Discussion, education & empathy are breaking down barriers and truly becoming an inclusive workforce
Thursday 20 August saw OMD EMEA’s first “RED Half-hour”, an all-agency initiative for the company’s 300+ employees, designed as a forum for sharing and discussion on the topic of inclusivity in the workplace.
Since the tragic death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement and Juneteenth day of reflection, agencies have been speaking out on the ways in which they are tackling diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It is evident from the 200+ leaders, including ourselves and our UK agencies, who signed the pledge to address implications for the industry that the majority are trying to educate themselves, talk more, collaborate more and take strides towards making change.
The RED steering group at OMD EMEA was established in 2018, as a way to anchor Diversity & Inclusion efforts within recruitment, engagement & development for all staff. To date, the group has worked on initiatives such as mandatory unconscious bias training for all recruiting managers to celebrations of International Women’s Day, Black History Month, Diwali and more, through to resources to educate staff for Juneteenth.
Along with the rest of the industry, the events of 25th May drove a resounding appreciation, understanding and urgency on what needed to change, and quickly.
We all acknowledge that having a diverse workforce is plain and simply, the right thing to do. Benefits include more engaged teams, more empathy towards individuals and enhanced feelings of inclusion and collaboration. From a business point-of-view, we know having diverse teams improves a company’s bottom line and breeds creativity and innovation, ultimately driving business success.
But did you know that according to Nasdaq; Guyana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bangladesh and India represent the fastest growing economies, which will have a profound impact on the way we do business in those markets. As OMD’s EMEA hub, with offices in over 60 countries across the region, information such as this offers invaluable insight for future business planning for our clients. Ensuring we are working with emerging markets to support and capitalise on opportunities is imperative for future success. Furthermore, according to a Fastcompany article, a recent study by Catalyst demonstrated that companies with more women in leadership positions consistently outperform companies with less than half of their leadership positions filled by women, delivering 34% greater returns. And although only 5% of Fortune 1000 companies have a female CEO, they generate 7% of the Fortune 1000’s total revenue and outperform the S&P 500 index during the course of their respective tenures.
Moreso, diversity in business ownership, particularly among women of colour, is key to moving the economy forward. In the US diverse business owners help boost employment and growth for the American economy with women of colour owning 1.9 million firms. These businesses generate $165 billion in revenue annually and employ 1.2 million people. Latina-owned businesses, in particular, have total receipts of $55.7 billion since 2002.
One of the first things OMD did, alongside re-writing the recruitment process and developing platforms for safe knowledge-sharing, was create Employee Resource Groups. With a clear focus on engagement, to promote continuous dialogue and open, honest & conversations, the BAME community worked with the core RED team to present the agency’s first RED Half-hour, entitled “Why is diversity the hot topic?”
Moderated by OMD EMEA’s Jenny Charles-Okwulu, the panel comprised Jemilla Olufeko a lawyer experienced in advising global media, technology and consumer-facing companies on commercial matters who currently works for BBC Global News, Inam Mahmood who serves as the UK managing director, global business solutions for TikTok, and OMD EMEA’s Olson Aguirre.
A core theme that came out of the panel discussion, was that around ‘acceptance’ with Aguirre explaining; “we need to acknowledge that we are different and that we need to accept everyone for who they are.”
Working across various parts of our industry, there was also the acknowledgement and understanding that when speaking to consumers, subscribers, followers, we need to ensure we are understanding local nuances, and speaking in an inclusive tone. “When offering global solutions, we have to add some flexibility for local adaptation”, Aguirre said. Olufeko agreed “Working for BBC Global News, the clue is in the title, we want to be able to reflect our audiences from a news perspective, tell the stories that they want to hear, need to hear, in an authentic way, with people who look like them. And from a commercial side, delivering ad campaigns that are relevant to that audience as well.”
On how to truly start to drive change within your organisation, Mahmood suggested; “don’t be afraid to discuss topics you aren’t comfortable with, educate yourself about things you might not know by asking questions in a compassionate way and showing empathy.” Olufeko agreed “Inam hit it on the head with starting with open, honest, discussions to learn from other people, as if you are not in that marginalised group, you might not know what a microaggression is or how to identify it.”
For Olufeko personally, she has been making it a point to understand issues that the LGBTQIA group are facing and to see how she can be a better ally for that group. “Discuss inclusion as part of diversity, metrics are one way to quantify diversity, but without the inclusion part, those metrics don’t really mean anything as you are not going to get that retention of talent if people don’t feel comfortable being a part of that organisation. Or that they fit in if you have a monoculture that only really celebrates one kind of person, then it’s hard for other people to thrive.”
Empathy plays a crucial part in ensuring an inclusive workforce. “Listen without judgement and strive to empathise with those around you”, says Mahmood. Empathy is a core part of OMD’s DNA. The agency operationalised empathy into its media planning process at scale back in 2018, and connected insights to actions with a specificity that has not been done before. The process of putting empathy at the core of not only consumer interactions, but at the heart of D&I strategies, career conversations, and communications, is fundamental to how OMD operates. You can sharpen your empathic abilities by widening your social circles and having conversations with individuals who aren’t like you.
On speaking on the BBC’s director of creative diversity, June Sarpong, Olufeko says Sarpong recommends: “looking at social circle says a lot about who you are as a person, if you invite people into your life who disrupt your thoughts and status quo, that’s different to someone who has the same kind of people. You can link that to social media as well, diversify your feed, if you are someone who looks at the same content, whether that’s on TikTok or otherwise, then I think it’s important to recognise that as then you won’t be able to accept change or different points-of-view in the workplace. It is important, it starts with the individual.”
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