Omniwomen UK + Allies Summit: ‘Diverse Paths To Leadership’

Carly Quigley, Strategy Director OMD EMEA, Curtis Tracey & Leah Levenson, Associate Directors, Client services, talk us through the Omniwomen UK + Allies summit highlights.

We were extremely excited about attending the Omniwomen UK + Allies Summit on International Women’s Day. Although we had heard great things, we were blown away by the scale and quality of the day, from the speakers to the breakout sessions and the space itself, it was a really amazing and inspiring day to a be part of. 

This year, the event was hosted by Ali Gee (Deputy CEO & Senior Partner FleishmanHillard Fishburn) and Victoria Buchanan (Executive Creative Director Tribal DDB), who started the day by reminding us why we were all in county hall, where we were as a business and the strides we still needed to make. It was clear that Omnicom UK is actually doing pretty well from a gender equality perspective, 50% of leadership roles are held by women. However there are of course nuances when you break this down and we heard that only 39% of Senior creative positions are held by women, down by 6% – this is an industry wide problem.

What surprised and also excited us the most about the day was the theme of ‘Diverse Paths To Leadership’. This meant that although there was a strong focus on gender equality, we also explored the full spectrum of diversity throughout the day, opening up a much broader conversation. Within this theme we heard from a range of inspirational colleagues, politicians, CEO’s and even a poet who shared their stories and interpretation of ‘diverse paths to leadership’. It was also very powerful to have ‘allies’ attending the day, men from across the business who need to be involved in these conversation as much as the women who are normally at the forefront of them.

There were a few key themes that came up consistently throughout the day which we would love to share and hopefully provide the basis of the work we can do within OMD EMEA to celebrate diverse paths to leadership.

Share the Power/Make Space: This theme really made an impact, perhaps because of the way it framed the topic of inclusion, but also because it offers a tangible action we can all take. Ruth Hunt (Chief Executive of Stonewall) make a compelling point about understanding the power balance of any situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you will have the power (possibly due to your position, gender, ethnicity) and sometimes you will have less power or be powerless. It is our responsibility as leaders, when we recognise we have the power, to think about how you use and share it to boost others who have less. If you are someone that has the power or privilege in the first place, sharing that out will not diminish your own standing, but it will help push equality and diversity. Interestingly both Ruth Hunt and Sophie Walker (Former Leader of the Women’s Equality Party) announced on stage their decision to step back from their position of power and leadership. They said they were passing their power to the next generation of representatives to allow the space for new ideas and fresh ways of thinking.

The importance of being our full selves: Throughout the talks and panels covering many forms of diversity and inclusion, the idea of being able to show up fully at work as yourself came up continuously.  In the ‘Breaking The Silence’ panel discussion, people from within and outside our company who have experienced mental health problems bravely and candidly spoke about how they have adapted their lifestyle and working practices to make sure they effectively protect their mental health and show up in the best way possible at work and at home. In the Neurodiversity breakout session, colleagues from across Omnicom talked about how their neurodiversities, such as Dyslexia and Autism are a strength at work in many ways, but also mean some things need to be adapted so they can work most effectively. During the panel discussion ‘Is Diverse Leadership That Difficult?’, Leyya Sattar and Roshni Goyate (Co-founders of The Other Box) highlighted the fact that having diversity in a company is not enough if it’s simply tokenism, everyone needs to be able to be fully themselves and feel they can speak up if we are really going to have diversity living up to its true meaning.

Allies and Privilege: As an ally, our attendance was just as important as the rest of the diverse group.  There was a sentiment of inclusion and it was clear that change will only come through working together.  Ian Crocombe (Director of Creative Shop at FB and Board Member of Creative Equals) posed a question to the few men in the room of how they felt on the day – an equal feeling of slightly uncomfortable and vulnerable brought the point into perspective as a day in the life of minority or under appreciated  groups. His inspirational talk put privilege into perspective for those who have always had it, whereas it is not always clear until you understand the challenges that are presented with being a minority. His discussion provided clear steps for our organization’s ally leadership to act upon;

  1. Allies need to stand up for others and proactively promote diversity
  2. We need to design our agency for inclusion; from recruitment to every day workplace environment
  3. Feedback is a gift – please speak up when something doesn’t feel right – consider reverse appraisals – leaders need to be open to other perspectives

What is important is challenging the status quo and breaking convention.  Organizations are designed for the majority; leaving minority groups forced to be ‘resilient’ and adapting within that system. OMD and our clients can benefit from having different perspectives and POVs, so why not give everyone a voice? An ally can spend their privilege on others to make a team succeed rather than spend it on themselves, setting a good example for the overall environment and the leaders of tomorrow.  That is why diverse leadership is important, diversity is about understanding everyone is 100% human.

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