Workplace Leaders
Wunderman Thompson
Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity

Sufia Sheikh-Hussain

Creating a positive company culture is not an easy task, and it takes a holistic approach that combines both top-down buy-in and initiatives with grassroots projects that centre marginalised voices.

Max Webber, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Sufia Hussain, EMEA Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity at Wunderman Thompson, a leading global integrated marketing and advertising agency. With over 20 years of multifaceted experience spanning business development, talent management and D&I, Sufia shared her invaluable perspectives on holistically cultivating inclusion and belonging within fast-paced creative environments for the long haul.

Sufia's Journey

Max: Could you start by introducing yourself and your role at Wunderman Thompson?

My name is Sufia Hussain, and I work within the creative marketing and advertising industry, specifically at Wunderman Thompson, where I’ve been for just under two years now in my current role. However, my overall experience within this creative industry spans over two decades in various capacities. In my present role, I’m focused on amplifying marginalised groups’ experiences by actively fostering the conditions for psychological safety and authentic belonging for each and every employee. I love the equity aspect of the work – meeting people where they want to be met, rather than assuming universal needs. But in simple terms, I ensure inclusion enables our people to do their best creative work in service of our clients.

Max: You mentioned over 20 years of creative industry experience – what initially led you to specialise in diversity, equity and inclusion from other areas like business development? 

I was in an executive BD role for over a decade. As I evolved in that commercial role, I started recognising that mainstream brands were largely failing to authentically connect with their rapidly growing multicultural consumer base. I pioneered a new division focused on providing that multicultural market expertise to clients. However, it quickly became apparent that representation within our own organisation needed addressing before we could fully deliver these external insights. So, while it wasn’t an overnight switch, I began informally investing more and more in what we now call D&I. Then, when my youngest child started primary school, I set a personal goal to reinvigorate my career. Fortuitously, leadership recognised leadership potential in me. They created a tailored talent role for me to shape and own D&I. That transitional opportunity made my eventual shift into an official global D&I role smooth and seamless.  

Max: With D&I becoming so prominent, what are some of the key initiatives or programs you’ve created at Wunderman Thompson to foster that genuine sense of inclusion and belonging within your creative teams?

There are truly many interconnected parts that enable sustainable inclusion and belonging. First and foremost, buy-in and role modelling from the top down through policies, decisions, and behaviours is crucial. Structured learning and development opportunities are also vital to developing key D&I muscles and mindsets across teams. Grassroots cultural moments led by our people empower and reinforce the desired culture we’re building where all employees feel they belong and can contribute. Our “All In” survey checks the organisational temperature on inclusion and other topics – it affirms we're collectively accountable for progress. Inclusion group partnerships provide connection and outlets for belonging. Ultimately, we aim to meet employees where they are rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach dictated from the top.

Max: With your vast, multi-industry experience, what have you found to be the single most impactful factor to date in enabling tangible inclusion and diversity progress? 

There are two key pillars – systemic and behavioural change. Our policies, practices and processes cannot be barriers that end up indirectly marginalising certain groups. Behavioural change happens through learning, evolving recruitment approaches, employee resource groups, safe spaces and much more. But if I had to choose just one linchpin that enables D&I impact and progress, it’s investment. Investment in dedicated D&I personnel, budgets to bring ideas to life, and operating funds to properly resource the vision and strategies. Leadership buy-in and modelling is crucial, but tangible resourcing empowers measurable change.

Max: Sustaining this type of holistic cultural change is difficult, especially within a high-paced creative environment like advertising. What have you found most effective for driving enduring engagement across the organisation?  

It’s about framing it as a shared journey, not disconnected one-off initiatives. Employees quickly disengage if they don't feel fully seen or involved in the evolution. I bring disenfranchised voices into co-designing solutions rather than forcing change upon them – people generally want to actively participate in positive change. Giving staff ownership for D&I shifts it from an “extra” activity that gets delegated to underrepresented groups alone to something they intrinsically want to champion and lead. I aim to be a support system, not a sole driver. People constantly amaze me with their energy, ideas and leadership when given this kind of creative autonomy. It’s about empowering the many, not dictating from the few.

Max: If you had one piece of advice to offer anyone entering the world of D&I, HR or people management, what would it be?

Consistency and leaving a positive legacy. In often isolating roles driving change, consistently show up each day driven by purpose and human impact, regardless of external validation. Your work may not receive daily applause, but stay dedicated to the vision. And consider your impact on whoever inherits your D&I projects – intentionally make it easier for the next person to pick up the torch. Uplift what you touch so your positive mark is recognisable. Combine unrelenting consistency with enriching the legacy you leave.

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Max Webber
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