Omniwomen UK + ALLIES Summit

Last Friday I arrived at the wonderful City Hall in Westminster for the annual Omniwomen UK Summit! Having not attended before I didn’t know what to expect but from what I had heard I knew I was in for a treat.

This year, the event was hosted by Ali Gee (Deputy CEO & Senior Partner FleishmanHillard Fishburn) and Victoria Buchanan (Executive Creative Director Tribal DDB), a fabulous double act to usher everyone through the day’s events. The morning kicked off with a few sobering facts…whilst huge progress has been made over the last few years there is still some way to go:

  • 50% of Senior positions and boardroom roles are now held by women in media agencies
  • 39% of Senior Creative positions are held by women, down by 6%.

Whilst gender equality in the workplace is clearly a big focus of the discussion driven by International Women’s Day, the conversation really has widened to cover a wide range of topics to support diversity in all its forms. This was well reflected by this year’s theme…’Diverse Paths to leadership’. The speakers certainly represented extremely diverse careers and backgrounds – we were treated to an inspirational range of stories from colleagues, politicians, CEO’s and even an exceptionally talented poet! Whilst I could talk at length about all of what I heard on Friday, I’ve picked a few top themes I’d like to share with you all.

It’s not about numbers, it’s about stories: This really struck me throughout the day. Many of the speakers spoke about the significance of data to frame the conversation and an absolutely necessary aid to put a stake in the ground for progress, particularly in areas where progress seems to be slow such as in government. The Guardian’s recent data project entitled, ‘The Bias of Britain’ is really worth a read to frame the conversation about diversity and the long journey ahead of us in the UK. But we must remember that behind every statistic is a person, with real experiences. The personal stories shared on stage were done so with such openness, pride and honesty. We should all be proud of who we are no matter where we come from or the upbringing we have had. Conversation is absolutely vital if we are tackle diversity issues head on, we are still people when we come to work and we shouldn’t dampen our true selves just to ‘fit in’ to the norm. Normal kills creativity, diversity feeds creativity and in our industry, this is not only important in the workplace but to our clients, in the way, we advise them to represent their products and services.

Share the Power/Make Space: Perhaps the most surprising theme from the day, but one which makes total sense on reflection. Both Ruth Hunt (Chief Executive of Stonewall) and Sophie Walker (Former Leader of the Women’s Equality Party) announced on stage their decision to step back from their position of power and leadership. Perhaps the old definition of power from the history books (masculine, military and combative) is now being challenged by what both Ruth and Sophie represent, two powerful women, accepting that the time has come to pass their power to the next generation of representatives to allow the space for new ideas and fresh ways of thinking. The take away here is about ensuring that within teams, there is enough space created to allow individuals to shine.

Silence can be deadly: The first-afternoon panel was entitled ‘Breaking the Silence’, a session I was particularly looking forward to. We can’t shy away from the hard facts, mental health effect’s us all and one of the most dangerous aspects of it is that those suffering tend to clam up and internalise what they are going through. The panellists, Claire Sanderson (Editor in Chief, Women’s Health), Sean Betts (Managing Director, Annalect), Jessica Geary (Senior Digital Media Director RAPP) spoke so openly about their personal experiences with depression, burn out and hyper-empathy, their mission to show that talking about something really is the first step to a better future. Talking with our friends and colleagues, asking questions and ‘being there’ in times of need became really prevalent in the panel discussion.

To close, a few thoughts to leave you with:

Education is a privilege – current projections suggest that by 2030, half of the world’s children won’t have an education. We have a duty to support the next generation and set them up for success. This is something OMD are proud to continue to support and Dan & Jess will no doubt have an exciting update after their trip to Eastside Young Leader’s Academy in East London this weekend.

Privilege can be invisible to those who have it – we all have a duty to look out for those less fortunate than ourselves, whether that’s through charities we support or identifying those who need an ally along the way…where we can help break down barriers, we should!

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Charlotte Bell

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