WHM Spotlight: RAPP’s Devin O’Loughlin

Campaign US highlights women across the industry in honor of Women’s History Month.

In honor of Women’s History Month, Campaign US is checking in with women across the industry, from all career levels, on how they’ve navigated the past year personally and professionally.  

This interview with Devin O’Loughlin, global chief diversity, equity & inclusion and communications Officer at RAPP, has been lightly edited. 

What has the past year been like for you personally?

A mix of exhausting and exhilarating. So much has changed — and there are more opportunities for growth ahead. But they’re called growing pains for a reason! 

I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to focus on a subject for which I’ve got so much passion, which is wildly exciting. But I’ve also been managing the unavoidable stress that comes from pouring oneself into discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion — or the lack thereof — in our industry and the world. DE&I is a matter of life and death for a lot of people. That’s a heavy weight to carry, especially in a social climate like today’s. But acknowledging this gravity has made me even more resolute to impact change. 

I am an extroverted introvert. I thrive by recharging my batteries with solitude. I’m not getting much of that, thanks to Covid-19. It’s been a balancing act, for sure.

How have you managed through isolation, burnout and other challenges of the past year? What strategies have you used to balance work and home life?

I’ve gone through various phases of burnout. Every day feels a bit different! I’m very type-A (a classic Virgo!), so I’m used to feverishly trying to stay on top of everything. But that’s just NOT happening. 

Some strategies I’ve cultivated are giving myself permission to slow down and not beating myself up if I don’t get everything done; setting boundaries on when my days start and end, and giving myself time to address “life” things like taking my dog for a walk, eating lunch or prepping dinner; and doing something for myself every day, usually working out to release tension and move my body. 

These are all, 100%, a work in progress — but I’m trying! And I’m staying present, and acknowledging that balance is vital to my wellbeing.

What can we do in our industry about the current crisis of women leaving the workforce?

Agencies can’t just talk the talk. There is no guidebook or precedent for what we’re experiencing right now, but empathy and flexibility should lead the way. 

Agencies should be open to discussing what a woman needs to stay in her role. It’s important to understand and empathize that this will be different for different people. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that agencies can be more flexible than we thought. Why not lean into that? 

Flexibility goes hand-in-hand with fluidity. A woman's situation with her children, family or home can change in an instant in this environment. It’s critical for agencies to not only embrace flexibility, but understand that discussions about a woman’s needs might happen once or 20 times.

What progress has the industry made in achieving gender parity? What still needs to be done?

We’re having more frank discussions about progress, what needs to happen next, and who will play a role in achieving parity. You’re seeing and hearing from more women in leadership positions in our industry than ever before. 

But we’ve certainly not achieved equity or balance yet. We’ve chipped away at the “glass ceiling,” but it has not been broken. As my good friend Tiffany R. Warren’s organization ADCOLOR so beautifully puts it, in order to continue amplifying women’s voices and putting women in leadership roles, current leaders need to reach back after they’ve risen up. We must all commit to championship, sponsorship and mentorship, along with more inclusive and equitable hiring practices.

But women can’t do it alone. The conversation needs to be raised and sustained by male allies. 

What work can still be done to address the disproportionate impact this crisis has on BIPOC women?

There is so much to unpack here. But I’ll share the path I’ve taken, as a white woman who has, thankfully, been relatively unscathed (all things considered), by this pandemic. 

I listen. I do research about organizations that need help and  offer whatever I can. I check on my friends. I make space for their needs.

How can the industry support women in the workforce during this stressful time?

Listen, act and live with empathy. Give us the space to use our voice. Then, consider ways to support us and work with us to map the next step, together. 

It’s cliché to say these are uncertain times — but it’s true. Every day is a new unknown. Empathy will get us to the finish line.

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