BITE Focus

Collective consciousness: Learnings from Ogilvy’s internal employee groups

In the midst of the enforced remote working ushered in by coronavirus, employee engagement networks have never been more vital to driving the diversity and inclusion agenda.


In the myriad of lessons from the coronavirus crisis, the notion that agency culture lives not within the style of the four walls of their offices, but in the people who reside within them has been top of the list.

For agencies such as Ogilvy, the benefits of having well-established employee networks will be felt long after this pandemic subsides. In a wide-ranging discussion hosted by Izzy Ashton, Deputy Editor of BITE, Natalie Narh, Vice-Chair of Ogilvy Roots and Social Content Creative, Sarah Duggan, Co-Chair of Ogilvy Equals and Creative Copywriter and Gabi Field, Head and Founder of Ogilvy ReWired and Junior Strategic Planner explored the importance of building internal communities. These communities create spaces in which people feel empowered to speak up.

For Duggan the role of these networks is vital in pushing for progress when it comes to addressing inclusion. “If something feels wrong don't wait for permission to make change,” she says. While urging management to, “give the time, the funds and the freedom to make change because the more diverse the culture you have, the better the work is.”

It is all about redefining what a safe space should be. That willingness to listen to others helps drive people to make everyday changes.

Gabriella Field

Holding space

Employee networks can work to identify and answer the question that, even in 2020, is holding the industry back when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Namely: “is this industry for me?” The sense of belonging and shared space created by employee networks was a core theme of the discussion.

For Natalie Narh, Vice Chair of Ogilvy Roots, Ogilvy’s Pipe internship was her route into the industry. "If it wasn't for the Pipe I don’t know how I would have entered that building," she explained. Now she is ensuring that ladder is extended to an even greater diversity of talent coming into the network.

Ogilvy Roots has been instrumental in driving WPP’s industry-leading approach to building an actively anti-racist company. There are now 20 Roots networks across the whole WPP network. It’s an employee network that is successfully impacting every level of the business. 

“We focus on the people, the agency and the work we create,” explains Narh. This has included setting out clear and tangible ways to shift the narrative. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd Ogilvy Roots hosted two workshops, one to provide a safe space for the staff to talk about the emotions and how they had been effected. “But people were tired of talking about the impact. They wanted to create change. This formed the spark for bringing the entire organisation together to focus on action,” she adds.

Making the invisible visible

Gabriella Field founded ReWired, Ogilvy’s neurodiversity network, while she was in the midst of her internship programme at the agency. At the heart of the ReWired network’s ethos is a desire to make the invisible visible. She explains: “It is all about redefining what a safe space should be. That willingness to listen to others helps drive people to make everyday changes.”

Building the peer-led network has helped create an environment in which if people need extra requirements or adjustments made in order to perform to the best of their abilities, they aren’t afraid to ask, because, as Field explains, it helps the business move forward. As she explains: “All people have different strengths and different hurdles they have to get over. Being able to sit there and have an open conversation is key.”

Businesses have talked a good game when it comes to the power of bringing your whole self to work yet the impact of these three leaders on the agency’s culture is difficult to fathom. In the midst of seismic cultural shifts and the remoteness and disconnect amongst employees that can come hand in hand with remote working, ‘agency culture’, the magic ingredient that sets agencies apart, is more reliant on employee networks than ever. For it is within these grassroots movements that the concept of bringing your ‘whole self to work’ shifts from being an empty platitude to a meaningful commitment. As Field explains: “You should be unapologetically who you are and Ogilvy supports that.”


Sarah Duggan, Natalie Narh and Gabriella Field were speaking at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedication event page, Staying sane and pushing for progress

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Culture BITE LIVE 2020