What is representation? Is the creative industry a fair reflection of the people that we’re trying to reach? Is there a role model that looks like you to look up to? What happens if we don’t see ourselves reflected in a room? What will the next generation inherit from us?
The creative industries in the UK contribute over £111 billion into the economy but minority groups still only make up 13%. This podcast episode "That's not me," we discuss the importance of representation and seeing ourselves reflected within the industry.
The OneSixOne Podcast
Co-founders of OneSixOne, Matt, Steph, Andy and Jared share their thoughts and conversations amidst the everyday madness of running a diverse creative agency. Recorded at The Qube, London. Produced by Tim Steemson. Theme music- ‘Lights Camera Action’ by meganeko. To keep up-to-date with the OneSixOne podcast, signup and subscribe via Spotify or Apple Music.
Matt Miller (00:00):
Welcome to the OneSixOne podcast where we share stuff we've been chatting about in the studio. Cause we want to chat about it some more. I'm Matt Miller and in the room today we have Jared.
Jared Saar (00:39):
Matt Miller (00:39):
We have Mitch the plant. Say hi Mitch.
Mitch the plant [Steph] (00:43):
Matt Miller (00:43):
We have Andy.
Andy Khatouli (00:44):
Yo, what's up?
Matt Miller (00:45):
And we have Steph.
Stephanie Alcaino (00:46):
Matt Miller (00:47):
How are we doing everyone?
Jared Saar (00:49):
Yeah. Doing well. I've noticed the last couple of weeks, Mitch sounds an awful lot like Steph.
Stephanie Alcaino (00:54):
I mean, we just, are similar people.
Jared Saar (00:58):
You're a photographer. It's a photosensitiser. Wow. Nobody can say that word. Nobody is. Nobody can say that. Just so you know. I said it correctly as best I could.
Stephanie Alcaino (01:14):
Hey guys, I fernly believe that Mitch and I are friends. He tends to stalk me sometimes.
Matt Miller (01:26):
So the past few episodes, we've kind of tapped into some of the topics we've been openly discussing in the studio. The context is there's a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world, but we always see through the lens of creativity, diversity, and purpose. And it's interesting because I feel like on the last episode, we're about to jump into a discussion. We blatantly didn't have time for it. Like that episode went on for a long time. We were kind of talking about children's books and representation in there. And I think, you know, representation as a word. There's a lot in that word. It's a bit of a loaded word. There's a lot of pros. There's a lot of cons, especially within industry and business. But Andy, you had some thoughts because you had a bit of an experience where we're talking about like representation and children's books in particular. Yeah. So, you know, the other day, me and my wife, we were buying some books for our son who is six months, year old. So we went to the local bookshop on our road, Owls Books on Kentish Town road. So shout out to that business. They're great. And we picked up a few books and it was only when we got home that I looked through the books, I suddenly realised all the people in these books are white. So my family from Iraqi descent and my wife is English. And so I suddenly realised it's important that my son can see a fair representation of the world. And it's not just through a single lens. And it got me thinking, I wonder what the statistics are around representation within the creative field that I work in. So these books are a product of the creative industry. So I wonder what it would look like when you look at the teams and the leaders within the industry itself. And so what I found was that in terms of money, the creative industry contributes about 111 billion to the UK economy.
Jared Saar (03:01):
Andy Khatouli (03:02):
So it's huge. So like our state is big. Like we're influential in terms of people's daily lives and how we influence them. Now within that industry, we make up about one in six jobs across the economy. So that's huge as well. That is a huge number. So a sixth of all jobs in the UK are creative. And then, so when you get down to the statistics of like, who is doing those jobs, 13% are represented by BAME backgrounds. 13%. It's tiny. It's tiny. And then when you want to get into the detail of it within senior roles, only 8% are represented by those from BAME backgrounds. And I want to just check out here, what's been your experience of this. Do you feel that when you look at the creative industry, it's a fair reflection of the people that we're trying to reach?
Matt Miller (03:51):
So Andy, when we're talking about representation, because that word is very loaded and we could talk all day about representation. Where are you coming from?
Andy Khatouli (03:59):
I guess there's probably maybe one or two things or both things at the same time. So the first would be that someone who acts or speaks on behalf of you.
Matt Miller (04:06):
The literal Oxford English definition of representation.
Andy Khatouli (04:08):
Or it's something to amount, to something to aim for.
