Uncovering Hidden Talent: A Conversation with Olivia Wedderburn, Social and Influence Director

Hi Olivia, could you introduce yourself for those that don’t know you?

Hello! I’m Olivia, TMW’s Social and Influence Director, responsible for the strategic social output of the agency. I work with an amazing team of Social Media, Influencer and Partnership and Community Managers, creating some really great content and collaborations for a whole roster of clients spanning lots of sectors. I also co-chair the DMA Social Media Council, the home of social intelligence in the UK, where we support marketers of all levels and provide guidance to governing bodies on social media policy. 

Can you give a bit of an overview into your experience as a hiring manager, and the challenges that come with it when thinking about DE&I?

I first started acting as a hiring manager about 4 years ago, and I think the changes I’ve seen in that time have been really positive. We still have a long way to go, but when I first started hiring, I remember being that it wasn’t front and centre to the process. It seemed like a lot of the industry were still operating in the mindset of hiring from your network and viewing the hiring process as a long and arduous one, rather than one ripe with opportunity. Whereas now, DE&I is, rightly so, seen as one of the most important factors in the hierarchy of hiring. There are natural challenges that come with this, unlearning unconscious biases and avoiding the temptation of sticking to what you know for ease. But, the implantation of blind CVs, working with programmes that facilitate equal opportunities, and thinking more laterally about the jobs we hire from rather than looking specifically for ad agency experience, are all ways that are improving the experience for everyone involved.

What has working with Hidden been like, and how would you describe the difference between Hidden and a traditional recruitment agency?

Working with Hidden has been an absolute breath of fresh air. I think we are at a pivotal part of history when it comes to DE&I, especially within the ad industry. There is a huge amount of pressure and opportunity being presented to younger leaders like myself to help try and change how things are done, but this work can’t be done overnight and isn’t easy. I felt very paralysed by the recruitment process and doing the right thing, and I had undoubtedly already made some mistakes along the way. After TMW formed the Youboard (our diversity and inclusion committee which acts as a shadow board), one of the first things on the agenda was reviewing our hiring practices. We have an amazing internal recruitment team at TMW, but a lot of this stuff was new territory for all of us, and we needed a bit of a hand. Hidden really helped bridge that gap, by coming towards us with compassion and education at the forefront of their process, rather than just sales targets. It felt that every candidate being placed in front of us was being done so from a place of careful research and consideration, and the coaching that came with those candidates from the Hidden team was incredibly valuable. I often found myself asking our talent partner, Lucas Grant, some probably incredibly silly questions – and he always answered with compassionate and really informative answers. It was a bit of a game changer in how I viewed the process.

Organisations commonly talk about their diversity, but what does it mean to be an INCLUSIVE employer?

I wish this wasn’t the case, but for many organisations DE&I is fairly new on the agenda. Lots of organisations are still desperately trying to figure it out. But something I’ve noticed, from speaking to peers across the industry, is that we talk a big talk about a diverse hiring process and getting underrepresented talent through the door, but we don’t necessarily practice what we preach or continue that exploration once they cross the threshold. I think being an inclusive employer is considering that entire experience for any new employee, and ensuring that they feel represented, respected and cared for whilst working in that role. We have a value at TMW, Take Pride, which is all about being able to bring your whole self to work and feel safe and nurtured in doing that. That journey should start when you join the company until the moment you leave it, and the company should actively facilitate inclusive employment practices to allow their talent to thrive. Outside of delivering great work, we need to be considering how we are pushing our teams to learn and develop by providing regular training, consistently asking for feedback, and hearing out their opinions to give them an active voice. 

What does “nurturing underrepresented talent” mean to you, and how can it be achieved?

It is not enough to hire underrepresented talent, throw them in the deep end and hope they can swim. To retain this talent, and provide a truly nurturing background, employers need to think about the long game of development for each and every member of the team. It’s ensuring that education and training isn’t just around the direct functions of the job, but wider societal and cultural education to connect your teammates. It’s celebrating moments that matter to different intersections of society, whether that’s sharing food or sharing a big calendar moment. But I think really crucially it’s about actively listening and learning from your talent and ensuring that their voice is fed back into the way that the company is run or is approaching problems. It’s the role of the line manager to ensure that their teams’ opinions are taken on board and respected, and escalated accordingly.

