How Can Businesses Leverage DE&I  at Scale to Become Conscious Allies?

The importance of Allyship

How Can Businesses Leverage DE&I  at Scale to Become Conscious Allies?


Kate Rowlinson

CEO of EssenceMediacom UK


The importance of allyship is well known. Most businesses have put huge work into improving hiring processes, changing job ad descriptions and educational requirements and into flagship events like Black History Month or Pride.


And for good reason: three-in-four job seekers search for diverse companies with diverse colleagues. Businesses that are more diverse in terms of demographic, personalities and skills are naturally more agile and able to adapt.


Bringing new people into the fold can drive efficiency and be a stepping stone to more revenue. Broadening your talent drive to maximum inclusion will drive creativity, breakthrough thinking and faster growth. Growth will also help fuel your DE&I commitment by creating new opportunities  – but it doesn’t come challenge-free. Every new employee comes with their own background, lifestyle and preferences; this means more energy and investment to foster an inclusive culture.


Making bold promises is easy – true inclusivity means making it a part of everyone’s day-to-day routine. Crucially, also part of everyone’s responsibilities.  The current status quo is to let marginalised communities do the heavy lifting if they want to improve their workplace experiences. We as businesses need to change this, and in particular C-Suites need to lead from the top to embed conscious – and continual – inclusivity across the organisation.


Find partners 

Inclusivity is complex. And the problems that work against it are systemic, which means you can’t simply ‘solve’ them. They are societal, they are built into businesses and into how workplaces have been set up.


A business might have an incredible ‘women in leadership’ networking group but put very little effort into coaching men on how they can better include and accommodate women (for one small example, noticing when women in the room are spoken over and asking them to finish their point). It shouldn’t really be the women who have to make this happen, either – but in general it is. This logic sadly applies across marginalised groups – LGBTQ+ people tend to lead sexuality and gender inclusivity initiatives. Black and Brown people are asked to create policies and join projects that focus on reaching their communities. It’s neurodiverse people who educate everyone else on how to accommodate them.


This is all emotional labour and it needs to stop falling to those groups that not only face increased barriers to entry at work, but then have to add in ‘educating white/male/cis/het people’ to their day jobs.


Collaborating with specialist DE&I partners can provide the expertise and accountability needed to effectively scale inclusivity policies and help embed them as part of the everyday through training programmes. Fearless Futures is one example of a fantastic partner of ours thanks to its training on systems of oppression. This is part of our laser focus on moving from awareness to action, and our commitment as a business to driving systemic change.



Lead from the front

Something a leader can always do to put their stake in the ground is set targets. When I became CEO, I said each office should demographically reflect the city it is based in. This is still a work in progress but it has given our business direction and made us more conscious about how we recruit and create inclusive cultures that retain diverse talent.


As part of WPP we have access to lots of initiatives to help on this – and we also run our own. WPP’s pioneering return-to-work programme for midlife women offers a gateway back to the industry – both for seasoned professionals and those just starting their journey. And this isn’t the only way the business promotes better representation for women.


EssenceMediacom’s 50:50 candidate lists for senior positions ensures women aren’t overlooked for C-suite roles. One learning we had to achieve this was that when we listed a senior job role, women took longer to apply – and so now, we build in time to leave applications open for greater periods of time before we start interviewing.


It’s also critical for any leader to have a sense of curiosity and willingness to learn. This needs to apply making the business a more inclusive space – conscious allyship is taking responsibility for understanding the lived experiences and issues of different identities.


Meanwhile, empowering future leaders is a simple-yet effective way to safeguard the business’ long-term interest. The Fast Forward Accelerate programme identifies the unique challenges faced by underrepresented groups and provides the constructive tools needed to thrive in the face of adversity. We are also intentional in ensuring we focus on equity and recognise that our Black and Brown employees may experience our agency differently. As such, we introduced Claiming Your Power, a career development experience designed to aid equity, build networks and navigate barriers.  It’s vital for majority groups to better understand the range of experiences that make up the reality of agencies, and how best to break down tired systems that don’t work for everyone (or just don’t work full stop) to create a truly inclusive culture.


Work never stops

DE&I isn’t some buzzword that can be traipsed out to appease stakeholders and convince prospective talent to come running. These are meaningful policies that reinforce your purpose-led mindset and create positive environments for your employees. And your job isn’t done when you’ve put pen to paper; conscious, constant work is the catalyst to making them work long-term.


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