Musings from Cannes: Be the Difference You Want To See in the Workplace.

I am back from The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity feeling inspired, determined and ready to be the difference that I want to see within our industry.

I was very proud to be part of PHD Worldwide’s panel about overcoming the bias and barriers blocking workplace creativity and innovation. There is a lot of talk about inclusion, equality and diversity in the communications industry and beyond. It is a hot topic being discussed in boardrooms all over the world, but now is the time to move to action, and each and every one of us can bring that little piece of diverse magic if only we would open up and be proud of what makes us different in the workplace.

Here are my top 5 tips for building a diverse workplace, inspired by my panel at Cannes:

As a leader, show your difference.
I come from a working-class council estate in the west of Scotland that is a million miles away from a vibrant creative agency in London working with some of the biggest international brands. What does that mean for my approach to creativity? I don’t just think in the London bubble. Community and inclusion matters. If you don’t have a lot – why should you part with your hard-earned cash for this brand?

When it is hard, persevere.
Building a diverse team and workforce isn’t easy. There is a reason people want to work with other people who are like them! So, when you bring someone in because of their difference, don’t ask them to be like everyone else. Work hard at getting them accepted for who they are and the different perspective they bring.

Feel safe but keep a little bit of friction.
People aren’t creative when they are afraid to fail or to make a mistake. Therefore, it is critical to build a culture that learns from the things that don’t work, and doesn’t punish them. However, feeling “safe” mustn’t become too comfortable. There needs to be a little bit of friction that pushes people to be and give their best selves.

Don’t fit in, stand out.
Find ways to celebrate difference. Appreciate difference. And showcase that the diversity that your people bring, collectively, is the difference maker for your organisation.

Lock arms and hold the line.
Deborah Frances-White, comedian, writer and host of The Guilty Feminist Podcast said on our panel that, “It isn’t for black women to fix racism, and it isn’t for women to fix sexism. We all have a role to play.” I couldn’t agree more. If we are to overcome bias and barriers, we all need to lock arms and hold the line on standards and decency. We also need to have the confidence to call out inappropriate behaviour where we see it.

So, in the fight to diversify our industry, we all need to be in it together. Allow people to be human, to make mistakes, but always in the context of being a force for good for yourself, your colleagues and the world around you. Don’t be afraid of diversity, embrace it, champion it, and together, I’m confident we will make a difference.

Jo-ann Robertson is the CEO of Ketchum London. Her areas of expertise includes strategic media relations, crisis and issues management, stakeholder relations, corporate reputation management, and government relations. Jo-ann is a connoisseur of fine shoes and loves baton twirling.