Matt Miller (04:12):
Yeah. I think that's interesting. I think speaking from personal experience, there have not been many times where I've stepped into a room in the creative industry, working specifically with brands, products, and campaigns, to create a message for a certain demographic, that demographic spin all kinds of people throughout my career. It's been general consumer, it's been young black children. It's been all kinds of the target audience. There have not been many times where I've stepped into a room and the most senior person in that room is me years ahead. And what I mean by me years ahead is a black male or black female that is in the senior position of power. That's commissioning the messaging or the campaign or the creative piece, which has left me conflicted in a lot of scenarios, which I shared before here. And it's interesting then because I feel like part of combating that we've put this word in the industry about fair representation, right? Like we need to have better representation, but I feel like that word is loaded because it's rare that it amounts to this definition that you're talking about and do, which is someone speaking on behalf of those people. You know, if I'm doing a campaign, which I know is targeting a certain group of people or speaking to a certain group of people if those people are in the room, then there's not a fair representation. We've appropriated their voice or their message to speak to them, which has been the problem, which we faced with a lot of failed campaigns, right? Is like we said, maybe on the last episode, like who was in the room when that stuff got decided. And I feel like, you know, in our circles and conversation that we're having with businesses and clients, it's only now that because the internet is so transparent and people can be held to account so quickly and be called out. These big brands are starting to say, do you know, actually we need to address this representation. Representation in this context looks like people at the table with a voice that actually can act on that. But Steph, you've got some experience as well from a slightly different angle because it's not just about race when we talk about representation.
Stephanie Alcaino (06:04):
Yeah. Well, growing up in Australia and being Hispanic in the late 90s and early 00s, I found that television and pop culture did not represent me. And I don't think I ever thought about it outwardly or consciously, but I felt it within my identity that I couldn't understand myself because there was nothing within my context that represented who I was. And I even now struggling with not seeing myself represented from an ethnicity perspective and then coming here [London] and seeing that you know, when I used to shoot for London Fashion Week, I'd be one of two or three other females. And the rest was just men.
Jared Saar (06:42):
Can I ask How many photographers are in this pit that you're there?
Stephanie Alcaino (06:45):
Usually around like 20 or 30.
Jared Saar (06:48):
Stephanie Alcaino (06:49):
So immediately puts you on the back foot because you're like, am I meant to be here? Because I'm literally the only woman. There was one time where I said, hello and tried to start a conversation with another woman. She completely ignored me. And I was like, Oh, female power. Okay. Another time then... So I have found that there have been several different layers where I felt underrepresented in a room. And I think, that even as we speak about BAME or the global audience and the different groups within that global audience. Naturally, every single person under the sun has some form of an intersection. Some more so than others. That makes up our individual identity. And I feel like if we continue to try and homogenise and group people as minorities or females or males, we choose to neglect that everyone holds different elements and different layers of what makes them, them. And I feel like Gen Z is starting to kind of get that. They are just trying to be themselves, whoever they are and just kind of show all layers of themselves. So I think that nowadays we need to start focusing on how we truly represent what it means to be unique. And if we speak about unity as a global audience, that we're not trying to mask that as homogeny. Unity is, that every single person is different, but they make up the whole. And we're trying to some degree create that in the representation of our company at OneSixOne. Trying to slowly showcase the uniqueness and differences in the audience that we're trying to communicate to.
Matt Miller (08:37):
Yeah. It's interesting. Isn't it? Because I'm just trying to recall what it was like for me. Cause I grew up most of my life in the North of England. In Leeds, when my family moved from down South when I was like seven or eight, so I went to a mostly white school. Like I was the only black kid in my primary school when I moved to Leeds. I think there was one or two mixed-race kids in that school, but that was it. And then the same when I went to high school until like my sister came four years later and she was the other one and there was like 1500 kids in that school.
Jared Saar (09:07):
Matt Miller (09:07):
So there was me, a couple of Chinese guys, a couple of Indian guys, one was Muslim and then two other mixed-race guys, no females, which is another thing in itself. Like no female minority as much as I can recall in my year group anyway. And so I think it's interesting when there's like a big sky picture of this right. Cause there's a lot of things we're talking about aspirationalism, when we talk about representation, seeing yourself represented. But I think there is a physical thing to it as well because the dynamic in a room is very different when you're an adolescent and you're white teacher in a group of white kids and there's only you are delivering a lesson on slavery. That whole thing is going to be educated very differently to a room full of all different races and a teacher who's not white. And so if you imagine the amount of hours you spend in the classroom, being educated, being taught, being presented a world view of that, and you have to find your place in that world. Like, I mean, I mean I'm here and I'm relatively sane, but I think if I was afforded an opportunity where I was able to have that dialogue on those questions and understanding and understand justice and the emotion of all of that at a much younger age. I'd probably be doing a lot better at my involvement in the conversation then I'm now having to do and reeducate myself at 30. I think it's going back to even the original question, why it's important, why some of these books. Because I read books that were like about a hungry Caterpillar and Biff, Chip and Kipper. You know, the only stories unfortunately that I was told were not even written in books or if they were, it was because my parents were teaching me about that stuff. And it was always issues of injustice or the heroes was people that change policy and government and this and this, you know what I mean? And if it wasn't that you were an entertainer, so you're a musician or a singer. And so to then go through school and figure out, you know what, I don't probably want to do the standard thing where it feels like I'm accepted, which is sports or music. I want to do creativity. It's like, no one taught me about any black creative the whole time was at school.
