“Bias Influences Who & How We Appoint”: Aimee Buchanan On Why Diversity In Leadership Matters

“Bias Influences Who & How We Appoint”: Aimee Buchanan On Why Diversity In Leadership Matters

Aimee Buchanan may be the CEO of GroupM, but she is so much more than that. Having spoken candidly on several key issues facing the industry today, she has been the key driver in a number of industry-first diversity and employee wellbeing initiatives.

B&T sat down with the 2023 Women In Media Power List winner to discuss the benefits of diversity in leadership and her advice for the next generation of women in media.

Entries for the 2024 Women In Media Awards, presented by Are Media, are open now!

B&T: What inspired you to pursue a career in media?

Buchanan: When I left school, I wanted to be a journalist. I studied Communications at UTS and ended up broadening out over time. After leaving university, I saw an ad in the paper (yep, that shows the era) for a job at Mitchell’s as a media assistant. I did a couple of years at Mitchell’s and loved the ability we had to influence amazing brands and businesses.

After travelling, I returned back to Mitchells to work on Optus, which they had just won. It was Optus who really influenced my love of what we do and cemented that this was an incredible career. I was fortunate to work with some incredible people over that time and ended up working on every facet of that business – performance, sponsorship, business, brand and consumer. I was eventually given the opportunity to run the Optus & Virgin account – it was at the start of the pivotal evolution of Australian media into search and digital marketing and simultaneously the transformation of the telecommunications category. It was this combination of being part of something (my agency), being able to shape something (my client) and learning new things all the time that got me hooked.


B&T: What advice would you give to the next generation of women in media following you?

Buchanan: My advice for both women and men is the same – put your hand up for every opportunity, find people you will learn from and stick with them. Seek out strong mentors who will back you in the business, be honest with you, and help you grow.

Loyalty and persistence are two traits that have served me well in my career and are the ones I look for in people and our teams. Some of the best advice I have ever been given is to play the long game. You might not win or succeed today, but the experience you gain may well set you up to succeed in the future. It’s still something I remind myself of frequently.


B&T: What do you think the benefits are of having women in leadership positions?

Buchanan: I believe in the right person for the job. The benefit comes from having good leaders who know what they are doing and bring their people on the journey regardless of gender. Set yourself up with the right hiring processes and policies to support people through their careers. It’s not complicated, but without diverse representation at the top, bias continues to influence who and how we appoint.

The best advice I have been given about creating a more fair and equitable workforce is to remove direct appointments and have a diverse panel doing the interview process. It is how we have run all of our senior hires across GroupM, and the outcome has been greater diversity in senior roles. Diversity is not just the right thing to do but is proven statistically to drive better business results.


B&T: Could you share a specific instance where your leadership style has made a significant impact? How does your approach differ from that of your male counterparts?

Buchanan: One of the largest learning curves I have had in leadership is during COVID. It was the first time in my career I acutely felt responsible not only for people’s livelihoods but their lives. People wanted clarity and honesty, balanced with humanness and care. There wasn’t a rulebook, but l loved having the opportunity to craft the blueprint and plan. The adaptability forced us to work super closely as a leadership team, with more clarity and decisiveness than ever before. We acted quickly and communicated clearly and consistently. Through this process, I really gained a comfortability with doing this is my own style. I continue to lean into communicating as clearly and transparently as I can at all times.


B&T: How do we get more women interested in media careers and stick with it into leadership roles?

Buchanan: The key point when women leave media is still when they are embarking on having a family. It is also one of the major drivers of the gender pay gap.

We need better policies to support parents’ option to share primary caring, support to bring people back into the workforce, and support for the next 18 years of raising a child. This needs to be gender-neutral (parental, not maternity). We then need informal policies in businesses that create a supportive culture for everyone. My lens on this has been playing the longer game with these employees.


B&T: What mistakes have you made along the way, and what did you learn from them?

Buchanan: I have made many, many mistakes over the years. One of my early ones was forgetting to add the spot colour load to a huge plan. It meant I was 20 per cent short on a $4m press campaign. I went to my boss at the time and he told me to call the client immediately and own it. I was terrified, but I did it, and she was amazing. She was so understanding about the speed we had been working at, and we worked through a plan to resolve it. My learning from that is that issues, mistakes, and errors will happen; it is how we manage it that counts. Sometimes, the biggest error or issue strengthens the relationship if we manage it well.

More recently, my leadership learnings have come from how I manage and lead people. I’m naturally very action-oriented, and a strength of that is that I get things done. The flip side of that is that I continue to work at bringing people on the journey before jumping into action. I have learnt over time to sometimes let things sit. Rushing to an outcome won’t always get the outcome you need or want.

Enter B&T’s Women in Media Awards Now!

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