BITE Focus

Uncomfortable Conversations: Episode 1

2020 has taught us that to keep quiet isn’t good enough. In the first episode of Lucky Generals’ new podcast on intersectionality, launched at BITE LIVE 2020, we explore who works in the creative industries.


If the unprecedented nature of 2020 has taught us anything, it is that to keep quiet isn’t good enough anymore. Whether it’s around race, gender inequality or policies on flexible working, being vocal has never been more important.

Particularly with the conversation around race, this year has demonstrated that to make meaningful change it is no longer good enough to be ‘not racist’. We need to be anti-racist, actively combating racism all the time.

It’s this anti-racist stance that is at the heart of Uncomfortable Conversations, a new podcast from Lucky Generals on intersectionality, which each month will ignite a conversation about the issues and obstacles holding back progress across the industry. The first episode launched as part of BITE LIVE 2020 and explored who works in the creative industries, examining how brands and agencies can move from talk to action, and how we can get there faster.

Hosted by Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director of Creativebrief and Katie Hooper, Account Director at Lucky Generals, the guests included Asad Dhunna, Founder of The Unmistakables, Yolanta Boti, Creative at Ogilvy UK and one of the founders of the agency’s internal network Ogilvy Roots and Leila Siddiqi, Associate Director Diversity at the IPA.

With the coronavirus crisis disproportionately impacting people of colour and women, this in depth and honest discussion explored how to be an active ally and why we all need to act now to make meaningful change to level the playing field both within our industry and for society at large.

Hooper says that the idea for the podcast came about during Pride month this year. Her belief is that the industry doesn’t, “make enough effort to keep those waves of change rolling.” With the podcast, the aim is to create a space where the team are keeping the conversation around intersectionality going, to offer it up as a place for education. Because, as she explains, it’s “not the job of people from minority communities to change all minds. We want to use this space to open conversations.”

Today the most progressive brands and agencies in the world are using [D&I] as a fundamental tool to drive sales…and attract and retain top talent.

Leila Siddiqi

Making progress in the midst of a global pandemic

This push for change demands of us a lot of energy, explains Kemp. As Siddiqi adds, “it has been the most extraordinary year.” She offers her context on the situation, having worked in the diversity and inclusion space for the last few years. “One thing that has really hit me that this is an exceptionally personal agenda,” she says, adding that “it means different things to different people. No one would be working in D&I unless they felt really strongly about it.”

She acknowledges the importance of recognising the intersectionality of experience when it comes to exploring diversity and inclusion because, she explains, “the more you start working within this topic area the more you realise that you cannot pick up any one strand or any one core protected characteristics, there are nine, in isolation. They’re all interwoven.”

For Siddiqi, there are two fundamental pillars that help businesses build an effective diversity and inclusion strategy. The first is around data measuring and monitoring; “any D&I conversation has to start with the data,” she explains. While the second focuses on the importance of actively engaging with leadership teams. “Any kind of change has to be driven from the top down,” she adds.

When it comes to speaking to leadership about the importance of D&I, Siddiqi emphasises the importance of bringing it back to the business case, of demonstrating its commercial value. “Today the most progressive brands and agencies in the world are using [D&I] as a fundamental tool to drive sales…and attract and retain top talent,” she explains. Alongside the vital commercial case, Siddiqi wants people to remember that, “being an effective ally is something that every organisation can be doing.” It doesn’t matter where you’re from, she says, “there’s still no reason to be shy about supporting this agenda.” Use the privilege you may be afforded to throw your weight behind the conversation.

Diversity is a powerful driver of creativity

For Boti, as one of the only Black creative teams in Ogilvy, she and her partner decided to use that difference to bring brands into the agency that they felt passionately about; that they felt comfortable working on. As she explains, “it’s important to have diversity of thought, diversity of culture to enable us to create better work that’s more interesting that reflects our audience [and] that people can see themselves in.”

She believes that “if you’re working on brands that speak to you…that passion fuels greater creativity.” It also then leads to greater retention. Boti acknowledges that this process, of discovering new brands that speak to a different audience, has at times been a difficult one for them because, “we’ve had to do that somewhat on our own.”

