Diversity, and broader accessibility to opportunities, have always been subjects close to my heart. If I had one wish for humanity, it would be that we could construct a world that allows all people to live their best possible lives. There is this very dangerous assumption, by many in a position of privilege, that offering “equal opportunities” is doing a less privileged group of people a favour at their own expense. No wonder there are CEOs and Politicians who begrudge diversity targets and think that this “problem” is something the HR department need to sort out as part of a box ticking exercise. This attitude will not lead to the level of employee diversification that we need, because it is looking at it as a problem not an opportunity.
After going Freelance last spring, I’ve had more ownership of my time and it’s given me the opportunity to learn more from some really inspiring people. I was already a supporter of the charity Arts Emergency, but now I had the opportunity to meet with Neil Griffiths (their co-founder) to talk about their vision. His passion and enthusiasm were contagious, and it made me wish I could do more for them, beyond my monthly donation. I’m still working out what that might be, mind you! You can find out more about the fabulous work they do here: http://www.arts-emergency.org/
Below is the Arts Emergency manifesto, which I keep on display in my office as inspiration
Following a chance encounter at the theatre with Richard Rieser and Susie Burrows I learned about the work of UK Disability History Month (you can find out more for yourselves at http://ukdhm.org/ ). Because of my interest in the subject of accessibility, I was invited to an event at the Park Theatre about reshaping the future of Theatre and Disability, and subsequently the launch of Disability History Month in November. What was my key learning from these two events? That if we don’t open up our society to allow everybody to flourish, we are ALL missing out. Living in a cookie cutter world, that only works for those born with the approved ingredients for success, results in the stultification of society. People who engage with the world in different ways approach problems and opportunities from different angles.
At the Park Theatre event, theatre company Graeae did a live demonstration of how they would rehearse a piece with a mixed cast of actors (including deaf, blind and wheelchair using actors). What has stayed with me 3 months on, is the additional layers of creativity this brought to the piece. Instead of seeing the diversity on that stage as an obstacle, Graeae turned it into an opportunity to explore fresh ways into the piece that exploded out the key themes.
Why did this linger with me so much? Because it made me realise that too much of the media, political and corporate based conversations around diversity and accessibility are rooted in negatives. Advertising agencies should be looking to have a more diversified mix of employees, not because clients have started to demand it, but because they’ve recognised the benefit this will bring to their business. But in order to realise that potential, they need to stop treating diversification as an HR issue, and recognise the opportunities it could bring for structural change, and more agile work practices.
Hiring new and diverse talent is all well and good, so long as you don’t turn them into people who think and do just like you. Conformity is the death of creativity. Getting someone who grew up on a council estate to mimic someone with a public school education is a wasted opportunity. Instead you should allow them the flexibility to help shape the future of your agency. Be open to the change diversity should bring. Agility in advertising should not just be about reacting quickly to technologically driven media behaviour change, it should also be about giving your employees the space to thrive, flourish and be themselves.
This won’t always be easy, senior staff can become very attached to the well-worn processes that have helped drive their thinking and got them to that point in their careers. But if there is one thing that 2017 is already teaching us, it’s that the most dangerous thing you can cling to is your comfort zone. While we can not change some of the bigger political issues this world of ours faces, we can look to our own doorstep (or in this instance workplace) and actively listen to those that weren’t born with the platform of privilege. We can reshape our own small corners of the world to embrace all shapes and flavours of humanity.
Maybe it is a failure of my imagination, but I can’t see how a successfully diverse business could fail to deliver powerful and creative work.