How has the challenge of nurturing underrepresented talent changed since remote working has become more prevalent?

A huge amount of learning is done by osmosis. As much as you might try, you cannot replace the benefit of being directly sat next to your manager, mentor, or teammates. As a result, there is a huge gap, especially when working with employees who haven’t previously worked in a corporate setting before. They don’t even have past experience to draw from, and instead could be missing out on opportunities to connect and question with their team. I think this is a huge problem, and I don’t think we’ve totally cracked how we do some of those education pieces remotely. I think there is huge value in physical proximity from an education standpoint, but also don’t think it should be mandatory for individuals to come to an office space to learn. Instead, we have to continue to adapt and try and be respectful and empathetic of those who may be learning at a slower pace due to the lack of exposure to situations and conversations that might help them grasp something more quickly. I think we will get there, but like with all things since the pandemic, it’s a slow learning curve. 

What strategies can you put in place to make sure those underrepresented voices get heard when WFH?

You cannot underestimate the power of a regular check in. I believe 121s should happen regularly (weekly/biweekly) and should be a really clear and safe opportunity for employees to get any concerns off their chest, or even use the time to troubleshoot. Managers should also take this time to try and understand the pain points of their team and see how they can alleviate them, and also escalate them to the appropriate place. I think it’s also important to foster cross department and cross management conversations to let underrepresented voices speak outside of that 121 dynamic. For example, enrolling your team in an internal mentorship programme gives them more opportunities to vent and express any worries and concerns in an environment not directly with their line manager. I also think that at an exec level, there should be regular comms with more junior team members to be able to paint a fair picture of what’s going on throughout the agency. One way to achieve this would be to regularly send anonymous surveys to get a temperature check on what’s going on without attributing to any one individual. By removing your name, there’s naturally more honesty, which stops us patting ourselves on the back when there’s still loads of work to be done. 

How has the challenge of nurturing underrepresented talent changed since remote working has become more prevalent?

A huge amount of learning is done by osmosis. As much as you might try, you cannot replace the benefit of being directly sat next to your manager, mentor, or teammates. As a result, there is a huge gap, especially when working with employees who haven’t previously worked in a corporate setting before. They don’t even have past experience to draw from, and instead could be missing out on opportunities to connect and question with their team. I think this is a huge problem, and I don’t think we’ve totally cracked how we do some of those education pieces remotely. I think there is huge value in physical proximity from an education standpoint, but also don’t think it should be mandatory for individuals to come to an office space to learn. Instead, we have to continue to adapt and try and be respectful and empathetic of those who may be learning at a slower pace due to the lack of exposure to situations and conversations that might help them grasp something more quickly. I think we will get there, but like with all things since the pandemic, it’s a slow learning curve. 

What strategies can you put in place to make sure those underrepresented voices get heard when WFH?

You cannot underestimate the power of a regular check in. I believe 121s should happen regularly (weekly/biweekly) and should be a really clear and safe opportunity for employees to get any concerns off their chest, or even use the time to troubleshoot. Managers should also take this time to try and understand the pain points of their team and see how they can alleviate them, and also escalate them to the appropriate place. I think it’s also important to foster cross department and cross management conversations to let underrepresented voices speak outside of that 121 dynamic. For example, enrolling your team in an internal mentorship programme gives them more opportunities to vent and express any worries and concerns in an environment not directly with their line manager. I also think that at an exec level, there should be regular comms with more junior team members to be able to paint a fair picture of what’s going on throughout the agency. One way to achieve this would be to regularly send anonymous surveys to get a temperature check on what’s going on without attributing to any one individual. By removing your name, there’s naturally more honesty, which stops us patting ourselves on the back when there’s still loads of work to be done. 

 

Thank you so much Olivia for taking the time to sit down and answering some of my questions, some really insightful answers there!