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Home » Women in Leadership » Diversity in Business Means More Innovation, Says CMO Teresa Barreira

Teresa Barreira, CMO of consultancy Publicis Sapient, has long been an advocate for diversity in leadership, but says change won’t happen unless everyone stands up for the cause.

Teresa Barreira, chief marketing officer for Publicis Sapient, hadn’t imagined a career in marketing for herself. “I grew up in Portugal and when I was a child, you aspired to be either a doctor, lawyer, and if neither one worked you became a banker,” Barreira said. After completing her business degree in the United States, she joined IBM in sales, however, she quickly discovered marketing was her passion and calling. 

When she joined Publicis Sapient in 2018, her first act as CMO was to revitalize the brand with a relaunch. “We had a lot of brand confusion, with too many brands,” she said, “our brand was like alphabet soup.” Barreira wanted to work with an agency, but her team suggested using in-house talent. At first, she was a bit skeptical, but gave them 30 days to prove her wrong. “They went away and did exactly that,” she said. “What I saw across the entire company was this amazing enthusiasm and excitement. Our creative community came together; they wanted to be part of this. It was one of those amazing experiences in my career where the commitment and pride of everyone in the company shone through to build something we can all call our own.” Watching the company coming together remains an inspirational high point of Barreira’s career. “When I think about leadership and diversity, I think about the diversity of thought and expression across the entire company that really came together to create this amazing brand.”

Publicis Sapient is a digital business transformation partner, helping large enterprises and brands, such as McDonald’s, Marriott, and Walmart, maximize their digital presence to drive growth and improve customer experience. “I joined Publicis Sapient because our goal as a company has always been about one thing: helping established companies become relevant in the digital age, and in doing so help them to thrive, not just survive,” Barreira said.

Racial and gender parity

Barreira has become a vocal advocate for diversity in business, particularly when it comes to leadership roles. “Having a diverse organization is common sense,” she said. “Diversity of thought, background, race, gender — all these things can make a company culture much richer than having everyone from the same background, the same gender, the same socio-economic background.”

Where diversity is most often lacking, Barreira said, is in leadership positions. “If you have a C-suite of 20 people and 15 are men, or all 20 are white, the conversation is different than if you have racial and gender parity,” she said. “The problem that most companies have is that creating parity requires getting rid of a lot of the existing leadership. In some cases, it could be one-third of the entire executive team. The reality is, are most companies willing to do that?” 

Publicis Sapient is determined to close these gaps and create equity and inclusivity. “We have senior leadership roles open right now and we made a collective decision that we would commit to diversifying our recruitment practices as a first step towards inclusivity.” Barreira said. Black and female candidates are disproportionately overlooked in the recruitment process, and without the kind of vision and forward-thinking on diversity that Barreira champions, sustainable and systemic change with regard to equity in corporate environments — both from a gender and race perspective — will never be accomplished. “We need to be the change,” Barreira said.

Barreira, as a CMO and mother of two, knows firsthand how difficult it can be to undo these systemic disparities. The night before she was scheduled to speak at an International Women’s Day event, her son asked what International Women’s Day was for. “I told him that it’s a day we celebrate women,” Barreira said, “and he paused for a few seconds and looked at me, puzzled, and he said, ‘Mom, I feel very sorry for women.’ I asked him why. He responded, ‘because that means that every other day is men’s day.’ And it stuck with me because he’s right.”

While Barreira is hopeful for a more diverse future for business leadership, she said the only way equality will exist is if leadership stands up for change too. “Leaders like myself need to take the seat when offered and once in that seat, they need to commit to taking a stand — because most companies are still far from where they need to be in their diversity journey. This isn’t a fight any single leader can fight alone. In order for racial and gender inclusion to exist, everyone needs to make a conscious decision to take action towards real progress and change — only then can we begin the next step in the journey.” 

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