grace game changers

“If you have met one disabled person; you have met one disabled person. If you have met one trans person; they are just one trans person.”

Grace Francis, Chief Experience Officer at Karmarama is sharing the ‘biggest leap’ that the industry is facing; a leap which demands the industry wakes up to the pivotal role of lived experience in all aspects of the work. As they explain: “We need to stop appealing to and creating for people who aren’t represented in the room.”

Francis believes that the industry is starting to realise how significant the lived experience is when it comes to representation, but there is still more to be done. They explain: “If you intend to create products or services, or any type of output for a group of people; that person or people need to be represented in the room.”

Francis, who was speaking as part of the GameChangers interview series in partnership with global talent consultancy for the creative industries The Blueprint, has long advocated for inclusivity both within the industry itself and in its output.

In a wide-ranging and open conversation with Geraldine Gaillemin, Partner at The Blueprint, the duo discussed how the industry can move from talking about broadening the talent pool, towards making genuine and meaningful change.

"We fall into muscle memory. I think some organisations start with good intent saying, ‘let's find a diverse workforce’. Then if they don’t find that hire immediately they fall back into what looks good on a piece of paper; skill sets rather than holistic human beings."

Skillsets vs. holistic human beings

The conversation comes at a pivotal time for the industry which is facing up to significant pressures on both attracting and retaining talent. A pressure which underlines how the long running rhetoric on the ‘war for talent’ reflects little more than the advertising industry’s love of hyper-masculine hyperbole. As record levels of employee churn and the ‘great resignation’ underlines that the Coronavirus crisis has ushered in not a ‘battle’ between opposing and unchanged agency employers; but instead a new wave of start-ups as well as a wholesale reappraisal of work and life. Never mind the ongoing conversation on the much-discussed yet rarely achieved ‘work/life balance’ this is a once in a generation opportunity to reset the workplace for the better.

Yet as Francis notes, the industry still remains in a loop when it comes to attracting talent. They explained: “We fall into muscle memory. I think some organisations start with good intent saying let's find a diverse workforce. Then if they don’t find that hire immediately they fall back into what looks good on a piece of paper; skill sets rather than holistic human beings.”

This challenge and frustration was shared by The Blueprint’s Gaillemin, who explained that while clients hold a genuine desire to cast the net wide and want to see a really diverse mix of people when they are recruiting. Yet she shares that often if those people don’t have the traditional skill sets or aptitudes, it is really easy for them to simply ‘fall out’ of the hiring process.

Francis urged the industry to “overlook what is often classist and elitist behaviour.” Sharing how they have no formal education aside from a few GCSEs; a fact they hid for many years. Staying up late into the night to check grammar and punctuation in order to mask perceived failings about a lack of formal education.

Francis believes it is time for the industry to let go of those ‘small things’ which can hold so many back. Gaillemin agreed that these ‘softer qualities’ such as attitude are often key to how you succeed at work. Yet are nonetheless often overlooked.

"If I was starting a company today I don't think it would be ethical to start with four or five white people, for example. I don’t think it would be ethical to start it with people of only one gender expression."

The ethical imperative for radical inclusivity

The discussion recognised that the conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion can often occur within a bubble. So whilst Francis knows that it is a priority in the rooms that they are in and to the people they bring in; the question for the industry as a whole becomes: “Is everybody aware?”

Francis explains: “Awareness is a great first step. But if I was starting a company today I don't think it would be ethical to start with four or five white people, for example. I don’t think it would be ethical to start it with people of only one gender expression.”

On a personal level, Francis advocates taking recruitment seriously. They explain: “Every time you make a hire. Every time you bring a new person into the building you must advocate continuously for recognising where those gaps are in your company, not just for the benefit of the company, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Francis supports what they describe as ‘radical inclusivity’. An approach which recognises implicitly that all human beings have good days and bad days. They urge the industry to “have a space where everybody is respected”.

The meritocracy of consultancies

Sharing their experience of working within a consultancy group (Karmarama is part of Accenture Interactive) Francis believes consultancies are meritocratic.

They explain: “On a very individual level, if you are thinking about coming to a consultancy, there is a huge amount of meritocracy. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you have come from. If you're able to contribute, there is a space for you to do so. Also there is support to train and get better and evolve different skill sets.”

Pointing to the reach and the breadth of the consultancy offering, they note that one of the key strengths of the consultancy model is the fact that “when you have an idea it doesn't need one of us sitting around the table that has the answer”.

"It is really interesting to have a path that isn’t necessarily defined."

The experience agenda

Detailing their career journey, Francis shared how moving from tech companies to the creative industries the role of the Chief Experience Officer has gone hand-in-hand with the opportunity to forge their own path. As often they were coming into a space or a role in which their job title didn’t previously exist. They explain: "It is really interesting to have a path that isn’t necessarily defined.”

That ability to thrive without a framework or structure of ‘what worked in the past’ is arguably an invaluable skill in the current climate. If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it's that the role of brands in people’s lives is neither fixed nor predictable. As they explain: “We have had a very strange 18 months and actually I think companies are helping us in ways that they haven’t ever before in history.”

Francis believes the role for the industry moving forward will be far less about persuading consumers and far more about authentically connecting. A connectivity with creativity at its core.

They explain that creative leaps don’t always make rational sense, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be recognised. “Leaps that are beyond logic alone make huge changes and sometimes we have to make those leaps even if we are going into the unknown,” they add.

The brand imperative

For Francis, a clear opportunity lies in recognising the power of brands in an ecosystem in which most products are as good as they are going to get.

A shift that they believe means brands should stand for more than the products they make and take steps to establish who they are in the word, how they shape things and how they align with consumers.

It is a shift which is particularly vital in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis which has revolutionised so many aspects of consumer experience and their relationships with brands. As Francis explains how they wake up and say “thank God for Pfizer”. A pharmaceutical giant that prior to the crisis may not have elicited such an emotional response.

In this fragile new world, brands should remember that you don't need to save the world to be repositioned; but you just need to recognise the power of brands in the world. A power, and a responsibility, to do things differently. which as Francis’ actions remind us; lies just as much within your agency as an individual as within the agency you work for.