Diverse leadership: Insights from Omniwomen UK + Allies

Supporting diverse paths to leadership: Insights from Omniwomen UK + Allies

Poppy Spencer, Account Director at Fuse, shares her learnings from this year’s Leadership Summit

For the fifth consecutive year, Omniwomen UK + Allies hosted its annual Leadership Summit on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2019). This year’s theme was ‘Supporting Diverse Paths to Leadership’, celebrating and enabling women from all backgrounds to fulfil their potential.

Over 300 men and women from across Omnicom UK enjoyed a day of workshops, discussions and reflection with talks from inspirational and diverse speakers that included disability inclusion activist Dr Caroline Casey, Ruth Hunt of Stonewall and Sophie Walker, former leader of the UK Women’s Equality Party.

Here are five key themes from a jam-packed day of inspiration and action.

With privilege comes responsibility

“Diversity and inclusion are about power,” we were told by Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall. We need to recognise when we are in a position of power and use our platform to shine a light on people who need help driving the conversation forwards. All too often the diversity and inclusion agenda falls on marginalised groups to do the heavy lifting. This is everyone’s issue and as allies we need to know when to relinquish power and make space for others to rise.

Creative industries need to reflect the diverse society in which we live

Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals, spoke of the desperate need for, “diverse teams, to create diverse work, for diverse audiences.” How can we hope for our work to resonate if creative teams don’t reflect the communities we are speaking to? In London, just 12% of Creative Directors are female, when 85% of consumer purchases are made by women. Diversity in creativity is a pressing issue and one that our clients have woken up to. They are pushing for change within their organisations – as creative partners we cannot afford to sit still on this issue. It is business critical.

You can’t be what you can’t see

Not only must the work our industry creates reflect the society in which we live, we all need to see ourselves reflected in the places we work. And the issue is not just one of gender. Leyya Sattar and Roshni Goyate, co-founders of The Other Box, spoke of walking through the doors of countless agencies to discover they were the only people of colour on the team, and sometimes in the entire office.

Underrepresented groups need role models to offer inspiration, leadership and paths to follow to help them believe they can succeed. But how can we create positive role models if we cannot retain diverse talent? Organisations need to focus on the support structures in place for women and minority groups to create an inclusive culture, helping them feel accepted, safe and welcome in the workplace. Recruiting a diverse range of employees is only half the battle.

Act, think and work like yourself

Be authentic. We need to create spaces where people can bring their whole selves to the workplace. “Without this, we have tokenism,” said Valerie Van Den Bossche, Coach and Consultant in Organisational and Cultural Change, “with people showing up who look this way or look that way, but who do not feel they can contribute their full voice.” In doing so we lose the benefits of their diversity.

It’s not bragging if it’s based on facts

Women tend to protect the modesty norm and struggle with self-promotion, fearing it will make them unlikeable. Unfortunately, this only serves to hold us back. Women need to make their work visible and celebrate their achievements. We need to think of self-promotion not as pumping ourselves up, faking or striving to prove anything. Instead, it can be a centred, honest way of sharing and highlighting of what you’ve truly accomplished.

As the day came to a close, it was satisfying to reflect on the progress Omniwomen has achieved in just five years, with 48% of senior leadership roles at Omnicom UK now filled by women. Within Fuse this figure is even higher at 76%. However, the message was clear: there is no room for complacency in this space and we have a long way to go to fully unlock the potential of gender diversity. To do this, it’s essential to foster an environment where women feel they don’t need to conform to “traditional” leadership stereotypes to be successful, but instead can be their true selves. This in turn will create a more inclusive generation of leaders and positive role models.