This evening I’d like to paint a picture for you. A vivid picture where teams work in harmony. Where clients and agencies fuse with striking originality. Where outputs are innovative, splendid, impactful and memorable. Where organisations pulse with modernity, vibrancy and collaboration. Where talent teams exalt in their remit. Where individuals flourish, proud to be their true selves. Where creatives and planners strike campaign gold with greater ease and regularity. Where clients score agencies gold. Where the commercial future looks bright, gleaming. Where magic is happening as worlds collide…
My name is Bianca Best and I’m privileged to be here with you this evening. I’m Managing Partner at iProspect, part of the Dentsu Aegis Network. I was honoured to win this year’s IPA’s Woman of Tomorrow accolade. I feel deeply proud and responsible. I’m impassioned by diversity, equality, by seizing every day for greater good and by making a positive difference to our industry.
Tonight, I’d like to share my thoughts with you, to inspire you with how I envisage that picture I just painted becoming an absolute reality, not simply a magical utopia.
Before I dive in, let’s start with some definitions. Diversity and equality. The latest buzz words. What do these terms actually mean? What’s the difference between diversity and equality?
Well, ‘equality’ is about promoting and fostering everybody’s right to be different, about being free from discrimination, valued as an individual, and having choice and dignity with a right to your own beliefs and values.
‘Diversity’ is a word that means ‘varied and different’. Diversity, therefore, is about more than equality. It’s about creating a culture which values individual differences and variety for the benefit of society, individuals and organisations.
As an industry, we’re great at brandishing both terms around virulently, eagerly, almost exultantly – using them to both define and champion the values of human rights in society, and our advertising workplaces. We continually refer to and infer about every individual being given an equal chance to achieve their potential, absolutely free from prejudice and discrimination.
But what do we actually do about it? All this chatter, any action?
Well yes. We’ve taken some hugely publicised steps at the Dentsu Aegis Network, DAN, to put diversity and doing good at our heart at the top of our agenda already; our new agency 46 just for starters with various committees and complementary boards set up to continue the momentum at pace.
I’m in total agreement that a good diversity programme has many beneficial effects on staff and organisations alike. Indeed, when it comes to equality and diversity, a good rubric means that the whole working environment is much better, productivity is heightened, and success and business naturally increase.
So, as a ‘woman of tomorrow’ – grand title, eh – what does that all mean to me personally?
Well, for me, as a business leader, as a woman in the boardroom, as an ambassador for change, it’s about 3 things; Celebrating differences, encouraging (if not mandating) authenticity, and establishing cultures that enable this.
Firstly, ‘Celebrating our differences’ - not just skin colour or native language, sexuality or gender, I mean our home life, religion, parenthood, passions, hobbies as well as those demographic stats. Who are we? Where do we come from? What do we care about? What makes us unique, special, individual? How do we build teams of Jedi warriors – beautifully different individuals, beautifully bound by common values?
Let's adopt ‘celebrating differences’ as the norm for our industry. Choose talent from all walks of life. Every education from early school leavers to graduates. Every ethnic race from white British to minority groups. Every age - there's one we rarely tackle. Our aging, able and just fabulous population simply shouldn't be discriminated against. Every social status from single mother with 4 kids to married same sex couples. It shouldn't matter. Employ on merit, passion, attitude and brilliant shining individuality. Watch the talent pool grow and sparkle!
I truly believe that only when organisations learn to embrace single uniqueness instead of common majorities only then can true innovation, community spirit and collective greatness soar. Once differences are celebrated, bound by common goals, communities of individuality come together to create and innovate in a pretty spectacular way. In a far more vibrant, diverse and interesting world than that of yesteryear. The output then transcends that of yesteryear in quality, volume and resonance and the journey delivering that output is an enjoyable one, almost addictive in form. Employees are living their values and beliefs with true and proud purpose and delivering superior work. What a phenomenal vision.
Does your agency celebrate difference? Think about how and if not what can you do to encourage this today?
So, leading on to my second point, all of this celebrating individuality only comes about by magnifying authenticity. It’s time to spotlight authenticity unequivocally. All too often I hear tales of compromise in pursuit of fitting in. I’m guilty of it myself historically in fact. No more is that nor should that be acceptable. The message to our teams must be that the true you, the true individual is the one who will make that difference and be most valuable. To the team, the agency, the client, our industry. Homogenised leadership is resolutely a thing of the past. And I’m not just talking about the gender balance, but EQ traits tipping scales from extrovert to introvert. It’s a new world where anything and everything counts.
