Stars of 2018: Sereena Abbassi on the power of choice

We salute the lone stars who have made a positive contribution this year.

"I choose to live my life seeing the best in people," Sereena Abbassi says. In the year since she joined M&C Saatchi she has proved the power of this approach – opening the agency doors to new discussions and debates and providing a platform to lift up and showcase a diverse range of new talent.

Abbassi’s impact, both within M&C and as a speaker on diversity and inclusion, underlines the power of an individual to cut through the corporate jargon to deliver meaningful change.

"Diversity is a choice and the fact is that companies have chosen not to hire or promote women or people of colour," she says. "Sometimes we overcomplicate things but the reason we don’t have diversity is down to choice, autonomy and free will."

Abbassi places empathy at the centre of her approach and, at a time when views are often polarised, she is consistently challenging herself to shift the lens and see the world from different perspectives.

"Forgiveness is really important," she says, citing one of the key reasons that people don’t engage with diversity, inclusion and accessibility as the fear of being "made wrong".

Yet there is more to do. Abbassi believes the key question for the industry to address is how to engage senior leadership in change because of the inherent comfort in surrounding yourself with people who share your world view.

Without taking the time for self-reflection as individuals, the industry remains static. She explains: "Self-reflection is incredibly difficult to do in an intense industry and city. It is important to think critically about how you move through the world and how that affects the people around you."

Sereena Abbassi is group head of culture and inclusion at M&C Saatchi

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