Press Pause empowers the industry to speak up against discrimination

Havas London and Creative Equals have joined forces to share an internal agency anti-discrimination initiative to help the industry combat racism.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


At the heart of the creative industries is a unique form of creative competitiveness. Award shows, pitch processes, talent retention; open collaboration hasn’t always been at the heart of the way agencies operate with one another.

But a shift is at work, one which sees businesses recognising that creativity is only enhanced when an idea is shared, one which recognises that internal policies that actually work can benefit those companies who may have traditionally been viewed as a direct competitor. That respects the fact to make progress on diversity we need to open-source the best solutions.

Havas London has decided to do just that, by making an anti-discrimination initiative backed by Creative Equals internally, open to the industry. The Press Pause initiative provides a robust, formal framework through which employees can challenge problematic behaviours and views. The initiative is designed to empower people to speak out when they find themselves in an uncomfortable or problematic situation.

The guidelines have been designed to cover “any exchange where behaviour is shown or something is said or implied, including microaggressions, that is deemed prejudiced, discriminatory, derogatory or negative toward any one person or more”. This includes internal exchanges as well as those with clients and suppliers.

The Press Pause policy has been in use by Havas London since January 2019 but will now be published on the Creative Equals website to allow other organisations to adopt, adapt or take inspiration from it.

It is incumbent on all of us to call out discrimination, wherever we see it. If we don’t, we are complicit.

Xavier Rees

The right tools

For years, calling out inappropriate behaviour has been consigned to social media platforms, to anonymous columns or difficult one-on-one HR conversations. The Press Pause framework creates a set of clear and important guidelines through which employees can act with confidence in the moment, to challenge discrimination, particularly in situations where they may be a power imbalance. It’s a framework that the combined Creative Equals and Havas London teams believe the creative industries are lacking.

The decision to make the initiative open source came off the back of comments made by Havas London’s CEO Xavier Rees during a recent Creative Equals CEO event. Rees explained of the move: “It is incumbent on all of us to call out discrimination, wherever we see it. If we don’t, we are complicit. As an agency leader, I need to ensure everyone is able to do that, with confidence and without fear. Press Pause arms our people with the right tools when faced with a difficult situation and empowers them to address it through a clear process and the right support.”

The importance of difficult conversations

The reality is that, to bring about substantial and lasting change, difficult conversations have to happen. Behaviour that has perhaps for years been swept under the industry carpet or simply acknowledged as the norm needs to be confronted and challenged. But in order to do so, the individual who is choosing to speak up needs to feel like their voice is going to be heard and respected; they need to be protected within the company they work in. Press Pause’s aim is to stop the industry turning a blind eye to situations that are inherently inappropriate.

As Rees so said: “It’s imperative we work together as an industry to root out discriminatory views, and it has become increasingly clear that Press Pause is too important an initiative to keep to ourselves.”

In every situation, to achieve inclusion, we have to be able to speak out when something feels ethically or morally wrong.

Ali Hanan

Empowerment leads to diversity

While working together as an industry to address situations of discrimination is vital, what becomes more apparent is that the inclusive nature of the industry depends on these conversations being given space to occur. As Ali Hanan, Founder and CEO of Creative Equals explained: “In every situation, to achieve inclusion, we have to be able to speak out when something feels ethically or morally wrong.”

Press Pause is a means by which leaders and their leadership teams can protect the psychological safety of their staff. Empower your staff and you can attract and retain the best, diverse talent.

Hanan adds: “We know psychological safety is key to driving equity and inclusion. The fact is diverse staff will not stay in your business or the industry if their voice is not respected, valued and heard, but for many, it can be challenging to speak up, particularly in front of clients or in situations where they are not in a position of power.”

The Press Pause initiative allows any individual, whatever their seniority, to pause the uncomfortable encounter they find themselves in and either choose to voice a concern if they feel safe to do so or move the conversation on and later raise the point with a nominated person. It also gives people the opportunity to remove themselves from the situation entirely and feel protected enough to do so.

An imbalance of power is often what silences people; it’s what leads to inappropriate behaviour being accepted as the norm. Press Pause aims to redress that imbalance and to empower the industry to move as one against discrimination.

Visit the Creative Equals website to download the Press Pause policy.

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