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Change requires respect, communication and one crazy goal

Lewis..."Work-life success is not about the illusion of balance. Instead, it’s about illuminating what success is for each specific person."
Lewis..."Work-life success is not about the illusion of balance. Instead, it’s about illuminating what success is for each specific person."

It's not about work-life balance but work-life success says Lynn Lewis, CEO at UM Worldwide

Last year, I made a pledge. A very public one. People called it crazy.

My pledge was to double the number of women of color at UM across every corporate level in a year. Despite our best efforts, we did not meet that goal. But we did see a double digit increase.

When people said the problem was our crazy goal,  I decided that in terms of diversity, that would be the only type of goal we would ever set.

To me, it was clear cut. Had we set a safer one, we might have patted ourselves on the back and moved on. Instead, thanks to articulating a crazy commitment, UM is on an industry-changing journey.

UM is no stranger to diversity initiatives. We’ve made strides in our recruitment and retention of women. 64% of our US staff and 55% of our top US executives are women. The last four people who have run the US office, the company’s biggest market, are women. Women head up our UK, India, Australia and Canadian markets.

None of that happened by accident. Articles always discuss "work-life balance" for women. I’ve always disliked the term. It brings to mind the Lady of Justice scales, and women trying desperately to make their home and professional lives balance equally. It sets up a structure with arbitrary judgments that’s not achievable. Instead, what UM has worked hard to build is an environment that supports work-life success. Work-life success is not about the illusion of balance. Instead, it’s about illuminating what success is for each specific person. Our employees have certainly embraced this philosophy and the industry has recognized its value –  Ad Age just named us one of 2019’s "Best Places to Work."

Ensuring the work-life success of our employees requires three things: communication, flexibility and respect. Senior leadership has to figure out the ways they can empower the people on their teams to do the things that matter outside the office – whether that’s chaperoning their child’s field trip, taking a class or getting their MBA. We must understand what success looks like for them to put the mechanisms in place to help them achieve it

A crucial component of this is trust and respect. As an example, UM’s discretionary time off policy gives our employees the power to decide how and when they need days off.  We hired you because you are fantastic and have the professional maturity to know the work you need to do, and the commitment you made to your team and client. We trust you to get things done.

As a result of the systems we put in place, UM has made strides in gender diversity. Now, we want to make the same strides in cultural diversity. It’s not about meeting quotas, it’s about bringing in diverse thinking, diverse backgrounds, and diverse skills.

Diversity enables UM to deliver better offerings to our clients. We talk about our Unity 20/40 action plan as our ambition for the organization, but the impetus behind it is to ensure that the work we do reflects the people that the brands we support and represent serve.

Led by our Diversity and Belonging Council, Unity 20/40 consists of three core pillars:

We help brands connect with people. So our teams must reflect the gender, racial, ethnic and lifestyle diversity of the people we reach.

Two new activities planned for 2019 include "Food for the Soul" lunchtime events where employees can learn more about a specific culture through food and conversation. In our "Real Talks" interactive discussion series employees can unpack current affairs that are meaningful to different populations.

When we refer to our diversity efforts, we intentionally talk about diversity and belonging. Once someone joins UM, if we don’t have the environment and culture to support different backgrounds, they won’t stay. We want our people to stay with us, to contribute their talents, perspective and voice to our offices and the work we do for our clients.

The word diversity gets thrown around a lot in today’s media. But it’s more than just a word. It’s a commitment of time, energy and resources. It’s about assessing our own efforts with the same level of focus, measurement and accountability that we give our clients. And most importantly, it’s about celebrating the wonderful people who make up our organization.

This article is brought to you as part of a wider content series around our Female Frontier awards. To find out more about the awards, visit our dedicated hub.

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