Take this difficult time as an opportunity to build a better future for all

Bloom is urging industry leaders to take part in supportive and honest conversations around equality in its new programme.

We are living through an immense period of change. The way we work has never been transformed so quickly. This has been a time of difficulty, a time of pain, a time for us to question ourselves and a time for us to realise how we want to live and work going forward.

Now, as we start to attentively plan our return to our physical offices, the burning question is: do we just go back to how it was?

Was that the best way? Was our work the best it could have been? Did we have a culture that people felt they could be themselves in? In every crisis, there is opportunity, and the second half of 2020 is the opportunity to build the future. This is the chance to reset.

When we look back at working through this Covid-19 period, what will we remember? Of course, we will remember the panic, how suddenly fragile everything felt, how our eyes ached from hours of video calls. We will remember the financial uncertainty and some of us will sadly be haunted by losing our job during this difficult time.

But, much like we look back at working in the office with rose-tinted glasses, we will recall this time fondly, I think, when we spent more time with the people we love, when we said "No, you’re on mute" about 5,000 times a day and when we really connected with our colleagues.

While working in lockdown, we have seen the people we work with like never before; we’ve seen who they really are and we’ve been having much deeper, richer and more meaningful conversations. How do we bring the good things of this time into the "old" world of work? How do we genuinely build agencies that are anti-racist, where everyone is welcomed and feels like they belong? There is pressure on the leaders of this industry to get this right, otherwise when the inevitable job market bounceback happens, your people will vote with their feet.

I am a proud member of Bloom, a network for women in the communications industry, that now has a membership of more than 300 incredibly talented people. One of Bloom’s key ambitions is to spearhead industry change and we firmly believe that the real voices of women can bring the change we need. Last year, as a response to research that highlighted that the #MeToo movement had led to 60% of men feeling uncomfortable with mentoring a woman, we launched a pilot programme called The Exchange.

The Exchange was a new type of cross-mentoring pilot inviting 23 industry-leading men to be matched with 23 Bloom women to break down the barriers contributing to the gender divide in our industry. Over six months, we aimed for the mentoring pairs to open up a refreshingly honest dialogue between the sexes, breaking down the stereotypes that limit the way we interact and forging a new way to look at gender in the workplace, making it more equal for all. 

The feedback we had from the programme was phenomenal. Taking away the politics of business and being flung into difficult conversations in a safe place allowed many to unlock a vulnerability usually buried deep within at work.  One male participant noted: "The experience was unlike anything I have done in my 25 years in the industry. It was refreshingly honest; I could step off the treadmill and really reflect on how I could do things differently."

Getting to know someone on a personal level meant greater empathy and understanding for each gender’s unique challenges, whether that be toxic masculinity, taking on the emotional load in your workplace or everyday sexism. After taking part in The Exchange, 68% of participants said they are clear on the actions that will positively impact the gender divide in their workplace – a huge increase from the 13% before The Exchange.

The Covid-19 outbreak has impacted us all in a variety of ways and although men are more likely to contract coronavirus, research shows that women are more likely to have been made redundant or furloughed during this time, taking the emotional brunt of the crisis. 

At Bloom, we feel that The Exchange programme is more important than ever this year. It is an opportunity for men and women in our industry to explore our new future and, together, forge a new way to look at gender and inclusion in the workplace, making it more equal for all. 

The 2020 programme will involve a series of powerful conversations tackling inclusive leadership, flexible working and racial bias. For both genders, this is an opportunity to put the learnings from the past few months into practice to build a better future for us all.

The Exchange 2020 launches this week. We are looking to recruit men who are C-suite decision-makers from across the industry (whether that be media, creative, client side, media owner or tech), with the power and influence to drive change within their organisation. 

This is a unique opportunity to partner a peer outside your organisation, to learn from each other and to have meaningful, supportive and honest conversations around equality. How can we reset the world of work to be more equal in the post-Covid era? When we think back to this part of work history, as a leader, you will need to ask yourself: what did I change for the better? Join us to start a radically candid conversation set to truly shift the balance in our industry. Apply today.  

Find out more at https://www.bloomuk.org/the-exchange.

Siobhan Brunwin is people director at MullenLowe Group and head of ally engagement at Bloom
Pictire: Bronac McNeill

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