Stephanie Alcaino (11:10):
Hmm. That's a really interesting point. Um, particularly it makes me think about Reni Eddo-Lodge in her book 'Why no longer speak to white people about race'. She said something that stuck with me. And she was talking about how there's no teaching about black history in the UK. And she says that you've robbed me of a context of understanding myself. And I was like, Oh, that's so strong. It made me think of the grander picture of things that if there's no context given of being, I dunno, Hispanic and a female in the creative industry and someone else who's similar to me seeing that context, that they can start to understand who they are and how they can imagine themselves within that context and within that space because there is already a narrative there that has shaped a possible future for them. It's a shame that we don't have enough of those narratives to showcase other people how they can be anything beyond, I guess, what the stereotype of who they're meant to be, whether they're meant to be a musician or something, um, depending on their race. There is a major risk if we continue to categorise people into different groups. There's safety in categorisation. Because when you categorise someone or pigeonhole someone you're saying, I've figured a way to understand you, but the moment someone doesn't sit within that category, whether it's like, you know, you're British and you're white or you're Australian. And you know, you surf every single day, whatever it is.. That I think there's to some degree as suspicion towards people that don't fit one category, because, people can't understand them. And there's a fear of not being able to understand someone. What that does, marginalises those people because they're not being able to be understood through their intersections, through what makes them different, what makes them unique. And so if they try to place themselves into something they're passionate about, but they don't exist in that, in that context, then everyone around them within that context starts to go, well, you don't make sense within this context because it's foreign. It's not organic to the space that has already been made. And that's a major problem because it alienates people who want to pursue something that they haven't seen themselves in already.
Andy Khatouli (13:29):
Yeah. I think the theme that keeps coming through is that if you don't have someone in a position of authority or leadership that represents something of who you are, what culture you're from, what happens is that analogy used Matt, of the classroom, where you have a single worldview that's being presented constantly and ignores the fact that there's someone in the room who is not being acknowledged, not being represented. And the assumption is that they'll just get along with it and they will accept that this is how it is. And, you know, speaking from experience, going into working in different design agencies, studios, creative studios, freelancing in numerous ones in London. And my experience is that I have not come across a single creative director who is either a woman or from BAME backgrounds. And what that tells me is that when we're talking in the context of the creative industry, when we're pumping out work and we're creating messaging and we're putting together campaigns, or even coming up with like the sort of the details like graphic palettes and the choice of typography and colour, it's always coming from a single worldview, the default worldview, and therefore the work suffers. It's not a true representation of the people that we're trying to reach. It's not a true representation of the audience that will be engaging with this on a day-to-day basis. And it's sad for me that it's kind of got to this stage now, we have these big discussions about BLM that people suddenly starting to switch on to that, you know. Sadly, no one noticed that before that no one looked at the leadership team and went, why is there no one that looks like Andy or Matt or Steph on this team? You know, and, sadly, it's the people in junior positions that are challenging those things that there's been years and years and years of creative studios being started in London or across the country, across the world. And the reoccurring pattern is those who lead it look the same. And yeah, it does break my heart that, you know, it causes young creatives to not feel like they belong there. That they're the second rate that their voices aren't heard that their contribution is not as good and that it will be very hard for them to get into that position. And for me, that was my experience. That's, what's kind of led me to partner with you guys to do OneSixOne. I'm tired of going into the same environment over and over again. And I see the same faces over and over again. And I see people like me on the odd occasion who are disappointed, really disappointed because they're like, we love this. We love this job. We'd love this world that we work in. It just seems like we're invisible.
Matt Miller (16:01):
Yeah. I think you're spot on Andy. There's an interesting point also from Reni Eddo Lodge's podcast, 'Why I no longer talking to white people about race', which has an excellent follow on from the book. If you read the book, which I highly recommend everyone does. There's an episode where she kind of talks about complacency and it is interesting, isn't it? Because a lot of these structures and systems, it's only until it becomes unbearable in the complacency that people have to incite the change or act on the change. And so, you know, in some times, as we've just seen in America, like the pressure cooker just builds too much in the complacency to where whoever rises to rebel against the system. It's like, you know, most of Hollywood films are built on that. Like people are oppressed, the pressure cooker builds. We rebel against the system. And I think you're right, Andy, I think, you know, for us at OneSixOne, we've all got shared experiences where we've walked into the room and it's been important that the room looked like us to a certain degree because of either the messaging or the outputs or what we're being asked of. There's been a lot of times we've been asked to bring in ideas, to speak to people like us. And we weren't the ones that created those ideas or made them happen. And we can look behind us at those that are coming up, who are incredibly talented and their ideas are being stolen and they're not being paid the dividend that they deserve, or that there's not enough nurturing of that talent with enough resource that they really should be in. That resource is going elsewhere. And so I think it's a shame for me that a lot of businesses, and we're seeing a lot of movements, a lot of collectives being born out of this same frustration because history tells us that it usually leads to like a big revolution and it shouldn't be that people have to lose their jobs or huge things have to fall. We need to just address this paradigm between these agencies and whatever, and powers and creative structures and blah, blah, blah, blah... That have been operated in a way so long. That just seems now so abstract from what the world truly needs and what people really need and what humanity needs.
