The World As It Should Be…

Last weekend I went to a festival. An actual, proper festival, with camping and everything – which if you know me even slightly, is somewhat out of character, seeing as I am the fluffy towel, chocolate on the pillow kind of traveller. I should point out that I glamped – so got there to find the tent already set up, complete with bed, duvet, pillows etc, so it’s probably cheating if you’re a ‘real’ camper.

The reason I was prepared to camp/glamp (although there was the option to stay in a hotel nearby and take a minibus to and from the campsite) was the nature of the festival itself. Oh, didn’t I say? I went to the Primadonna Festival – the very first one, as it happens, created to celebrate brilliant writing, music and ideas. Catherine Mayer, one of the Primadonnas (a handful of fabulous women behind the Festival, including Sabeena Akhtar, Joanna Baker, Jane Dyball, Shona Abhyankar, Jude Kelly, Alexis Kirschbaum, Lisa Milton, Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Sonia Purnell, Catherine Riley, Monisha Rajesh, Athena Stevens, Cathryn Summerhayes, Sandi Toksvig and Sioned Wiliam) described it as “the world as it should be for one weekend”, and it was the most extraordinarily warm, welcoming and inspiring experience.

The Primadonna Festival was designed to give ‘prominence to work by women’ and introduced ‘fresh voices alongside famous names in a fun and welcoming environment’. It totally lived up to and in many ways exceeded my expectations, for a number of reasons. Even from the beginning, it encouraged participants to be generous – at every stage there were opportunities to support others, whether it was the ability to donate a ticket for those who couldn’t stretch to it, donating fees for writers to enter the Primadonna Prize (so proud to be one of those longlisted), or donating against the cost of the minibus.

This generosity of spirit was embedded in everything about the Festival. Speakers were from varied backgrounds, opinions in discussion sessions were listened to, properly responded to whether agreed with or not, and everywhere, all the time, participants said hello to each other, made new friends and celebrated successes, large and small. I saw performance poets, met writers and agents, sang along with Ukelele karaoke, watched films by the campfire and laughed my socks off at Katy Brand, Sandi Toksvig and Ada Campe. But most of all, I came away feeling hopeful and energised for the first time in a long time, given what’s going on culturally and politically in the UK in recent years. It was the most fantastic example of female leadership in action – empowering, inspiring and engaging across the board. And what’s most interesting is that whether you attended or not, there’s been a ripple of extended engagement post the event on Twitter, so the spirit of Primadonna is being extended.

Fingers and toes crossed that this Festival runs again next year, because it’s an oasis of fabulousness in a world that feels increasingly claustrophobic.

Appearances matter

This time last week I was at the Creative Floor Awards, applauding outstanding creativity in the healthcare space. These particular awards are close to my heart, unique as they are in diverting a proportion of their profits – £65k and counting over the five years that the awards have been running – to charities focused on increasing diversity within the industry. Recipients of the Creative Floor Awards Talent Fund have included The School of Communication Arts 2.0, The Ideas Foundation, and the JOLT Academy.

Last year’s Talent Fund donations enabled The Ideas Foundation to help more than 370 kids from across the UK get exposure to the creative industries, including children from The Amos Bursary Trust which helps inspire and develop talented British students of African and Caribbean descent. It’s a rare example of a founder (Shaheed Peera) who has literally put his money where his mouth is, quite apart from the calibre of judges, which include Rankin, Trevor Beattie, Ben Kay from Apple and Tea Uglow from Google, as well as heavy-hitting creatives from healthcare specialist agencies.

Given all of that, the lack of diversity amongst those who took to the stage was striking. Bravo to Concentric Health for their fabulously female winners, and to agencies like McCann Health, Publicis Life Brands and Saatchi Wellness who appeared to take great care to share the limelight across mixed gender teams, but they were sadly few and far between. If you were a casual observer, or new to the industry, it would be easy to walk away thinking that opportunities for anyone other than educated white men are sadly lacking.

You may think that it doesn’t matter who goes up to collect an award, that they represent teams which are much more diverse than they appear, but it does, it really does. When you have a woman relegated to taking pictures from the sidelines for the company blog instead of up there on stage with the rest of the team, or the lone BAME team member sticks out like a sore thumb – I wish I’d been counting, it would have been a handful of times I saw a non-white face picking up an award (again bravo Concentric Health), you can’t help but go away with a view of the industry which is less than inclusive.

We have a responsibility as leaders to celebrate difference and to showcase diversity in all its forms. So when you’re thinking about who gets to collect the next award, or show up at an industry event, it’s worth bearing in mind that the best way to attract diverse talent is to demonstrate how open and inclusive your organisation already is or aspires to be. It’s not tokenism, it’s one of the ways you build the future.