Earlier this month, we were really excited to be one of the sponsors for Bloomfest – the flagship event organised by Bloom UK, a professional network for women in communications. Led by the real voices of women in the industry- and now the real voices of men too – this year, BloomFest’s theme was ‘Turn It Up.’
Here’s a recap of some of the key learnings from the day from Katie Grosvenor, a member of the Bloom Mentoring team and Head of Strategic Alliances in Northern Europe at IAS.
Aside from being a member of the Bloom network, I’ve attended Bloomfest for the past few years so I knew I’d be in for an excellent day of provocation, inspiration, and action.
Lady Phyll, the Co-founder and Executive Director of UK Black Pride (as well as many other notable roles and all-around legend), opened the day as keynote. She spoke candidly about the barriers she’s faced and continues to face, and how she’s overcoming them – “A ‘no’ is a challenge to find the ‘yes’” sticks in my mind and continued to echo throughout the day.
After her rallying talk, we went into a jam packed agenda. There were so many topics that came up during the conference, important challenges that we face individually and as an industry, but here are 3 key themes I took away:
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
‘Saying something uncomfortable can open the door to more valuable conversations’. This was a quote from one of the men who took part in Bloom’s Exchange Programme but it felt like the sentiment of embracing the feeling of being uncomfortable, awkward or vulnerable in order to progress came through in a number of sessions.
I took part in the Future of Leadership workshop, led by the excellent Michelle Keaney, CGO at Clockwise, based on courage building programme Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. In the interactive session, we assessed a personal example of leadership using the ‘Seven Elements of BRAVING’ – needless to say it helped identify the gaps I needed to work on in embracing vulnerability to become a true Daring Leader.
Carly Linsell, another IAS’er attending, went to the ‘How to earn your worth’ workshop which focused on owning your worth and feeling comfortable when it comes to negotiating your salary but ‘owning your worth’ outside of money was also apparent throughout the sessions.
It’s difficult to describe but there was a real sense of ‘owning your worth’ and ‘belonging’ in the room – I’m here because I belong here; I’m here because I deserve to be; I’m here to bring another voice; but also just ‘I’m here’ – I’m fully present (barely any email checking went on!).
A key outtake for me was the continued need to keep pushing through the invisible ‘awkward’ barriers (sometimes imposed by ourselves on ourselves) to move forward.
Empathetic leadership is key to driving change
In the humbling ‘Fishbowl’ session on the importance of mental health, it was clear that it is critical for teams to feel empowered to discuss their mental health with their managers and colleagues. The importance for leaders to show their own vulnerability and experience when it comes to mental health will help remove ‘levels of shame’ around what is still considered a taboo topic.
The workshop, ‘The empathetic leader: How to communicate with compassion’ explored why putting compassion at the heart of the way we listen and respond makes us more successful leaders. For me, that also came through in the ‘To Fork: To have (kids) or not to have’ session – it’s incumbent on managers to embrace their teams’ choices – to have, or not have, children. The reality is there isn’t really a work/life balance – it’s a blend. So if you want to get the best from your team, let them flex.
UM’s bespoke Future Fit research, which explored how people in the industry really felt about the progress we’re making in diversity and inclusion, showed there’s clearly frustration with less than 50% thinking we are a progressive industry. We all have a part to play in change – regardless of role, but one of the actions discussed was to ensure teams brought their leaders to events like Bloomfest in order to drive change alongside them.
Ultimately leaders talking about their differences, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses will help their teams embrace their own and create a safe and open environment that makes people want to stay.
Everyone has the ability to be an ally
Zara Bryson, Director of Digital Strategy & Innovation at PG One, Publicis said, “Everyone has the ability to be an ally”, during the Future Fit panel session. It sums up perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the day for me.
The onus of breaking down barriers does not belong to those who are underrepresented – the only way we will remove the industry inequalities is to do it collaboratively and continuously. We’re certainly making steps towards change in terms of broadening the conversation – it was great to see more men in attendance this year. But as action can really only be delivered if we’re all leaning in, there’s still some way to go until we see true parity in the workforce.
There are so many actions that came from the day. Big challenging ones that will take an army of us to put into effect and small easy ones that I could implement straight away to make a difference.
Like, for instance, check-in on someone, a fully focused, actively engaged, totally genuine check-in – someone who might be having a tough time but someone who’s cracking on regardless, hiding the fact they’re struggling.
So instead of ‘How are you?’ sometimes what we really need to ask is ‘How are YOU?’