Andy Khatouli (18:03):
Hmm. I think there's something to be said about what will the next generation inherit from us? Cause I guess a lot of the time when you're talking about your career, you're thinking about yourself, aren't you? When we, when we're thinking about the creative industry, it's always about, am I going to get a D&AD pencil? Am I going to cement a legacy for myself? Like, will people recognise me for my contribution? And I think there's something to be said that we're not thinking ahead. We're not thinking who will be the next creative photographer/designer who looks like me. Who's coming up. He's probably just graduated from school right now and is looking for an opportunity and has so much potential, so many good ideas, so much to bring to the table. And you know, the first couple of studios they enter, they're just like, I felt so discouraged. My goals have been flattened because there's no real kind of tangible example in front of me of what I can achieve. And I think it's so important that the creative industry needs to take more of that mindset of, okay, who's the next creatives that are going to be coming out and how can we make moves right now? That means that our industry just gets better and better. And the next lot of creatives who come out of school or enrol in internships or whatever it is, they turn up and they go, Oh, I'm so encouraged that this person, that person, this person did that. That's amazing. I know I can do this as well. And I think that's something that we need to maybe have more of a corporate understanding of like our responsibility as creatives is not always just about what we're achieving for ourselves, but we left something behind so that the next lot of designers or creatives or photographers or whatever it is, they have an opportunity as well. And they can continue that legacy.
Stephanie Alcaino (19:35):
Yeah. I think you guys both had some really like strong points. Andy, with what you're talking about considering the next generation and Matt, what you were discussing about complacency is that unless we're willing to be quite proactive in our approach to seek diversity, nothing's going to change. I definitely can see that with companies that have now gone, Oh yeah, we were diverse. We have X number of whatever groups in our company, but no one has a seat at the table and it's still a homogenous leadership team. Is that real diversity or is it a cosmetic version of diversity? And how can we be proactive to think about how we can include the next generation beyond ourselves? And is it considering that, you know, within the creative industry, you can't have to go through this like process of unpaid internships and is that creating a healthy space for certain people to grow? If they're looking after their families and they also have to provide for their families is the effective route free internships for those who cannot afford to live in London with close to nothing pay? How are we actively looking out to dismantle the lack of diversity within our creative industry? And unless we start asking those hard questions, we're going to just mask ourselves with this band-aid effect of cosmetic diversity, of going, yeah, we're diverse, but all the minority groups still are silenced within whatever industry, whatever company that they're in. And that's not creating change for the next generation.
Andy Khatouli (21:11):
Could you expand on what you mean by cosmetic?
Stephanie Alcaino (21:14):
So cosmetic has been like, let's say you're in a company and visually have a whole bunch of different ethnicities, gender groups and class groups, but none of them are decision-makers. None of them have a voice of how to strategically move a company forward. That's cosmetic diversity. In the same way that if a company is doing marketing campaigns that are diverse in people and showing all-inclusivity, but internally they're still quite homogenous. That's cosmetic diversity and it's not chasing that authenticity of going, if we're going to say we're diverse, how does that look like? And I think after the black lives matter movement, I was like, I think I still have such a shallow perspective of what diversity means. So I embarked on this need for knowledge, because Audrey Lorde, in her book, sister outsider, has such an amazing quote, which is along the lines of, excuse me, I'm going to paraphrase, but it's that understanding is knowledge put into use. And if you don't have that knowledge, if you don't have that understanding of why certain voices have been marginalised and silenced in the first place, how can you know what to do to be able to include those voices authentically and organically to help elevate them and to give them a space to feed into decisions?
Matt Miller (22:42):
Yeah. Steph, I think you articulated that perfectly because I felt like we could sit in his room all day and talk about the issues and the industry and the stuff that we're all facing. And I think, you know, part of even what's I guess, brought us together is a bit of a shared experience in terms of some of this under-representation or diversity within the creative industry and inclusion. And I think we could talk about it all day, but I think a lot of people listening to this, I say a lot of people, cause we've got like a huge fan base of people, the millions.
Andy & Matt (23:13):
And the Millionnnnnnssss.
Matt Miller (23:13):
For people listening at home, that was a little wrestling reference. Yeah. If you're into The Rock. Shout out to The Rock. If you're listening, send us some of your tequila.
Andy Khatouli (23:28):
Oh my goodness. If The Rock...
Matt Miller (23:34):
Let's get it to Dwayne.
Andy Khatouli (23:34):
If The Rock, listen to this podcast, I will eat my sock.
Matt Miller (23:37):
If anyone, anyone who knows Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and can get this in his ears, please, please do. So that we can get a video of Andy eating a sock.