With no senior roles to particularly look up to, when you “see no one that looks like you,” Boti adds, the buck stops with junior people of colour, like Boti and her team, to diversify the agency's portfolio. As she explains, fundamentally, “having diversity of thought and diversity of the kind of people you employ is beneficial.” But, she adds, for the first time, she is seeing action taking place within the industry.

[We] talk about making diversity everyone’s business because it’s only when everyone carries the responsibility that you can change culture and behaviours.

Asad Dhunna

Is this industry even for me?

Dhunna explains that, this year, for almost the first time, “the marketing and ad industry has caught up to what a lot of people have been talking about for a long time.” As he adds, “BLM isn’t new [but] it became a moment in the calendar. And this is how marketers think, in moments not movements.”

Dhunna, who founded the Unmistakables back in 2018 says for the first year and a half of running the business, the team worked to prove the importance of diversity to the industry. But, since the killing of George Floyd, people are finally recognising how vital it really is. He wants to see behaviours shifting according to what’s being pledged verbally, particularly when it comes to developing the work. He wants to see people, “intervening at all the steps where bias plays a role in the marketing and communication process,” to ensure that diversity is front of mind.

This comes down to, he says, a conversation about where D&I lives within a business. That’s why, he explains, the Unmistakables “talk about making diversity everyone’s business because it’s only when everyone carries the responsibility that you can change culture and behaviours.” As Kemp adds, the power of an attitude such as this is that it results in a movement being built rather than a marketing moment.

Siddiqi responds to a question that is often posed by people from underrepresented communities about the advertising industry: “Is this business for me?” She talks of how she got into advertising completely by chance, having come from a family of chartered accountants. She thinks about her younger cousins, if they were to come to her and suggest that they were looking for a career in advertising, what would she tell them? “I would be a little bit reluctant to give them my complete approval,” she says honestly, adding that “being in the epicentre of this universe, I do feel that the culture we’ve been building for years is the absolute opposite of inclusivity.”

For Siddiqi, the work needs to start internally both in the hiring process but then also in looking at retention. Businesses need to decide, she says, “whether we want to be a diverse business or not.” Dhunna points out that although advertising’s efficacy is continually being called into question, particularly by the rise of consultancies, he feels hopeful that the industry can get diversity right. Because, he adds, “this is not just about the person in the advert at the end of the pipeline. This is about developing the products that are catering to a society that’s changing.”

Employees shouldn’t feel powerless

Kemp highlights what should be obvious but is so often forgotten within the creative industries, that it’s not the flashiness of the building that matters but rather the people within it. Boti talks about how, when she joined Ogilvy four years ago through the Pipe internship, “it was a completely different agency to what it was today.”

On starting, she worked to find a community of juniors who came together alongside allies to found Ogilvy Roots, an internal initiative that is dedicated to championing greater ethnic and cultural diversity within the advertising industry and its creative output. “When you come together, you can create change from the ground up,” she says. “Our leaders in WPP and Ogilvy learnt so much from our passion. Employees shouldn’t feel powerless,” she explains, adding that, “if you’re really passionate about it you can get together and make change happen.”

Ogilvy Roots and the fact that as a concept it has now been rolled out across the entirety of WPP, is demonstrative of the power of the grassroots movement to create a space of belonging. Boti believes that, whether junior and senior, “we can all learn from each other to create an inclusive environment when we can all feel seen and heard.” We have to hold one another to account regardless of our position within the business, and communities like Roots allow people to feel empowered to do so. “A lot of people feel seen now, more than ever,” Boti says. “I just hope we can continue the momentum to continue making change happen.”

The problem is, says Dhunna, that people are so fearful of saying the wrong thing. This is particularly prevalent at the moment when people aren’t sitting in offices being checked by their colleagues but are sitting alone in bedrooms and at kitchen tables, consuming media with no filter. “We’re not having conversations and we’re struggling to know where the line is,” he says, an issue that the Unmistakables are aiming to help with by developing tools for client teams to use.

“There’s a lot of fear in the industry and when you have fear in creativity it holds us back,” he explains. Develop, adapt and change an internal culture to get to the point where that fear is dissipated, he says, “then you can push creativity forward.”

If you have someone in your organisation who’s a minority, listen to them. Listen to the kind of organisation your staff want to work in.

