“It’s not enough to just consume inspiration”
At the end of a day that was inspiring and challenging in equal measure, a delegate and contributor based in New York was asked what Omniwomen meant to her. If there was one comment that summed up the theme of this year’s Omniwomen UK Summit, this was it. To take action. To reach everyone.
Set up to increase the number and influence of female leaders across the network, Omniwomen’s annual summit felt like it took on extra significance this year, against the backdrop of #MeToo, Time’s Up and with the gender pay gap front and centre in the media. In more positive news, it was announced that women now make up 48% of Omnicom UK’s senior management, well ahead of the IPA’s 2020 target of 40%, and the UK industry average of 30% (Campaign/IPA).
Held on International Women’s Day, the annual summit is a chance to hear the personal stories and perspectives of inspiring speakers and industry leaders, debate the big issues, discuss personal experiences amongst peers, and feel part of a powerful and supportive network.
It’s also a catalyst for change that can, and must, benefit everyone.
Inspiring the next generation through a more inclusive style of leadership
The Omnicom CEO Panel, hosted by BBC Newsnight’s Sam McAlister [pictured], brought together some of the network’s most senior leaders. They openly shared their stories, what has shaped their thinking and helped them confront their own biases, and the tangible steps they’ve taken to modernise their company culture and policies.
There was acknowledgement of perception challenges and practical challenges around flexible working as well as hiring and supporting working parents, but we mustn’t shy away from doing the right thing (and potentially losing or missing out on talent) because of short term inconvenience.
The companies that attract and retain the industry’s top talent are actively bringing empathy into company culture and leadership, allowing for different styles and ways of working, and creating respectful and nurturing environments where everyone has a voice.
Bringing men into the conversation
From start to finish, a theme running through this year’s summit was how to include men on the journey. In the words of Shelley Zalis, founder of The Girls Lounge, CEO of The Female Quotient, and general force of nature, we will not “unlock the un-stereotyped mindset” and “write new rules of work” without becoming “we for we”.
Phil Bartlett [pictured], MD of CDM and part of the Omniwomen Committee, spoke with honesty, sensitivity and humour about the male perspective in a talk titled ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. He notes that early conditioning of traditional masculine traits, and how we raise our boys (fostering competitiveness, strength, and resilience, with ‘strong man’ role models) remain prevalent and continue to be valued above all else in the workplace. Leadership should not be about making people feel like they have to behave in a certain way to ‘get on’. He also talked candidly about the challenges men face in participating in the conversation, not always knowing what to say. We must find ways to talk more openly and transparently about experiences and issues with each other.
Confronting our biases: the diversity ambition vs. the reality
Diversity. There’s much debate on the need for it, and there’s plenty of data to back up the commercial benefits of it, but policies, ways of working and what we place most value on haven’t quite caught up.
Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s CEO, had a reality check for this audience. We continue to look for “people who can quickly fit into our systems… [we’re] trying to sell our product and ways of working to people who don’t look or think like us…”. In short, we need to do the groundwork confronting our own biases (be it class, ethnicity, gender, or life stage) and be honest about how these manifest in recruitment, ways of working, leadership structures and remuneration. Eye opening, provocative, and hard to argue with.
I left feeling privileged to be part of this network and optimistic about where the future is heading. Turning inspiration into action means momentum over perfection, doing over saying, and bringing new and diverse voices into the conversation to drive change in the workplace. In the closing words of Phil Bartlett, “our time is now so let’s make it count”.