When it comes to diversity and inclusion in adland, we still have a way to go. At B&T, we’re working hard to change the ratio across the media and communications industry, which is why we created our inspiring Changing the Ratio event.
In the lead up to CTR (view all the details of the not-to-be-missed event here), B&T caught up with Aimee Buchanan, CEO of OMD Australia to learn more about how OMD is working to change the ratio, as well as the changes Buchanan has made in her own life to promote diversity and inclusion.
Buchanan has over 19 years of media experience and has been recognised in the Campaign Asia-Pacific 40 under 40, SHE’SAID’ series of Inspirational Women and was awarded Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Account Person of the Year. She also topped B&T‘s Women in Power List 2018, and she’s supporting Changing the Ratio.
How OMD is working to change the ratio
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, OMD is an agency that’s leading the charge. According to Buchanan, OMD has had particular success in retaining people as they go through parenthood.
She said: “Historically, the life stage of having kids has been a massive issue for the industry and agencies have lost a lot of people because of poor formal policies and informal support structures”.
“People were being lost for a few reasons, which we started addressing through a range of initiatives.”
Some of those initiatives include new parental leave policies and formal policy structures, such as doubling the amount of parental leave new parents are granted.
Secondly, OMD introduced a flexible working policy across the agency which not only benefited primary child carers, but the rest of the company too. OMD even brought in a consultant to work with them on the new policies because the deeper they went into it, the more they realised it wasn’t black and white.
Buchanan said: “Personally, I walk out of the office between 5pm – 6pm most days, unless I have something on, because I like to be there for my daughter. The reality is, if we want to encourage more parents back into the industry after having children, then we need to accommodate flexible working so that mums and dads can spend time with their families.”
She added: “The industry loses a lot of great talent – people going client-side or media-side. I truly believe if we can support people through the life stage of parenthood, are generally more inclusive when it comes to diversity of age, as well as diversity of culture, which OMD’s working on, everyone wins.”
OMD’s great success
Buchanan revealed OMD has so far experienced great success with its new policies, especially its parental leave policy. She also said when it comes to implementing policies, it’s about looking at whether or not they work in the success of a business.
She said: “OMD’s policies to bolster diversity and inclusion in the industry have so far been a great success. About two to three years ago we had 26 per cent of primary carers coming back into the workforce. Today, we have 89 per cent returning.
“We’re also getting a lot of people coming to us from other agencies on mat-leave, or that are about to have children, who have heard OMD is an agency where you can have a family and be supported.
“I think that’s the very definition of successful policy implementation.”
You’re never really done when it comes to changing the ratio
For OMD, changing the ratio is something that, according to Buchanan, “it is [their] goal that this is in [their] DNA rather than just part of the business.”
This is a true testament to how OMD is tackling the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in adland, because as Buchanan aptly put it, “we have put a lot of energy into this and we are now looking at how we evolve, expand and improve.”
She added: “It’s cool to work flexibly, and we expect people to go on paternity leave – we encourage it! And then, people come back.”
When asked if OMD has backtracked in any way in their policies, Buchanan gave a firm no, saying: “We haven’t gone backward. In fact, we’re constantly evolving. We’re always looking at the pressure points in the industry and what we can change to alleviate that pressure.”
Buchanan added: “You’re never really done in this space, are you?”
Adland as a whole still has a way to go
While adland is certainly stepping up its game, there is still a lot more that can and needs to be done to change the ratio.
When asked if she thought adland had made progress in this space, Buchanan was hesitant to respond.
She said: “I struggle with this because I like to think so, and then I’ll talk to someone and hear a horrible story and think maybe it’s just that we’ve made progress.
“There are definitely other agencies paving the way. In other media agencies, in terms of female CEOs, I think Katie-Rigg Smith and Virginia Hyland were probably the only other ones, when I stepped into the role. There are about five or six women now, so I think there has been a positive shift, from a representation point of view.
“I don’t know if that shift is widespread in all creative/media agencies. On one hand, it feels like it’s moving, but then you read the horrible articles about people saying they tried to re-enter the workforce and they’re offered a job three levels down on half the pay. It makes me question whether it’s moved consistently.”
Leading the charge as a female CEO
Ever-so humbly, Buchanan says that while OMD’s leadership in the space of changing the ratio wasn’t all on her, it was a focus for the entire leadership team, she said she likes “to think [she’s] played a part in it.”
In her personal life, Buchanan is also making plenty of headway, working as both a formal and informal mentor.
“I mentor quite a lot of people within the business, both formally and informally. I think also having a baby, returning to OMD and then being promoted to CEO, and now pregnant again in the CEO role … that I have demonstrated to not only my staff, but more broadly the industry, that it is possible to change the way we work.”
On being voted Australia’s most powerful woman in media
In 2018, Buchanan won B&T‘s most powerful Woman in Media Award, which she called “incredibly humbling”.
She said: “I look at the women on that list – many are good friends, many are people who have mentored me, or I’ve mentored them. So, it’s an incredible honour.”
When asked what the Women in Media awards mean to her, she said it was a platform to inspire and drive change, adding: “It’s about being a role model not just within our organisation, but also more broadly.”