Thought Leadership

‘Get comfortable with the uncomfortable’

Five key learnings from Havas’ National Inclusion Week event.

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


‘Take action, make impact’ was the theme of this year's National Inclusion Week. A focus which urged businesses to consider how the actions we make can impact how people feel in the workplace and beyond. To mark National Inclusion Week Havas’ employee resource groups Adapt, Pride, Embrace and Women of Havas came together to consider how to take action, make impact and become better allies in the workplace. 

In a session chaired by Creativebrief’s Editorial Director, Nicola Kemp, panellists Marty Davies (she/they), Joint CEO of Outvertising, Co-Founder of Trans+ Adland and Founder of creative consultancy Smarty Pants; Casey Shaw (she/her), Activation Manager at ITV and Co-Chair of ITV’s Disability network, ITV Able; Tash Koster-Thomas (she/her), Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advocate, Consultant and Speaker, Co-Founder of LGBTQIA+ Travel and relationship blog, Breaking the Distance; and Lori Meakin (she/her), Co-Founder of Joint, WACL Executive member, Founder of The Others & Me, and Author of ‘No More Menemies’, came together to consider what tangible actions employees can take to become better allies. As well as what impact they might have and how to continue to make the workplace more inclusive for everyone.

In a workplace where we are constantly learning from one another and where inclusion is a work in progress, here are five key takeaways from the event.

1. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

Inclusion means different things to different people, and the panel discussed the fact that this means not everyone is going to have all the knowledge or all the answers. Yet, before progress can be made we have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and approach unknown territory head on. Where we may lack certain experiences on an individual level, the fear of getting things wrong can hold us back. 

Yet, as author Alain de Botton, wrote: “Anyone who isn't embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn't learning enough.” So getting comfortable with discomfort is the key to personal growth, learning and doing better.

“Fear can manifest from ignorance but goes with knowledge” shares one panellist. They continued: “If we reframe fear with curiosity with that comes growth.” Dismantling the reasons we feel uncomfortable and facing that shame head-on can lead to breakthrough conversations. However, we must be mindful to approach discomfort with genuine respect and curiosity to create the most productive conversations. 

2. It all starts with addressing your privilege 

The word privilege is one that can fill many with discomfort but the panelists stressed the importance of privilege and acknowledging its power. While the word can have negative connotations and make people feel as though they have been ‘stripped of struggle’, our own privilege can be a superpower to push toward better inclusion.

Rather than seeing privilege as a dirty word, the panel urges us to approach it more pragmatically, in that privilege is simply the absence of an impediment in a certain area; be it a lack of financial struggle or access to a good education. The panel discussed how in a society where ‘struggle is seen as a badge of honour’ we must avoid ‘competitive trauma’ and consider how privilege can be powerful. Once we embrace our own privileges the path to inclusion in turn becomes clearer and as individuals we can understand how to be a better ally to others.

3. Studying doesn’t stop after school

The book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez points to the ways in which the world simply isn’t built for women. From car crash test dummies to medical trials the white male is the standard to which others are held up to. Understanding the challenges that different groups face and understanding how this impacts people day to day is a significant step toward understanding what reasonable adjustments need to be made in the workplace. The panel discussed the simple truth that the world simply isn’t a level playing field. 

Beyond the myths and misconceptions, look toward stats and facts. The Advertising Association's All In survey found that over a quarter of LGB people are likely to leave the industry within the next 12 months - higher than the industry average (27% vs 21%). Stats like this need to be examined, unpicked and worked back to the root cause in order for us to create a better workplace.

When considering the cold hard facts, unlocking insights which can drive inclusion can also lead to better products and better creative work. The panel used Bumble as an example of how creating a product based on insight can lead to huge commercial success. Bumble’s founder noticed a flaw in the female experience of dating and built a whole new business crafted around that basic, very real issue faced by a particular group. One panelist urged the audience to look for what is missing, sharing: “We must consider what we are missing and think how we can better understand to solve issues and create better?” Practical steps to do this included joining different networks within your business, learning from colleagues and being open to education.

4.  Allyship is a journey

Embracing a learning mindset is particularly important as allyship is a journey. Not everyone has all the answers and individuals are nuanced so different people need different things. 

The panellists discussed the idea of intersectionality, a term coined by US Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who studied the intersectionality of two different identities. “Often we are only seen as one identity but often initiatives in feminism mostly benefit white women or initiatives seeking to increase racial diversity only benefit men of colour, people sit at missed intersections. We need to ask, are we looking at one aspect of a person or a whole person?” shared one panellist. 

Looking beyond the binary and considering intersectionality might mean that current inclusion initiatives aren’t fully benefiting who they are intended for. Being open to testing and learning and accepting we might not have all the answers is important.

In an industry where insight is so important and where we strive to be experts, looking to others to learn is important. Yet the panel warns not to ‘mine talent for trauma’. For example, not all trans people are trans inclusion experts, they have their own unique trans experience which is filled with joy as well as trauma. And so simply creating a space where people can feel comfortable to be themselves and accepting that diverse talent won’t always have all the answers can be the most productive approach. 

5. Inclusion is just the first step

In ‘The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety’ inclusion is the number one step. Making a psychologically safe workplace is particularly important as one panellist shares that “masking identity takes away from productivity, up to 20/40% of working memory”. Masking identity comes from negative experiences such as when a Trans person is misgendered in the workplace, which can take them out of their working mind. The onus is on leaders to create this safe, inclusive space, where people not only feel comfortable being themselves but also to disclose.

Disability can often be something overlooked, “there are misconceptions it comes with change and higher cost but this isn’t true, small changes can make big impact” shares the panel. “Have continuous conversations about people, their needs, adjustments. Make a more accessible website. Spending money on office access will futureproof buildings so it's worth investing.” Taking these actionable steps to make a more inclusive environment also makes businesses more appealing. Pronoun sharing is another simple, yet meaningful way to be more inclusive. Culture is then built on top of these tangible nuts and bolts of inclusion.

Leaders need to allow the space for talent to ask for what they need based on insight not guesswork. “When you ask pre-meeting ‘do you need any adjustments’, offer information first so people can make informed answers and share needs instead of guessing. What does support look like for you?”

Creating space, making time to learn and having these meaningful conversations about inclusion helps gather the insight to build the safe environments we strive for. Beyond National Inclusion Week we must turn these insights into tangible action to create true positive impact in order to become the best allies we can be.

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