Matt Miller (23:51):
Ah, so, I think, you know, a lot of people listening to this will either be clients that are just interested in how creative agencies work who are wondering who we are. Um, you know, cause we probably should be doing some work right now, but we're sat here just talking and recording it. Or it will be like peers and fellow creatives and people in the creative industry. Like that's who's probably going to be listening or just like our mums. But how do you change things? So if you're a freelance creative and you're not at the table, how do you change? For the average person that's not running an agency or creating government policies or the task can seem massive, right? Because we're trying to shift something that's huge. I mean, we got our own truth, own answer to that, which was to set up OneSixOne. To set up a diverse agency to solve something that didn't exist before, because we wanted to create messages with integrity and we couldn't continue doing that unless we created the vehicle that looked like the people we're trying to communicate to, to give opportunities to people that wouldn't have those opportunities because we know they've got great ideas. We know they're insanely talented. And so for people listening, like what can we do to contribute to, to this change?
Stephanie Alcaino (25:04):
Yeah, as mentioned before, I think it's important that we start learning and accept that we are ignorant in certain areas. And if we're choosing to base ourselves off the knowledge that we've just passively received, it won't be as effective that if we've proactively sought out the information ourselves and chosen to spend the time to hear those voices and what the barriers of society has put in front of them, what effects it has had on the individual. I think that's an important start. And I know I got you guys all to read a book called Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez because being the only female in the office, there were certain elements that I felt were creating a gap of me feeling truly a part of the crowd. And that's purely just from my gender and there's elements where it's just like general interests that get bantered around the office from like sports to music, to other certain elements of interaction of how we are when we work on projects and things like that. And I think being able to voice that was quite difficult for me because I didn't have the language to articulate it. And then going out to find the research helped me articulate it more. But like Jared would love to hear your thoughts on this because you read the book and you started seeing certain elements. It might be a good example to explain that once you've sought out the knowledge, what it did for you.
Jared Saar (26:29):
Hmm, yeah. I mean, it's interesting because obviously I'm a white guy and we're a diverse agency. So, you know, I represent a part of the population too. I think it's like if this is a really good discussion. I think it's like to be honest like we are not an anti-white agency because I work here and I get where you guys coming from. Because I think for me, like, obviously my experience is I am white. There's things that I've never had to think about that you guys clearly have had to think about when you're growing up in a school with white people or you're seeing movies and things like that. And you're not seeing yourself on TV. So I think for me, starting this agency has been such an eye-opener for me. And it continues to be an eye-opener for me in terms of like, Oh, okay, I'm starting to understand a little bit more about what Steph says when she's saying being the only woman in the office is this and see what Matt and Andy mean when they say this. And I think it's just in general chat, we always have different perspectives on things because we all come from different backgrounds. But I think what Steph's talking about when she was saying to read this book, I think it was like, this is just one example of the many examples I could say of this time with this agency working with you all. When she was like, I want you to read invisible women, It's a really helpful book to look at the, how the world's kind of been shaped more for men than for women and women are getting kind of missed out when we're creating these products and things like that. And so I picked up the book to read it and it was one of those things where it just like every page you turn to, you're like, Oh, I didn't even think of that. Oh, I didn't even realise that that would be a thing. And it's because my privileged position, I didn't have to think about it. It had been catered to me. And I remember we bought new bikes at the same time because we want it to cycle into work and we wanted to avoid public transport and bike was great. And Steph was there riding going like, ah my hands are cramping. I can't pull the brakes back. And I was thinking why? And she's like, I can't reach the brake handle to pull back. My hand keeps cramping. And I was thinking to myself, I was like, we're riding on the road. And if her hands cramping, she can't pull the brakes, she could die. The sad thing is it's like, is that when I'm supposed to make a change, like you're saying, when something terrible might happen and now I have to make change. But I think when I was reading Invisible Women and that I was like, Oh, Steph, and kind of women weren't thought about when they designed this and Oh, okay. I get it. And I think what's Steph saying is like in this agency, I think there's been loads of times where things have happened. And I'm like, Oh, I didn't even see it from that perspective. And I think without saying too much, it's been one of those things where I think what Steph was saying about like empathy, you really do have to humble yourself to kind of just go like, maybe I'm not seeing the full picture here, but I think there's one example for me, but there's so much I can say on this.