Yolanta Boti

Prioritise D&I

In acknowledging the work that Boti and her colleagues did to launch Roots, Kemp highlights the reality that so often D&I is seen as a side hustle or side project. Siddiqi offers three pieces of advice to businesses to work to counter that. The first, she says, is to hiring or promote someone to a chief diversity officer role, something that she says is happening within some of the best brands in the world, pointing out that both Aline Santos at Unilever and Marc Pritchard at Procter & Gamble have made diversity and inclusion a priority within their roles. Siddiqi says that during the pandemic, D&I jobs were some of the few to be both actively hired for and paid well.

While she strongly believes that everyone within the business should be accountable for D&I, there needs to be someone for whom that is their entire focus. That way they are continually “researching, actively educating themselves and sharing [that] with everyone else,” she explains.

The second issue she says that needs to be focused on is casting. “You should be actively reworking your casting process at the moment,” she says, adding, “you must have a D&I policy, an updated one.” First and foremost, train your staff to implement the policy she says because “who you’re putting out there in all your creative work has huge repercussions.”

Thirdly Siddiqi encourages people to look “at influencers for aspiration both inside and outside the creative industries.” Look at the individuals and businesses truly championing D&I from the ground up. She highlights the work that Channel 4 have been doing as well as Lloyds. She also advises people to look beyond adland as well, for example at a business like TfL, investing money in brands producing diverse work that has an impact.

Collaborate, listen & offer up your privilege

For the majority of this year, self-care has felt like a radical act as the world has thrown up situations that no one wanted to or thought they would find themselves in. “For a lot of us who are part of Ogilvy Roots core team, from March onwards we have been busy. Creating safe rooms, liaising with our seniors to create better policies, to make lasting change,” Boti explains. This is, she adds, on top of “our day to day jobs that we’re paid to do. A lot of us are experiencing burnout.”

She adds that for a long time she realised she was feeling numb, because at work she had to embody one idea of who she was whilst simultaneously having to watch the terrible things, “happening in the world to people who look like me,” she says.

“George Floyd was all encompassing. For us it was a moment to take a breath and to actually exhale what we had been holding in,” Boti explains. “It does feel heavy and it does feel like a long ride to go through. We’re looking forward to the end of the year to rest and recuperate. We’ve done an amazing job this year.” She highlights the support she’s felt from allies in the agency as well who have volunteered their support. This is vital, she adds, because “the more we can collaborate, the more empathy we can feel.”

For Hooper, this collaborative support from allies comes down to “using your position of privilege, whatever type of privilege that is, to make changes that help others be successful.” This can’t just be a tokenistic gesture but rather a choice, to “actively trying to educate yourself, not relying on people from those communities to educate you.”

Dhunna wants to see people reframing how they think about allyship. For many people, it’s a case of them and us. But what it should come down to is a process of continuous learning. “Right now, we’re rebuilding everything…So, if we can just do that in a way that we help each other, we’re all going to level up.”

Siddiqi believes that there will be a greater focus on industry mental health as every single person has struggled through the uncertainty of an unprecedented year. “The whole concept of empathy is now stronger than it’s ever been,” she says, adding that many parts of the diversity conversation being accepted right now are strands, “that we had to justify a year ago.”

She highlights a new IPA report, the Future of Fairness that aims to give the industry practical advice about broadening their D&I approach. Because, she adds, “it’s our job to be hopeful and aspire to building a better future. The role of mar comms is to not just reflect society but actively shape society to becoming what we would like to see.”

Boti’s piece of advice to the industry is simply to listen: “That’s all that humans want is just to be heard.” She adds, “if you have someone in your organisation who’s a minority, listen to them. Listen to the kind of organisation your staff want to work in.”

The power of active listening is not to be underestimated in a world in which it can feel difficult to be heard above the noise. It’s about really showing up to hear things you might not be comfortable hearing. Because we all want to work towards making this industry a safe space for everyone. As Boti says, “be open to listening and not necessarily thinking about what to say but allowing that space for people to be heard.”


The first episode of Uncomfortable Conversations aired at BITE LIVE 2020. To listen to the full episode, visit the dedicated event page, CB X Lucky Generals: Uncomfortable Conversations, Episode 1