In the marketing sector there has been little escaping the growing need to create a diverse workforce that reflects society. As part of this drive, BAME 20/20: Meet the Changemakers was created in order to shine a light on those from ethnic minority backgrounds succeeding in business.
The latest subject of the interview series documenting its ambassadors is Sereena Abbassi, head of culture & inclusion for the M&C Saatchi Group.
Q. How do you see the issue of diversity across the marketing sector in comparison to other sectors?
A. Every sector is different because every sector has an archetype, though we're obviously aware that there is a dominant archetype. In our sector, it's white and middle-class; where that archetype becomes the normalisation of what professional looks and sounds like. The less proximate one is to the archetype, the greater pressure one might feel to perform, to 'culturally fit'. If one chooses not to or simply can't. What are the individual and organisational repercussions? For the individual, one of the worst-case scenarios could be a sense of social isolation which could lead to feeling pushed out of an organisation, industry or sector. And for the organisation, which is the biggest irony of all, it's the lack of innovation due to the lack of divergent thinking.
Q. If you were starting again in your career what would you do differently?
A. Set your boundaries and be willing to educate people on them. You can't expect people to do the 'right thing' because everyone has their own definition of right and wrong; both are equally as subjective. I try to listen to my intuition as it keeps me in my truth. And I've come to realise, if you're someone that has integrity, then you will feel your best, and probably do your best work when you are engaged in relationships, professionally or personally, with people who also have integrity.
Q. How do you see that issue being solved?
A. Get yourself a mentor, though be clear about what you need at this moment in time, because in some cases what people are in fact looking for is sponsorship. However, the two are not mutually exclusive.
If you are looking for a mentor, then keep in mind that your mentor doesn't necessarily need to be in a leadership position. You might need someone that's only a few steps ahead of you to help you navigate or build confidence, though there will probably come a time where you may need someone different or more senior for your next phase of growth.
Q. What advice would you give to those of a minority background getting into the industry? What’s the best way to go?
A. Find a community that's bound together by shared values, rather than interests or characteristics. Because it's your community that will comfort you, champion you, and keep you in check. One of the best bits of advice I received once was: build your community and look after your community.
Q. How do you see the role of organisational culture in improving inclusion and diversity?
A. Firstly, we need to move away from this monolithic notion of culture. To a place where we can be culturally different, though bound together by our shared values.
Q. If you could push agencies to do one thing, what would it be?
A. To stop seeing the introduction of BAME talent as some saving or civilising mission. We are underrepresented, and not disadvantaged. If you're unable to distinguish the difference between these two terms, then your organisation isn't ready for racial diversity.
Though anyone with a critically acute eye can see, that racial diversity does live within our organisations, though it tends to have more of a presence within particular roles. And it's your job as a leader to find out why?
This interview series featuring interviews with prominent BAME professionals from the MMC community will run throughout 2018. Previous entries can be found here.