Andy Khatouli (29:40):
I think what Steph said is really good because It's probably the definition of wisdom. Isn't it? Wisdom is taking knowledge and then making the right choice with it. And so reading, even just books, like listening to people's stories will help to inform and shape how you change your culture and how you conduct yourself. And so if you are the freelancer, you know how to handle your own business, how to, how to present yourself, how to speak, how to think about yourself, you know, where you rethink your identity as a person it's not informed just by the environment that you're in, but also for the person who's hiring and who is working in business or in a creative industry is taking that time to say, all right, I need to learn. I need to listen. Because there's something that I haven't seen. And actually I've probably, haven't been making wise choices because I don't have the knowledge simple as that. I think it's not as easy as you know, in the BLM discussions, everyone posted up a black square. Actually I really liked the fact that everyone has put one up now because it's like, well, you're accountable to that square now, because if you really believe in that, I hope that in a year's time you would have made changes to your infrastructure. Which means that this will no longer be an issue. And actually I think for some, it will require radical change. So it's not like simple little tweaks. So for example, I try to avoid saying, Hey guys, because it's a term that's been genderized and actually that excludes Steph. So I try and say, Hey team. So little changes like that. But then sometimes there's radical changes where it's like, I'm going to dock my pay, or I am going to step down from my position and the person beneath me take over, because I know that as much as I might fulfill that role, better than this person, if this person never gets into this position, they will never be able to fulfill that role, if that makes sense. And then the next person probably won't be able to get to that position and the next person. So there are small changes that need to be done, like the simple changing of your grammar, or picking up a book or sitting down and listening to someone and trying to understand their story and their perspective. And then there's radical changes that actually need to happen as well, where you're making big shifts. And the reality is that not everyone will like that, but if you're under the conviction, that that is the right thing to do, then you've got to go forward.
Stephanie Alcaino (31:42):
Oh, definitely. I think from that point, Andy, it makes me think that, you know, we talk a lot about like cross-pollination and it's important that we have a diverse range of people in the room to cross-pollinate our ideas, our experiences, our backgrounds, and our skill sets in order to be a lot more innovative. That to me, when I think about how having a vast range of diverse perspectives in a room, how can contribute to creativity and shaping new ideas and innovation, why it hasn't been something that has been adopted into our industry earlier? Because if we have the same people in the same rooms all the time, then the ideas don't ever change or evolve beyond those similar experiences. The moment you inject a wide range of people who think differently who have been brought up in different cultures and with different languages, with different perspectives on things, how much more so can we push this creative industry forward? Not only for just the economy, but for the livelihood and for the next generation, as you said, Andy, and being able to bring them in. So we get even more ideas as a society. So we can push culture forward in a way that we've never seen before.
Andy Khatouli (32:58):
You know, one of the things that really shocked me is that, when you consider how people come into the creative industry, they're coming through either university or college, and there's a recurring pattern, even in those environments where those in the positions of leadership are not representing those who are studying. So there's this kind of institutionalized problem where it runs all the way down to education and it goes all the way up to your career and it's all connected. And so there needs to be this reshuffling of ideals about who is smart in this world, who educates in this world. And for me, that's groundbreaking thinking about it in that terms, because I can speak on behalf of, in terms of the branding world design creative agencies, you always have to follow a certain structure. If you don't meet those standards, you're not accepted to the next level. And so what can happen is you get young creatives who are bursting full of ideas, and they're bringing something of their culture in their upbringing. And then they're hitting a wall with their line manager or their creative director. Who's saying, sorry, you just don't fit the mould. Like as much as you know, all the enthusiasm you're bringing or even your story, you know, I speak on my behalf, like similar to Matt story where I've come out through poverty. I've worked my butt off to get to where I am today, you know, by God's grace. And yet I kept hitting walls with different creative directors who were just like, we just don't like the way you design. And we just don't like the way you think, or the way you speak or the way you present yourself. And it's like, why is it that I have to meet your standards all the time? Why is it, why is it there's this single mould? And it's an institutional problem. Isn't it, it stems right down to education where we get this idea that you have to fit this. And if you don't, you don't move forward. And that's so discouraging because it's like the whole point behind creativity is it's new, it's expressive. It's exciting. It's like different perspectives. It's like a diamond that's, you know, multifaceted, you see things from different angles. And if you're constantly saying, no, you've always gotta be cube is just like, Ugh, this is tiring. Isn't it?
Jared Saar (34:57):
Yeah. Can I just say, I think it's worth noting that even because we're a diverse agency, it's not like even we've solved it. Like, I think it's worth saying like, just because we're in the room together and we're sharing at the table, that doesn't mean that we're like, and we figured it out and this is the answer we're constantly, still having to come up against stuff. So Steph was talking about women in the workplace. Like that's something we have to work through and continue to work through to make sure that our space for women is a comfortable one and they'd feel like they can belong. And they feel like they can thrive and can contribute. But as soon as someone comes along, that's from a different background to us and a different thought pattern. We're going to have to start again to understand and work out, to make the office the best way. And so when you're talking about how do we fix it? It's like one of those things where it's like, it's an ongoing commitment to constantly look at yourself and ask, can I do better? And in leadership in general, like takeaway even just the fact of diversity. Leadership in general, we've all got prep we got to work through. And so it's like to be a good leader to your employees. You're always going to ask yourself, what am I doing that's toxic work now? What am I doing? That's not helpful. Like, so in terms of diversity, it's kind of like, I'm not saying I didn't have the answer to fix it, but I think I've seen in our environment. It's a commitment to each other to be like, I love you. I care about you. I want to make sure that this space is good. So if I'm doing something that sucks or is not conducive to a good environment, or, you know, after weeks and weeks, I haven't heard you bring an idea, is it because I'm not allowing you to speak or something? I think I'm just realised for us, like, even though we're diverse, we still have to commit to empathy, discovery. And like Steph always says questioning and asking someone. Hey, what do you think? Um, Oh, that's interesting. Dig a little bit deeper. Like where are you come from? Like, and things like that. Like, what's your story? That's what I'm. I feel like we have discussions around.
