I am a foreign woman working in advertising in the UK.

But the fun doesn’t stop there.

I am a foreign woman with OCD, misophonia, and work-induced PTSD, working in advertising in the UK.

One morning, in 2009 when I had just started my professional life in London, I arrived, as per usual the first there, at my old office near London Bridge. It was a nothing day, no anniversaries or events, but on that very morning, my colleague Johnathan decided it would be absolutely hilarious for me to find an application form on my desk.

To join the Mafia.

Because, you know, I am Italian.

I felt like I was expected to laugh about it. So, I did.

As I said, it was a nothing day, because those kinds of “jokes” or comments on my “funny” accent were a daily thing. For over a decade I convinced myself that the little morale injuries, the “just jesting”, the extra scrutiny of my (excellent) work, the being overlooked once, twice, thrice for a promotion – ah that pesky reproductive system I was born with – the burning out, all of that, was merely a rite of passage, simple ways to give thanks.

My experience as a – privileged, in my case – immigrant, is that still you rarely feel you deserve to have a job. You have to earn it, every single day.

It was only during the pandemic, a bit before developing work-induced PTSD, when I was single-handedly managing a team of 98 content creators, across three continents, that I realized it was all a steaming crock of nonsense.

I am not here to tell you that the creative industries need a diverse workforce. Foreigners represent 13% of the employed total and the UK necessitates our skills, perspectives, and ingenuity.

I won’t explain that diversity enhances productivity and innovation, that case has been made a hundred times over, we all know you won’t be competitive, and your content won’t be appealing if it doesn’t reflect the macroscopic changes in our borderless digital societies.

Your content won’t connect authentically with your kaleidoscopic audiences if the minds behind it are completely ignorant regarding the experiences they aim to portray or talk to.

I will kindly remind you though, that the members of your teams who come from diverse backgrounds, due to their gender and orientation, cultural identity and place of origin, neurological make-up and physical abilities, are massively overexposed to the risk of burning out.

For them, anxiety is bigger, stress more cumbersome, and a terrifying sense of isolation is always looming.

I am immensely lucky in this sense, as an agency Clockwork is not simply radically inclusive – 60% of the leadership is comprised of women and most of the team is from BAME backgrounds – but also, a lot of effort is put into preserving a culture of openness and tangible compassion.

Even in the event of PTSD flare-ups, I know my team at Clockwork will support me and will have the tools to do so.

You, too, can help your teams. But where to start?

Look beyond the surface

Not all causes for exclusion are visible or obvious. Take an acquired neurodivergence such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for example. The effects and implications of trauma responses are very real and impactful, sometimes completely debilitating.

The burden of disclosure should not fall on the employees as they are already dealing with psychological reverberations. Competitive, good companies that attract and retain talent will create opportunities and channels for every team member to feel comfortable communicating their needs.

Create effective and varied fora for radically candid conversations

You have created the processes and ways for every employee to feel empowered to share their needs. That’s a great start, but not enough. Good intentions are only one portion of the equation and inert information is fruitless without an action plan and a feedback loop. I worked in tech, can you tell? It could be that your initiatives, as sincere and well thought-out, will not hit the spot.

Why not ask the interested parties, then, but one size will not fit all.

Fora to submit feedback should provide an anonymized option and should be of different kinds, some employees do not feel confident writing their thoughts, maybe a questionnaire is preferable for them, and some others might really want to have a face-to-face chat. It is the company’s responsibility to put in place protocols that enable candid feedback.

Check on your top performers, especially those from a diverse background

Your top performers are at extreme risk of burnout. That’s because they are more prone to take on challenging projects, they have a tendency to pose – willingly or not – as band-aids for underproductive team members, and they are more exposed to anxiety and stress.
Already in 2016, the Harvard Business Review was sounding the alarm when it noted that 20% of the top-performing leaders in UK companies were impacted by corporate burnout.
If your top performer comes from a diverse background, the stress levels they are experiencing will likely be astronomical as they try to fill what I call the “belonging gap”. Finally, if your top performer is a woman, chances are the risk of burnout is even greater.

For the love of everything sacred, train your managers. All of them

I don’t think it can be understated how damaging it can be to be the victim of bad management. At any point in your career, for sure, but the fallouts of it happening early on in your professional journey can be truly nefarious.

It goes without saying that every employee should adhere to certain standards and be trained in DE&I policies, but this becomes absolutely fundamental if you are responsible for any team. It doesn’t matter how many reports are in the picture, one or one hundred, you have to train – and retrain – your managers.
Receiving manager training once over a lifetime is not sufficient, policies evolve, companies evolve, and societies evolve. Update your policies, manuals, and bylaws and hold refresher courses for anybody, yes, even those ivory-towered C-suites.

You can’t talk the talk before walking the walk

It is never too early to establish a DE&I framework. Looking at you, start-ups. And especially at you, tech start-ups. The lack of a fully-fledged HR department, as often happens with young companies or agencies, is not an acceptable justification for a deficiency under a DE&I policies respect.

A DE&I framework can be outsourced but it still should be an integral part of any corporate governance worthy of its name.

With this being said, if DE&I principles are not incorporated in your company’s values, if they are not genuinely part of your enterprise’s DNA, I have news for you, it won’t work. Adding an artificial extra limb to your company’s system will only diminish agility and will detract from your credibility.

One way to go about this? Become a better company.

This article was originally published on CreativeBrief.

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