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.

Be Bold For Change

Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a global day “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”. It also marks a call to action to accelerate gender parity, something which is close to my heart and which I have written about in the past.

Do I think ‘international days of…’ continue to have value? Or generalised awareness weeks? Well, they certainly have their place but from a media standpoint unless you have something to say, an awareness initiative on its own is difficult to make newsworthy. For example, today (Monday 27 Feb) has been designated Strawberry Day, Polar Bear Day and Kahlua Day, and I can’t say I’ve seen any stellar coverage of any of these topics as I write.

One of the things I do think is interesting about International Women’s Day is the increasing involvement of big name businesses and organisations supporting this UN-led initiative, such as bp, Pepsico, AECOM, Metlife and Avon. The 2017 campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange and the lead sponsor is Ernst & Young.  Amongst a wide variety of events and initiatives, the HBA (Healthcare Businesswomens Association) is holding a three-hour virtual summit that can be accessed globally by its membership, and the WOW – Women of the World festival is taking place at the Southbank Centre in London from 7-10 March, sponsored by Bloomberg. You can find out more about these and other events at www.internationalwomensday.com

Here are some of the ways in which the organisers suggest that everyone can take action to support women and shorten the estimated 170 years still to go before gender parity

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • boycott all-male speaking panels
  • pull people up on exclusive language
  • challenge stereotypes
  • call it out when women are excluded
  • question all-male shortlists
  • monitor the gender pay gap
  • point out bias and highlight alternatives
  • embrace inclusive leadership
  • redefine the status quo

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • decide to buy from companies that support women
  • choose to work for a progressive employer for women
  • support or back a woman-owned business
  • take a junior female colleague to a major meeting or event
  • build conducive, flexible work environments
  • appoint a woman to the board
  • mentor a woman and sponsor her goals
  • invite women into situations where they’re not already present or contributing
  • measure and report on gender parity gaps and keep gender on the agenda
  • create new opportunities for women

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • raise women’s visibility as spokespeople in the media
  • drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions
  • launch even more awards showcasing women’s success
  • hail the success of women leaders
  • applaude social, economic, cultural and polical women role models
  • celebrate women’s journeys and the barriers overcome
  • reinforce and support women’s triumphs

What will I be doing for #IWD2017? I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the amazingly talented and inspirational female leaders in the WHAM (Women in Health Agency Management) networking group and seeing how we can collectively #BeBoldForChange. I’d love to know what you and your organisations are doing to make change happen and support women to achieve their greatest potential.

Looking the elephant in the eye

There’s an elephant in the room, so what are you going to do about it? Do you address the issue head on, or do you skirt it because you’re afraid of conflict? Do you do your best to stop people from talking about it, or do you find a way to have an open discussion? How can you find a way to agree to disagree when tempers are running high?

Don’t know what I’m talking about? I bet you do. In the space of a few short months, two popular votes that didn’t go the way that they were predicted to have had a seismic effect on relationships between friends, within families and in the workplace. I am of course talking about the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election, both of which polarised opinions, sending shockwaves through our respective nations.

The problem is, regardless of which way you voted (or indeed would have voted had you been given the opportunity), we all have to live with each other after the votes have been counted, but that’s easier said than done when people’s emotions are so actively engaged.  I think it’s fair to say that both the referendum and the election campaigns were hard-fought, highly emotionally charged and many untruths were shared online and offline.

People have developed passionately partisan views, and it has sometimes felt (certainly in the UK) that those who disagree with the outcome of the vote are being pushed to accede without protest or further debate. For me, the truth at the heart of any democracy is the belief in freedom and equality between people, and that must mean the freedom to express one’s opinion whilst being open to constructive challenge.

As it happens, I think that’s at the heart of great teamwork and great businesses too, because people don’t work well in teams unless they feel listened to and that their views matter.  Teams don’t work well if they’re at each others’ throats either, and as leaders we need to help our people find new ways to work together after these difficult months. I don’t think anyone’s under the illusion that all of a sudden we can wave a wand and we’ll be skipping along hand in hand as though nothing’s happened, but we do have a responsibility to our colleagues to address the elephant in the room.

The big question is how? Well, for starters it’s probably not a good idea to stifle debate or close down discussion of the topic, that way it goes underground and can become even more divisive. I’m not suggesting you hold forums to debate which way the vote(s) went and whether people agree with it or not, more that you set the tone for any discussion. Personal abuse is not acceptable in any environment, and if that’s happening then it needs to be addressed regardless of the views being expressed.

Leading by example is also critically important in these difficult times, and that means showing through our own behaviour that outdated attitudes are just that – outdated. We must actively address any instances of sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination, not simply for the sake of the individuals concerned, but also because of the wider impact it has on the world around us, including our workplace.

I realise that for many this is preaching to the converted, but in these troubled times we need to speak up rather than staying silent. Listen to what people say, acknowledge their point of view, but then stand up for what’s right, because if we keep ignoring that elephant it’ll never leave.