Stephanie Alcaino (36:44):
Yeah, that's great Jared.
Andy Khatouli (36:44):
I mean to add to that. So in my mind, a creative director manages people, not projects. And I think for every creative studio, we've got to realise that the most valuable asset in your company are the people. Not the projects. Not in the money flow, not the studio space, not the equipment, it's your people. So if your mindset is, we are investing in people and we making sure that they are valued and respected and feel that they have dignity and worth in this space, then the company is going to grow. The growth of the company will always be the product of the people that work there. It's not the other way round. It's not, we're going to try and get in work and then find the right people to finish that project. You know what I mean? And I think that's a traditional view in the creative industry is like, the work is the most important thing. And therefore everyone has to submit to the project, but it's like, no, the work submits to me, like, I'm the one who's coming up with the beautiful ideas. I'm the one who's bringing something fresh to the table. So the most important thing in a company is the people. And I think that if you can have that perspective, then the things that Jared is saying is that those creases will be ironed out because our commitment is to make sure that everyone feels valued. Everyone feels that they are worth something and that their contribution means something.
Matt Miller (38:01):
Yeah. I think that's good. I think that translates on a personal level as well. It doesn't have to be, you know, you're leading a business or leading an agency, you know, we all have an area of influence and that influence doesn't have to be that you're leading everyone. It could just be that when you speak at a time that's relevant that people listen and take on what you said. We all have that capacity to lead others. I think it's right. I think what we're talking about here is the commitment, but also if we don't have anyone to consider doing that too. Or for. Then we have to check our blind spot. Right. Cause that's the other bit is like, if we're so far removed and we've touched on this before that it feels like such an effort, you know, there's been loads of times where even some of us have been asked, Oh, do you know a minority that might want to come and do this? Or do you know a black person, or do you know, uh, this and that, or we're looking for this and this. And it's like, well actually, no, the question there is this thing we've spoken about, spoken about before, which is the proximity issue. Right. So I think like on an individualistic level, rather than just leading an agency or whatever, that all still applies.
Jared Saar (39:00):
Stephanie Alcaino (39:00):
Yeah. I think summing up what you guys have all said and just to make it clear for everyone, when we say that we're committed to people and we're committed to each other and about respecting each other... It's not about going, Oh, you know, how are you guys going? Oh, tell me all your thoughts. The commitment really shines the most is when we go through the messy bits of our relations with one another. When we're not happy by a decision someone's made, or the fact that some of our personalities jarr, because we're so different is the fact that we're willing to commit to that messy bit and to wrestle through it. And as Andy said is to just iron out those creases and to move forward. Just because there's elements that people naturally fear and have suspicion towards the things that they don't know, we sit in that discomfort of not understanding and not knowing, but respecting the other person enough of going, I'm going to sit here and listen and hear what you're trying to say to me without putting my backup without getting defensive. It's actually in the times that we've had a lot of tough conversations in the room with one another and it's the reason why this is working up to this date is because we've been willing to just sit in that messiness until we move forward from it and realise that actually once you do, it takes us to the next level of how we work together. Every time we bring someone in that's new, we have to go through that messiness again, because we need to spend time getting to know the other person and building their trust. We can't expect immediate trust, just because we hide them. We need to gain their trust first. And seeing that it's not the other way around.
Andy Khatouli (40:44):
Hmm. Steph, was there a book or a few resources that informed this? Cause I know that you've fed massively into how we work through relationships in the studio space. Like, would there be any resources that you recommend others to read?
Stephanie Alcaino (40:55):
One of the best authors out there about sitting in that messiness and knowing how to go through those tough conversations, Brené Brown is the queen. And I think she utilises the tools of vulnerability and empathy and how you can utilise them within your work culture to be a better leader and to not fear messiness, to not fear tough conversations, because Andy exactly what you said, you hit the nail on the head that if we're too committed to the work, but not people, then we sweep too many things under the rug and we never address them. And then they stay as the white elephants in the room that we deal with. And it starts to intoxicate the culture that we're trying to create and build within our company. So Brené Brown Dare to Lead is a very, very good book. If you want something as a starting point.
Matt Miller (41:48):
Beautiful. Oh, I love you guys. We're all holding hands [Laughter].
Stephanie Alcaino (41:52):
Too far away for that.
Stephanie Alcaino (42:01):
I mean, I would love to know any listeners out there. If you guys have any questions about diversity, we'd love to invite you into this space and open the conversation more. So if you've got any questions and you've got a few posted stamps, send us a letter or contact us on our Instagram. But I think it's important that we also don't hold this conversation just in the room with us four, but we'd love to open it up and hear about other people's experiences because we are only four stories, but there are multiple narratives out there and we'd love to be able to bring you guys into this conversation.
