What we learned… setting up our inclusion and diversity initiative

By Harriet Cunningham, group agency director and Georgie Haig, senior product manager

‘What I learned’ is a blog series that lets you see what life is like inside MiQ, as people from our business talk about challenges they’ve overcome, opportunities they’ve taken, and everything they’ve discovered along the way. 

In 2017, two MiQers saw the lack of gender diversity within our business and the media world in general – and they decided to do something about it. The initiative they started quickly grew and expanded, eventually inspiring the company-wide global inclusion and diversity initiative led by Sara Axelbaum, global head of I&D, and our I&D committee.  

In this blog, we sit down with Harriet and Georgie to find out what they learned during the process…

Q: Hey, can you introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about what you do at MiQ?

Harriet: I’m Harriet, I’m a group agency director in the UK, looking after GroupM. I’ve been at MiQ for 6 years in the sales team. I’m pretty passionate about delivering game-changing work for clients and I was recently selected as the Campaign’s ThirtyUnder30 which I am still smiley about! 

Georgie: I’m Georgie, a senior product manager at MiQ looking after our future-facing strategy for digital identity in a post-cookie world. I joined the business as a product trainee half a decade ago and have grown with it from there. 

Q: What first inspired you to tackle the issue of gender diversity within MiQ?

G: When I joined MiQ in 2015, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of gender diversity – at all levels of the business, but particularly at the top. I took an unusual route into product management, as I started out in PR, a traditionally very female industry. So, to move from one environment to the other made it all the more stark for me. 

H: For me, my Grandma had a successful furniture business and Mum has an OBE so my entire childhood I was totally naive to that fact that I would go to work and potentially not see women at the top. MiQ had one woman on their management team, globally in 2017. And around the industry, we were by no means an outlier. 

G: Yeah, MiQ sits at the intersection of media and tech – two industries (of many!) that have particularly struggled with gender equality. When we started our project – initially called WiQ, with the ‘W’ standing for ‘women’ – we felt there were two major challenges: a lack of female representation and, more insidiously, a lack of awareness and understanding of why female representation was important.  

H: Exactly. When we started talking to people about it, we realised very little of it was ‘on purpose’, it was just the way things happened, particularly in start-ups. But that didn’t make it right or okay. It wasn’t fair that we should continue to miss out on opportunities just because there wasn’t an awareness of or focus on gender parity when the business started. So we wanted to be part of fixing that, for ourselves and for all the other women in our business and our industry.

Q: Did you find bringing about change easy? Were there big challenges along the way?

H: Some change can be instant. But lots of change takes time. And persistence. And bravery. But we also learnt that when you teach people something, they can’t unlearn it. 

I think we also learnt a lot about each other. We’re pretty much opposites when it comes to the way we work, so that took some getting used to.  When it was just us and we were leading the initiative, if there were any disagreements we just had to figure it out ourselves. I’m very glad Georgie has learnt I will be between 3-8 minutes late every morning because I always overestimate my own ability to walk faster than google maps…

G: We also realised very quickly that we couldn’t solve everything ourselves. We initially set out to focus on raising awareness of the issue at hand. First up we had to persuade Richard, MiQ’s global president, who back then was brand new to the business, to back our first event. Fortunately, he supported us and gave us some budget and, thanks to some very supportive colleagues, we secured an amazing speaker in Laura Bates (author and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project), a venue, and a guestlist. From there, WiQ really blew up thanks to the success of that event. So, the big lesson for me was speaking up and asking for help – it’s the only way to find allies. 

Q: How has your initial initiative changed and developed over the last few years?

H: Both of us are in the UK, so one distinctive challenge has been building a movement that works across all our teams while supporting cultural idiosyncrasies across MiQ’s many regions. The most important step we took was building out a community of more than 40 passionate ambassadors across the world to localise the message and lead the charge in their regions. And because of their work, inclusion and diversity has become a top priority for the business as a whole. 

G: As social justice movements from #MeToo to anti-racism movements have started to get the prominence they deserve, we – as both employees and consumers – have started to expect more from corporations. And so we’ve evolved alongside this: from a grassroots organisation into MiQ’s wider I&D initiative. 

While I’m not suggesting MiQ handled the move into lockdown or the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests perfectly (I’m not sure any company did), I’d like to think we were set up to respond in a more genuine manner, with empathy and honesty, than we might have been before the focus on inclusion and diversity. I’m proud that we were part of creating the blueprint for that thinking – and I’m excited to be part of the continued evolution.  

Q: And finally, to bring us around to the title of the series… what did you learn?

H: Our industry wants to change, it just needs guidance on how. Three years ago we were knocking on the door preaching the importance of I&D. Now there’s so much awareness about supporting and promoting equality, not just around gender, but across all groups. I love that. So, now’s the time for more action to keep demanding change.

G: The past few months in particular have been a learning experience for everyone. One of the things we’ve learned is that businesses need to take responsibility, educate themselves and take action before a social justice issue is trending. This is a new and potentially uncomfortable area, but it should never be the sole responsibility of under-represented team members to point out and fight for that representation. We are on a journey towards that at MiQ, but we have only just scratched the surface.