In the world of the creative industries, diversity isn’t simply an afterthought; instead, it stands as the cornerstone of success, providing a firm foundation which allows for a full range of ideas and perspectives to flourish. Few understand this better than Ete Davies, Chief Operating Officer for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Dentsu Creative, who has used his tireless passion for innovation to drive greater equity and inclusion in the advertising sector.
In today’s conversation, Ete sat down with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss everything from his lifelong fascination with advertising to his philosophy of leadership and his work supporting and mentoring talent from underrepresented groups.
I am the regional COO and interim CEO for Dentsu Creative across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Dentsu Creative is the creative practice of the Dentsu Network. I’m responsible for leading 1,500 people across 37 teams and offices.
In school, I enjoyed studying sciences especially biology, and that taught me that I have quite an analytical mind. That lends itself well to problem-solving, which is at the heart of everything we do in the industry. As a child, I was always fascinated by the creativity and the humour of advertising, especially TV adverts. Like many kids, I’d often find myself repeating ad catchphrases in the playground! Once I entered the industry and began to build my career, I became borderline obsessed with how advertising can affect and change behaviour, resonate with people emotionally, and shape the future by innovating at the nexus of human behaviour and emerging technology. In this sector, we’re fortunate to always be learning and feel challenged. We work with a range of organisations and individuals, from public to private to third sector, who come to us with some of their most pressing challenges and opportunities. It introduces you to brilliant people from a whole array of different backgrounds, and it really keeps you on your toes.
A few years ago, I set up two initiatives – called We Are Stripes and Culture Heroes. The purpose of both initiatives was to provide opportunities for people from under-represented ethnic backgrounds in the industry, from entry-level all the way to leadership. I’m also a Board Trustee for Media Trust and the Creative Circle Foundation, charities which work across the creative industries to support people from under-represented and marginalised communities. That encompasses gender equality, culture, ethnicity, disability, and neurodiversity. As a trustee, I work with the leadership teams to develop and deliver organisational strategies. In addition, I also do mentoring work for underrepresented and marginalised talent across the industry, partnering with organisations such as Creative Equals and the UK Black and Brilliant Advocacy Network. I’m also a member of industry working groups including Black Representation in Marketing and the Advertising Associations All-In ‘Black Talent’ Representation Group. Within those groups, we’re looking at the structural and operational changes, as well as behaviours, that leaders need to instil to ensure greater inclusivity. We’re putting in a lot of work around transparency and progression, and we’re laser-focused on key KPIs and targets to hold leaders accountable. We’re also carrying out unconscious bias training and partnering with other organisations to drive change across the industry.
For me, it needs to be part of a holistic program towards long-term change. There needs to be communication and engagement with all employees, particularly those from under-represented backgrounds to understand their lived experience, and the wider workforce to explain not only how to create an inclusive organisation but also why it’s critical for the businesses success. In a creative industry, having a diverse workforce brings a breadth of thought which helps us develop more innovative and effective ideas. RDEI needs to be as integral as any other strategy or initiative which delivers value for the business. If leaders approach it this way, then ensuring your people are able to make the time and space to dedicate to it becomes a priority.
I think leadership is highly contextual: there are different styles of leadership and different traits of leaders, and something which works well in one environment won’t necessarily succeed in the next. But if you want to create an inclusive environment, there are a few key things you will need: empathy and emotional intelligence, personal integrity and authenticity, proactive collaboration, and a growth mindset. As a leader, you need to have a high degree of humility and self-awareness; it’s crucial to be constantly learning. You need to find people who know more than you in certain areas and bring them together. Remember that leading isn’t about you, it’s about your team. Leadership is also about solving problems, so you need to be able to think laterally. Finally, it’s crucial to be a great communicator: you need to help your team through challenging times, inspire them towards a goal, and show people how their role contributes to the greater whole.
I feel as though I am always developing. No matter the role or environment I am working in, I have always tried to take on things which challenged me and helped me to grow. As a leader, the biggest challenge I have faced was realising that sometimes you need to change your style and approach for the good of your team. For example, I highly value transparency and candour, but I have worked in environments where that can be problematic. You need to understand where the culture of a business comes from: things are the way they are for a reason. Whether you like those reasons or not. So sometimes you need to thread the needle between the environment and your personal style.
Those things are intrinsically linked, particularly in the creative industries. Currently, there’s a lot of focus on AI and automation, which will unequivocally transform our industry, but this is still a sector which is powered by human talent and imagination. Trust, integrity, and collaboration are so critical to the success of creative businesses. The core of our commercial success lies in human imagination and skills collaboration, coming together to solve problems for clients.
In our careers, we all reach a crossroads where we’re not sure where to go next. One of my mentors told me that if you aren’t sure you’re in the right place, ask yourself if you are earning, learning, and enjoying. At a minimum, you need two out of three of those things: if you don’t, it’s not the right place for you in the long term.
To add a second, one of the best pieces of life advice I’ve ever heard is to understand the value of time. Time is the most valuable resource you have, but it’s also the easiest to lose, so you need to make the most of it.