I, personally, never waver from my authentic self. I am a devoted, hard working, impassioned advertising professional, and just as importantly I am an endlessly proud and devoted mother, I laugh, I jog, I get tired, I get excited, I care about everyone being the best that they can be – at work or home, that’s me and I won’t compromise who I am when I manage my team, my clients, my colleagues. I bring my true self to every moment and in fact that makes it easier to deliver.
I’m well aware however that I’m privileged being comfortable bringing my whole self to work. It’s not always the case and agencies have a large responsibility to ensure the work place is a safe place. An environment where any deeply personal private burdens can be shared and ideally lessened in a supportive, non judgemental way.
So, invite personalities into your agencies. Bring out the interesting person behind the task do-er. Liven up those perfunctory deliverables with personal expression and distinction. Tell your staff ‘bring yourself to work’. It’ll make for a far happier, interesting, and productive environment. No more masks!
So, thirdly onto culture – top down or bottom up? How do we establish cultures where diversity and inclusivity flourish?
In my role leading client services, I talk a lot (and do a lot) about moving client relationships from transactional to transformational through empathic listening and understanding. How can we expect our teams to adopt this mindset, to impact client happiness, and ultimately our revenues, if they're not working in the very culture that supports this? We as the employers, as the organisational leads, need to permeate every echelon of our corporate worlds with a non-discriminatory, non-prejudiced, all embracing culture. Think about what I just said there - empathic listening and understanding. That's what it's all about. Sensitivity to and celebration of each other's worlds. It's a basic human right but sadly not all that prevalent in our agencies today. Well not yet anyway.
Within iProspect we are charging ahead with an Agile Working agenda. We’re empowering employees with the freedom to choose when, where and how they work. It’s an outcome based agenda. Deliver what you need to deliver and feel free to choose how you get to that point. So, if you’re a working parent and need to do the school run before work, go for it. If you’ve got a religious commitment that means an early finish, go for it. We’re embracing agility to enable those differences. Creating a culture that fosters individuality. And centres around trust.
I’m a huge ambassador for this programme. Already 6 months in, the difference in staff happiness, well being and (getting data driven for a moment) retention has been hugely positively impacted. Staff feel trusted, able to achieve their work/life blend and work outputs are just as high if not better. It’s a total win win.
So, those are my 3 focus areas; Celebrating differences, authenticity and a strong culture supporting diversity & inclusivity both up and down.
As you all know, Tom Knox is making huge strides to get us into this sheeny shiny space. Public agency diversity quotas is a huge bold step. An exciting, powerful, let's surface who's doing what kind of a stride. And I love it! The ambitions of his well publicised equality goals by 2020 are phenomenally motivating. Find me an agency which hasn't yet added diversity to their HR agenda? At DAN we launch our first comprehensive diversity survey this month and from there we will look at where we want to get to by 2020 (which may indeed exceed the IPA pledge…). For all, it’s clear, there will be no hiding and should be no excuses.
I can’t talk about galloping into this glorious sunset without referring back to our newly launched agency 46. It’s already up and running, pioneering in form, output and attitude. Resplendent with a diverse workforce, the innovative campaigns are under way and I'm proud that already we’re walking the talk. What’s particularly exciting is that it’s not only diverse in itself, but a model, a change agent for the rest of the business. For example, we adapted our recruitment process for 46 – away from hiring from a CV and instead from passion – and that has formed the basis group wide for our new approach to early careers recruitment going forwards.
Beyond 46 the next expansive chapter will be similar models of broad, all accepting inclusivity enveloping every corner of the network as all brands embrace and propel their diversity agendas. Personally, I’m proud to be part of 2 DAN boards already designing action plans to build group momentum, to continue the positive wave of focus on diversity & inclusivity. The most immediate traction will be felt this month as we launch our first diversity network to champion a more inclusive DAN for LGBT colleagues. We will be recruiting role models from DAN to go into schools to talk about the importance and value of difference. And there’s plenty more planned where that came from. These are exciting, progressive and long awaited times.
I painted a picture ten minutes ago that was deliberately intended as a touch utopian. But hear me now. Listening hard to the abundant chatter out there amidst our industry peers (us/you all), watching the bold commitments of vociferous proud agencies rooting diversity at the top of their cultural agendas, and personally tingling with the sensation of industry change whilst visibly watching a new advertising workforce evolve day by day, I've never felt so encouraged and excited that this utopia is a soon to be touchable reality. Bring on this new age of magic happening where worlds collide over and over again.
Thank you for listening.
View photos of the 2016 CPD Platinum Dinner here
Last updated 04/07/2016