(CNN) After having surgery to remove a small cancerous tumor from his neck last year, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun decided to tell his employees, clients and shareholders of his condition. He still needed to undergo radiation and chemotherapy, and explained to them what that would mean for his work schedule.
While deciding to go public was difficult for Sadoun because it meant showing vulnerability both as a person and as a leader of one of the world's largest advertising agencies, he said he received thousands of compassionate responses from both inside and outside Publicis after doing so.
What shocked him most, he said, was how many people told him they hid their own cancer diagnosis from their employers for fear of losing their job or being perceived as weak. Instead, they took vacation days for treatments or scheduled very early morning procedures so they could work the same day, Sadoun told CNN. Some even hid their children's cancer treatments from their boss, he added.
"That is crazy," Sadoun said. "I started 2022 with cancer and left it with a mission."
That mission is to create a worldwide campaign to encourage employers to eradicate the stigma and anxiety of having cancer at work.
The initiative — called the #WorkingWithCancer Pledge — launched Tuesday at the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Many of the world's best-known companies have agreed to the pledge already. They include Bank of America, Citi, Disney, Google, L'Oréal, Marriott, McDonald's, Meta, Microsoft, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Toyota, Unilever and Walmart.
Employers who take the pledge promise "to abolish job fear and insecurity that exist for cancer sufferers in the workplace."
Signatories also pledge to do a better job publicizing to their workforces the benefits they already have in place for employees with cancer and for employees taking care of a family member with cancer. They will also consider ways to do more.
Walmart, for instance, notes on the #WorkingWithCancer Pledge site that it currently offers access to high-quality care in the United States through its Centers for Excellence Program, and that the care is often free for employees, including travel and lodging if necessary for both the employee and their caregiver. The company also said it provides free counseling with a licensed therapist, educational resources and experts on cancer, as well as leave-of-absence programs.
In terms of forward-looking pledges, Publicis is committing to its employees worldwide that it will:
Leading cancer institutions, including Memorial Sloan Kettering, are backing Sadoun's initiative.
His hope is that if the world's biggest companies go public with what they are doing both to help employees with cancer and to make it easier to talk about it at work, smaller companies may follow their lead.
Given how prevalent cancer diagnoses are — and how, thanks to improved treatments and early detection, it can be more of a chronic disease than a death sentence in many instances — "Not only will we have to live with [cancer]," Sadoun said, "we will have to work with it."