What can we learn about the future of diversity from a failed quiz?
At The Future of Media, a room of Future 100 Club members transformed a media quiz show into a heated debate about the future of diversity and leadership in the media and advertising industry. Here’s what we learned from the discussion.
“This is a message for possibly the best supporters in the world. We need a 12th man. Where are you? Where are you? Let’s be having you! Come on!”
Delia Smith is not the most obvious person who springs to mind when you find yourself in the middle of an impassioned debate focused on talent, diversity and inclusion, but my mind couldn’t help but wander back her infamous halftime football rant nearly two decades ago as I stood watching and listening to the articulate, intelligent and sometimes frustrated voices at The Future of Media last week during the closing session we hosted exclusively for The Future 100 Club.
The grand finale of what had already been a brilliant couple of hours of inspiring content — including powerful sessions around mental health, how to find your voice, and what leadership looks like — pitted members from the Future 100 Club Class of 2022 against the Class of 2023, in what was promoted as Who Wants To Be A Media Leader? (which, in case you don’t know, is the number-one quiz show in media. Obviously)
We were only just getting warmed up when the contestants (Maria Shcheglakova from PubMatic, Charlene Williams from Pearl & Dean, Simon Akers from Archmon, Ryan D’Cruz from Hearst, Robyn Sumner from EssenceMediacom, and Pedro Ramos from Havas Media Network) were asked to identify the source behind a quote from an article in The Media Leader titled DEI is ‘no longer top of the agenda’: Why media needs equitable coaching that something wonderful happened.
The whole room came alive
“There is a lot of growth that needs to happen to keep people within our organisations,” D’Cruz said to open the debate, explaining he had to step out of the industry he had spent 15 years in to appreciate “a different set-up that allowed people to be creative.”
D’Cruz believes a challenge the industry faces is that we put people in boxes: “People fall into a structure and sometimes their talent or uniqueness doesn’t get to come out to the forefront.”
Awareness of the industry was flagged next when Sumner stated: “We’re an advertising agency (EssenceMediacom) but we don’t advertise ourselves very well.”
She went on to say that it wasn’t just getting in front of university-level candidates, but a better job must be done educating children at school and “showing them the benefits of getting into our industry.”
Phone a friend?
But the real gamechanger in this discussion came when it was opened to the floor in a room full of Future 100 Club members.
“We’ve got to get out of London,” said one person from the crowd, “because it prioritises affluence. I can see a future where each holdco has one office in each county so the [talent] doesn’t have to save up the money [to live in London] or rely on their parents, just to get in the door.”
I was already making the transition from quiz show host (bad jacket and all) to my best version of Fiona Bruce on Question Time (which wasn’t very good) as I pivoted back and forth from panel to audience, with everyone vehemently agreeing more needs to be done.
Every panellist had an opinion. As soon as one hand went up in the audience and they had their chance to make their point, another three shot up.
They patiently waited for me to get to them, but at the same time their trained eyes on me was enough of a warning to dare not give them their chance to speak.
Things were getting heated.
What is holding back change?
“I do question if we put leaders in this room, whether they would make the change,” said one audience member, clearly frustrated. “We have been having this conversation for so long, and it hasn’t moved on. What is the change that is going to make them sit up and take notice?”
“It’s money, 100%,” Williams said in response, as the room nodded and murmured in agreement.
It was at that point I gave the room the option to shelve the quiz format and continue with this debate, which was unanimously agreed to. And it was the right thing to do, even if it meant the audience would miss out on the pretty impressive PowerPoint slides I had painstakingly created. But I wasn’t upset about it. Much.
But it was all for the greater good, and as the clock ticked past the allocated time slot to finish the conference, it was apparent this room were not ready to finish. They were only just getting started.
What is next?
“[The] change will come from [this] generation within this industry,” Ramos said, and the consensus in the room was that until that change happens, it will stay the same.
He wants more recognition for the people who are doing the work, adding: “This industry is measured on awards,” and making the point that those who did the work should be front and centre to really bring to life the diversity that created that success.
It was at this point that Delia popped into my mind. Not because I was peckish and thinking about the canapés they had started to serve outside 15 minutes ago, but because it was in that moment I knew the one thing missing in this room that should be hearing this was the current leaders.
Akers said the industry needs to embrace different types of people more, and fast: “You have a suite of different types of people who want to feel like they belong in this industry [and] I want to see every type of person in the room with a client. You can’t be all the people, and sell to the people, if you are not all the people.”
Williams summed it up perfectly what everyone in that room could do to make a significant difference. “My motto in life is to be the change I want to see in the world.”
She addressed the room of Future 100 members by telling them: “As a future leader, be the leader you wanted. So if you want to retain talent, what would have retained you? For me, I like to be nurtured and being made to feel valued, and respected. So as a leader, those are the values I should be empowering my team.”
“Be human [as] that is the best way to retain your talent.”
Shcheglakova had the final word, hoping that this conversation would amplify outside of the four walls of that conference room. “Directly ask the clients. What do they want? What do they care about? Do they really care about ticking the box? I don’t think so, I think they want real change as well. A great leader is one that doesn’t just listen, but hears as well, and that should be the future.”
As we concluded he conversation, that had already run 30 minutes over its allocated time slot, I made a promise to the room that The Media Leader would continue to champion the issues that meant so much to the as future leaders, and my hope is that in 2024, we can get the current leaders together with this crop of brilliant media minds to once and for all start down the path to real change.
Steve Scaffardi is managing director of Adwanted Events & Publishing.