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Unleashing the true Power of Different

By Florencia Giampaoletti

Unleashing the true Power of Different

Last year, Proximity London created its first Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee (DISCo): A group of people interested in creating conversation around diversity of gender, race, sexuality, (dis)abilities, socioeconomic background, personalities, etc. After many meetings discussing opinions, ideas and initiatives, we agreed we couldn't make a change without having the whole agency on board. From the intern, to the CEO - if they didn't see the issues, we'd never get to a solution. So we decided to organise a whole week of training and talks to educate Proximity London. And we quickly realised how we ourselves needed that education the most.

One of the first things we learned is: there's no point talking about diversity if we don't do the inclusion part right. It's not about showing how diverse we are (and/or could be), it's about taking a good look at ourselves and assessing whether we have the right processes in place for everyone to be included, 'regardless of who they are'. Because we're all the same, right? (yeah, we're not).

The next thing we quickly corrected was our language around ‘treating everyone the same regardless'. Because while looking for all of the reasons why having 'diverse' people on your team was 'Actually a good thing! It pays off! It's so worth it you guys!', we realised it wasn't about trying to sell D&I. It was about how silly we'd be wanting to be 'the same', how crucial it is to be able to bring what makes you different to your work and how powerful it is for your team and your company to all be different.

The Power of Different - Proximity London Inclusivity Week was then officially born as a moment for the agency to stop and think: what are the challenges that people face, what can we do about it and how can we make it happen?


My highlights of the week


The week started with Sam Phillips, who covered her own experience with disability at home, the work they've been doing at Omnicom and their plan. She also reminded us all what privilege is by sharing one of the simplest, yet most powerful analogies ever.

Femi Otitoju from Challenge Consultancy wowed us again with her Unconscious Bias Training. Some of us attended for the second year in a row, and it moved us as much, if not more than last time. Femi reminded us that we all make most of our choices unconsciously and these biases have power. They affect the people we interact with every day, but we can train ourselves to be conscious of these decisions and change our associations where possible. We learned how our job vacancy descriptions can be written for a very particular type of person and how can we use positive images in certain environments to break stereotypes. All in all, Femi proved that we can’t talk about diversity and inclusion without first having a good look at our own explicit and implicit associations.

Our Executive Creative Director JT showed us that when the talking isn't backed by the doing, your 'woke' campaign isn't only worthless, but an insult. For example, if you're going to create an ad about women’s rights, make sure you first take a good look at your wage gap, female representation in the C-suite, maternity leave policies, etc.

Getty Images’ Guy Merrill and Claudia Goretti showed us how educating and challenging themselves, clients and photographers ensures their images portray diversity in all forms. As a result, their visuals feel genuine, fight stereotypes and allow all people to be represented in what will become client work. Did I hear you worry about the fine line between diversity in images and tokenism? Do it anyway. Just make sure you're asking yourself these questions, and that you're involving the right (diverse) people in production and behind the camera.

Nicole Pickett reminded us that our mental health is way more important than work. Yes, we all know that. But still we just keep just saying it, instead of saying ‘no’ more often. It made us think about loads of things personally, but as an agency, maybe it's about time we get more strict about those out-of-hours emails, for example. There’s more to do before our working culture allows everyone to talk openly about mental health issues.

A panel chaired by Nicola Kemp, Managing Editor of BITE, taught us about how conversations around D&I need to start with knowledge and data to track progress. The panel was formed by Asad Dhunna, Director of Comms for Pride and Founder of The Unmistakables, Leila Siddiqi, Head of Diversity at the IPA, Sarah Newton, Ex Minister of State for Disabled People, and Stephen Marchant, Chair of OPEN and Strategic President of Chameleon. The discussion reminded us how far we are from representing the general UK population in our industry (and the work we produce). It was also stressed that catering for minorities also means talking to audiences with billions of pounds to spend (in case the humanity side of things wasn’t attractive enough for senior boards). A key, practical take-out was that The Unmistakables can literally help you create a company environment and work that is genuinely inclusive. And you can also sign up to Minoritease for free to receive a daily WhatsApp text with headlines and links to news around minorities. I can’t think of any excuse not to start learning about other people’s challenges and perspectives.

Ian Crocombe, Director at Facebook’s Creative Shop, acknowledged the lack of representation of society in the industry. As a white man, he hinted that the reason there’s a lack of men in diversity initiatives might be because they just don’t know enough about the issue. And not knowing about something equals mumbling, awkwardness and feeling uncomfortable, which you’d naturally try to avoid.

This made me think of Brene Brown and how the most courageous people allow themselves to be vulnerable. Because it does take courage to break the status quo, to allow ourselves to feel ignorant, to recognise when we still have work to do and when it’s time to pass the mic to those who need the platform the most.

And talking about courage... we were completely humbled, educated by Andy Grant's absolutely amazing story. A life some could think of as traumatic, completely turned around by him and him alone to make it the best life he could have wished for. He deserves a whole other article to himself, but nothing will do justice to his story as much as his own book, You'll Never Walk. Prepare to cry, but also to learn how excellence can be achieved no matter your circumstances. Thank you, Andy. You've inspired us all.



How to turn words into action


Hearing so many inspiring speakers has been eye-opening for all of us. But the most challenging part now is to make sure we use what we’ve learnt to fuel positive change. And the answers lie in asking the right questions. It takes courage to stop and think as a company, to question yourselves, to listen, to learn and start making real changes. To be better for our teams, our clients, our customers. It takes real humility to question yourself and your company: are we involving the right people? And are we involving them for the right reasons, and in the right way? Are we ready to get uncomfortable? Are we going to follow up the talking with the doing? Are we ready to challenge our colleagues and our clients if needs be, regardless of who they are and how much money they bring into the business? Are we creating a culture where 'different' people can express their opinions, regardless of their seniority? And a culture where these are actually taken on board? Are we looking for those 'different' people, in the right places and with the right intentions? Are we doing everything we can to level the playing field for everyone (not by treating everyone the same)?

Because catering for the majority won't take you anywhere. Because we are all different, and different means we need to educate ourselves about everyone’s individual struggles. So once we're ready to answer all of these questions with confidence and humility (because there's always something we can be doing better), we'll be able, together, to realise the true Power of Different.


Thank you to all the speakers that made our first Inclusivity week unforgettable. And a massive thank you to the team that made it happen. Now bear with us, we’re busy in the background turning all of the talking and learning into doing.