When building culture at an organisation, openness and honesty are of the utmost importance. They’re the building blocks that allow for not only communication between people at all levels, but also breaking down barriers that might have otherwise been in place. A company and its output can only be strengthened when diverse voices are allowed to speak their mind—not only coming down from the top but throughout the workforce. This leads to a sense of safety and shared respect that is truly invaluable.
I sort of fell into it. I studied English because I loved writing and I wanted to be a journalist. Naturally, I imagined I’d be the editor of Condé Nast Traveller, travelling the world, but I ended up in business magazines. I started at Marketing (which later merged with Campaign). I spent a lot of time with ad agencies and I grew to love the culture and the work they did. Eventually, I got to the point where I wanted to be doing what I was writing about. I got a job at a small boutique agency called MCBD doing internal public relations (PR) and afterwards, I held a number of positions at adam&eveDDB, where I stayed for ten years until last February when I came to McCann.
The people. I’m still such good friends with many of the people I have previously worked with. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn’t have those friendships with former bosses and colleagues. And also being in a creative environment, I’m surrounded by makers. I’m not in a creative role, but I get to flex my creative side in many ways.
You can have all the initiatives and policies in the world, but change only comes when you’re really committed to opening your eyes. At my previous agency, we had an incredible Head of DE&I, Bukola Garry, who personally helped me start on a journey of learning and living and breathing change.
At McCann, we have a 100-year-old guiding principle: ‘Truth Well Told’. Essentially it means that when the truth is told, things change for the better. It’s one of the many things that attracted me to the agency. Agencies talk about authentic storytelling in the work that they do for their clients — and Truth Well Told encapsulates it perfectly.
It also underpins the way we work and our own agency culture. We want everyone here to have a platform to share their story and have a voice, irrespective of their role or level, and there are a number of ways we do this. We have Monday morning meetings where anyone can share their work and we have monthly all-agency informal lunches called the Big Table centred on a moment in culture. We also run virtual workshops called Atomic Soup, always around a theme (such as Modern Parenthood, Death, Immigration and 21st Century Intimacy) and hosted by someone passionate about it. It leads to really interesting insights that we can take into our work and gives people a chance to talk about their own experiences at the same time. It’s led to so many brilliant pieces of work that have gone on to be really successful. We’ve also been focused this year on giving as many people as possible the opportunity to come up with thought leadership ideas for articles in the press and panels, rather than just our senior people.
It all has to come from the top, and transparency is key to that — admitting we don’t have all the answers and acknowledging that in the EDI space, solutions aren’t going to be immediate. It’s a journey and the work does not stop. We have to hold ourselves accountable by tracking data, marking progress, and communicating it. The Advertising Association also does an anonymous EDI-focused ‘All In’ Census every year, which is brilliant for benchmarking and comparing with our own internal employee surveys. I was one of three women who joined the McCann London Leadership Team - over 50% of our C-Suite are women and we have women leaders across all disciplines (leadership, strategy, creative, ops, HR) which is quite unusual in our industry. Having said that, we have progress to make in other areas and tracking that is really important.
It’s a no-brainer that people perform better when they’re happy. As leaders, we need to create a culture where everyone can be open about their well-being so we can support them and catch them before they fall. And that’s not just the work of Human Resources (HR). Everyone across the organisation should have their eyes open, but particularly those in leadership roles — we have a pastoral responsibility in that way. But I think we can only do that if we as leaders are open ourselves. When I’m having a bad day or week or can’t concentrate due to something going on in my life, I tend to be upfront about it, and I think people appreciate that.
A meaningful moment doesn’t have to take long. And those moments are really important in building relationships and driving belonging and inclusion. Even just two minutes at the coffee bar can mean a lot.