Voices

Lessons in Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership isn’t about what you say, it's about how you act.

Elly Hulance, Creative and Ozoda Muminova, Founder of The Good Insight

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The importance of inclusive, human-centric leadership has been a key theme of the pandemic. Yet writing about is all too often an easier path than walking the walk and making the changes necessary to nurture truly inclusive cultures which allow people to fulfil their potential and bring their whole selves to work. 

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the experience of supporting your staff through the many stages of grief and loss in the workplace. A need which is at the top of the agenda this week during Baby Loss Awareness Week, a week which offers the opportunity for people to talk openly about and raise awareness of baby loss and pregnancy loss. 

With this in mind Elly Hulance and Ozoda Muminova, share their experiences of working for Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals and the importance of prioritising flexibility, time and patience in leadership. 

Ozoda Muminova 

Ozoda Muminova is an independent data consultant and founder of The Good Insight, which works with purpose-led organisations. Her clients include Creative Equals, Black Pound Report, Good Agency and The Guardian. Previously Ozoda held various data and research positions at The Guardian, the BBC, M&C Saatchi, Agency.com and The Telegraph.

If there were Living One’s Values awards, Ali Hanan and Creative Equals would have been the most decorated.

I have worked with Ali since 2017 as a freelance data consultant. Together with Ali and Elly Hulance we have created Creative Equals’ Equality Standard.

Ali has supported me through my mum’s terminal cancer, where I had to spend most of 2018 abroad. Ali provided me with all the flexibility, time and patience that I needed to be able to care for my mum. She has also supported me through miscarriage and my mum’s death; both devastating events that happened in close succession. Not only she allowed me to take projects at my own pace but also was a strong and empathetic shoulder to cry on.

If all clients and employers were like Creative Equals, parents (mothers especially) wouldn’t have that all consuming guilt that they were letting their children down and not delivering at work. Instead they would have clear heads to create, innovate and achieve, whilst providing a nurturing environment for their children. Great things could happen.

Ozoda Muminova, data consultant and founder of The Good Insight

She was amazing through my subsequent very anxious pregnancy, moving deadlines and providing a listening ear when I thought I would never be able to keep any food down. And most importantly Ali helped me not to feel isolated during my 18-month long maternity leave in the lockdown. She always kept in-touch, bringing me in on projects, despite by now having a large stellar data team. And all at my own pace - only an hour or two a week, scheduling team meetings only when I could make it. Ali has been reminding me that work was always there for me to come back to whenever I felt ready to start. 

Imagine if all clients/employers were like that? The workplace would have been successfully transformed, and women wouldn’t feel like they had to choose between family and careers. Instead, a pre-pandemic survey found that fewer than 1 in 5 women felt confident in returning to work, and more than 1 in 3 felt so unsupported that they handed in their notice.

Covid restrictions brought another source of anxiety to returning mothers (or fathers who are primary carers): will they be able to get back up to speed? 

In our NCT group of six, I am the lucky one. Three new mothers had to return to work after 12 months of maternity with little to no support from their employers, one had no option but to return on 5 days a week or lose her job. 

If all clients and employers were like Creative Equals, parents (mothers especially) wouldn’t have that all consuming guilt that they were letting their children down and not delivering at work. Instead they would have clear heads to create, innovate and achieve, whilst providing a nurturing environment for their children. Great things could happen. 

Elly Hulance, Creative

Elly is a creative, children's author and mama. Previously a UX Designer (for clients such as Nike, Argos, Dove and Burberry), now she's an advocate for children's metabolic disorder Nonketotic Hyperglycinemiea (NKH), raising awareness and funds for NKH Research. She also keeps her hand in the creative game by working with Creative Equals, promoting diversity and inclusion in the creative space.

I had planned to work after having my baby. Sure, I’d give myself as much time as I needed, but working was pretty integral to how I saw myself, and I’d worked so hard, given so many years to build up my skill set and a career I enjoyed.

Except, right after birth my son was diagnosed with a rare and terminal metabolic disorder. He was given weeks, if that. That entire first six months was a blur of NICU life, medical emergencies, and hospice end of life care. I learned to speak with medical vocabulary, administer meds and how to navigate the NHS, and my son's growing team of medical professionals. 

Ali has done what no other employer I’ve ever heard of has done - she took me on as I was, in my entirety, as a Mum to a disabled child who also has a plethora of skills and decades of experience.

Elly Hulance, Creative

We’d just been discharged from hospice, when Ali checked in to see how we were. How was I feeling, what was going on? How can she help? I felt so removed from my old self, and practically begged Ali to let me help her, to give me a reason to use my brain for something not medical related, so I could find some normalcy. She brought lunch and a vision. Our post covered my living room table by the end of the meal, and was the very first iteration of the Equality Standard.

Thankfully, four years later my son is still with us. But he is severely disabled, and has more medical emergencies than I’d like.

Ali has done what no other employer I’ve ever heard of has done - she took me on as I was, in my entirety, as a Mum to a disabled child who also has a plethora of skills and decades of experience. 

She sent work my way when I was available, and understood that my son took precedence over jobs. That flexibility and support was everything. It meant keeping my hand in the game, keeping my career alive, it meant financial support. It meant keeping something for me, a spot in my life where I felt confident and capable, sure of myself. When your son is palliative, uncertainty takes over. Creative Equals was a bright spot, by comparison. 

It obviously has meant some flexibility on my part too - I’ve since been across all parts of Creative Equals, from product design to pitches, running audits, tidying decks or writing social content. Designing branding or Facebook posts or analysing data, onboarding new staff or filing. Jack of all trades, with a “roll my sleeves, wherever I am needed today” attitude. There is no ego here. I work where I’m needed, and I’m grateful. 

The truth is, I can’t get a job anywhere else - I’m seen as too unreliable. I can’t commit to a set number of days or hours, I may have to drop off calls unexpectedly or pass on projects that I don’t have the bandwidth for. But with Creative Equals they understand that if I’m unavailable, it’s because my family needs me. They see that I’m more than just my availability, and they value the work I do, when I’m able to do it.

Because of this support, I was able to work through IVF, and the birth of my second son. I didn’t have to choose between my family and work. I didn’t have to give up my job. 

Because at Creative Equals they practice what they preach. I’m supported by the team - no judgement- and in return I’m fiercely loyal. I do the best I can, and since then we’ve done a lot of amazing work together.

17 percent of women leave employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to four percent of men. And while 26 percent of men have been promoted or moved to a better job in the five years following childbirth, the figure is just 13 percent for women.

Would this still be the case if more businesses were supportive of those with duties that prevent the regular 9-5? If  it provides flexible working, and safe working environments?

It’s possible. Creative Equals has shown it is.