Last Wednesday Bloom UK, the volunteer community of 170 women across the media and marketing industry, hosted its third annual conference BloomFest. This year’s theme was Turn It Up, inspired by Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the recent 100m world champion Jamaican athlete Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce who proved that you can return to work post motherhood and nail it. After she did the lap of victory with her son in her arms, she said: "The females keep showing up."
And we will.
And we do.
At Bloom, we are constantly showing up. We’re on a mission to ensure women have genuine equal opportunity in our industry and we won’t rest until the barriers that stop us from getting there - whether societal, industry or the ones we place on ourselves - are smashed. We use the real voices of women and men to do this, bringing taboo, unspoken subjects to the surface so we can drive genuine industry change.
This is in our DNA and something we’re proud to have started with our Booth of Truth, our anonymous platform for collecting industry confessions, launched at the inaugural BloomFest in 2017 by Victoria Brooks, Bloom’s vice-president. Two years on, with hundreds of stories later, from women and men, we asked ‘what is our industry going to do to change for the better?’
The day was curated to help drive this change and inspire attendees to take action for themselves, their colleagues and the whole industry. Here’s my top 10 actions from the day:
1. “Gender equality isn't a women’s issue, it’s an everyone issue” said Zara Bryson, strategy and innovation director, PG One, Publicis Media. We need to enroll senior men in the inclusion journey. A key finding from our latest research ‘Future Fit’ in partnership with UM London, identified a perceived threat to those with the most privilege - senior men.
2. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes by seeking out a mentor of the opposite gender or someone who is different from you. Our new cross mentoring pilot The Exchange matched 23 senior industry men with 23 Bloom women and demonstrated the power of engaging men to drive change. Research findings from Starling Strategy who evaluated the pilot saw that men are just as vulnerable as women; we all share the same fears. Try creating a tracker for emotional labour load in the office - which Gina Hood, senior account director, former Bloom President and Dave Lowe, strategy director, Digitas did as part of their mentoring partnership. How can you create an open forum for honest conversations with women and men in your office? As The Exchange showed, the results can be quite transformative.
3. Inclusion isn’t the responsibility of HR or your D&I person; “It needs to sit with the CEO and the C-suite, otherwise it becomes a tick box exercise” said Sarah Jenkins, incoming MD, Saatchi & Saatchi. Think about embedding inclusion objectives into the job descriptions for everyone in the organisation from the top to the bottom. We’re all responsible for creating a workplace where everyone belongs and has an equal opportunity to thrive. True inclusion = visceral empathy.
4. Check your privilege. We live in a world with biased societal structures at play, which means you could be losing out on fresh talent and ideas in your teams. You can be an active ally for those minority voices in the way that you recruit with blind CVs, gender balanced shortlists and apprenticeship and returner programmes.
5. Be an active ally all year round, not just at minority markers such as International Women’s Day, Black History Month or Pride. As Lady Phyll, activist and Co-Founder of UK Black Pride, said “I’m still black in November”.
6. Clearly communicate and be transparent with policies around taboo issues that people are worried might impact their career. Policies to consider include shared parental leave, IVF treatment, transitioning at work, carer’s leave or the menopause - recently launched by our event host Channel 4 and previewed at BloomFest by 4Women. Share policies before employees start their role and during their time there.
7. It’s time to strip back the shame and talk more openly about our mental health. In our Fishbowl hosted by Gemma Greaves, CEO, Marketing Society, we heard that everyone you meet has a story - it’s a real and live issue. Support colleagues by becoming a mental health first aider or ally. “Take the time to ask someone if they’re ok and actively listen to their response,” said Martin Galvin, digital trading director, Group M, and Bloom Exchange participant. We’re all hiding internal struggles that affect how we are at work.
8. Parenthood affects us all at some point - where we either make a choice to have or not to have children. Don’t ask assumptive questions around children such as “When is baby number 2 coming along?” said panel moderator Sally Keane, head of sales, LinkedIn and COO, Bloom UK. Not all women want or can have children. Be respectful and mindful of each others’ choices.
9. Shared parental leave just isn't happening. As panellist Han-Son Lee, planning director, Proximity London and founder, DaddiLife, said “the problem is awareness and until there is equalised pay for men and women” and we can break the stigma around both men taking more than two weeks and women returning to work sooner, it will still be on the woman to be the primary caregiver. If a male on your team takes paternity leave, encourage them to take more time off. As a father, be a role model - talk openly about your longer time off.
10. Be more kind. Kindness is completely underrated as a leadership trait yet key to engaging your teams. Kindness and a healthy dose of empathy is the panacea to all our problems - both in and outside our workplaces.
So I urge you to engage your teams, engage your company and check out our Twitter moment here to see what other actions our attendees committed to, to #TurnItUp. Individually we all the power to make an impact, but collectively we can seriously cause some trouble.
Stephanie Matthews is 2019 Bloom president and partnerships director, Creative Equals.