going forward through the rest of his career.