Matt Miller (42:35):
Andy Khatouli (42:35):
We're a four-story building.
Matt Miller (42:37):
Oh, you got there before me!
Matt Miller (42:45):
So again, we're getting to that point in the podcast where we share stuff that's on our radar. So stuff that we've been inspired by that we've seen, tasted, heard whatever we've experienced with our senses this week that we want to share with the world. So Andy, what's on our what's on our radar?
Andy Khatouli (43:01):
I thought I could share something that I've seen before. Okay. That I thought might inspire people to go and look at. So few years ago, when I was in New York, we went to the Guggenheim, which is like a really beautiful art museum there. And they have a kind of spiral staircase that goes right to the top and it was the Agnes Martin exhibition. So she's a American Canadian painter. And she does these really beautiful canvases that are very minimalist in aesthetic. So a lot of white and bright tones. And what I loved about seeing her work, especially in that setting, how it was curated as you went up was there's this general progression of, of silence and calmness from her work. And for me, I don't know if this was the purpose of her paintings, but it was something I could just stare at for a while. And, and it was very calming. And I enjoyed seeing just some of like a subtle differences in her paintings. And you could just about see the paint strokes, and then occasionally, which was exciting. You came across something that was completely the opposite. So there was one that was like completely black. And I think there was one that was even gold. And so when you're looking through her work and then you hit one of these anomalies, it provokes you in a way that is quite clever actually because you've kind of been subjected to this whitewash of a background and then suddenly you're just hit with some colour and you feel the emotion of those paintings after that. So I admire her work and how she communicated a singular message through it. And I think it kind of fed into a lot of her own personal philosophies. So yeah, pretty beautiful work. I recommend to go and sing it. Um, obviously we can't see it in the exhibitions right now, but you know, you could Google it. I'll watch a documentary. Yeah. Nice
Stephanie Alcaino (44:48):
For me, I'm going to take a break from sharing a book because every week I could probably like to share a book. But what I found interesting is Budweiser for the first time in 37 years is not showing a commercial at the super bowl. I don't watch the Superbowl, but I love the commercials that come out of it. I found that interesting and the reasoning behind it is that they've created a more purpose-driven campaign, which is about bringing awareness to the COVID-19 vaccine in America, which is a big decision because of the amount of exposure that the Superbowl can bring for companies is humongous. It's been quite interesting that people have opted to not only use the digital space, but also to push purpose-driven messaging a lot more than just themselves and getting more return on investment by just selling products. So I thought that was cool.
Jared Saar (45:51):
Andy Khatouli (45:51):
Jared Saar (45:52):
So I mentioned this before to the team, but I got into NBA like last year and once I got into it, like, I'm not like diehard fan, but I've been getting into it. It's been cool, but I just fell in love with Miami Heat's new kit this year. The Jersey and the shorts. So if you haven't seen it, it's like, basically it's like a pink and blue gradient. Like it's almost a half, half, half blue, half pink going down the middle, but I'd never seen it before. And I thought it looks so sick. So I think I just appreciate it when, like, you know, you get like team jerseys and stuff like that. And I think Andy, you said it before, you could never see you wearing this with an outfit. Cause it's really hard to match. But when you do want to wear your team's jersey, like sometimes it's just really hard. Cause it just, they just look super lame, but you've got the emblem on there. That's what you're talking about. But I feel like the Miami heat's one this season, I just say about it where I'm like, Ooh,
Andy Khatouli (46:46):
It's what it represents.
Jared Saar (46:48):
What does it represent?
Andy Khatouli (46:49):
I'm just kind of tying it in with representation.
Matt Miller (46:56):
So this week I received a new publication called primary paper. It's a photo print magazine and it's sick, every edition, every issue features on a single topic. This one's theme is human, which seems quite timely with everything that's been going on. I think there's something beautiful in its innocent. Kind of like pursuit of trying to tell these stories of things that connect us as humans with everything that's going on and everything that's divisive this year. So, so yeah, and it's stunning. It's been a while where I've seen a photo magazine come out and I've looked at it and instantly thought I need to, I need to actually like read through that. And the list of contributors is incredible as well. And it's just exciting because I think it's just exceptional quality. The subject matter is great. There's no advertisements in it. There's very little writing. So the pictures do the work and it feels more relevant than publications where the brand name carries the publication. And therefore you expect the content to be good. Whereas this is the other way round. So yeah, if anyone is interested it's primary paper corner, Instagram go online. It's amazing. Guys, great chat.
Andy Khatouli (48:05):
Yeah. It was brilliant.
Matt Miller (48:06):
It was a bit of a big one. There is no way we were going to cover everything within that. We'll talk about it more in the future for sure. For sure. And invite guests into it. I think that's important. Yeah. But like Steph said, if anyone's got any thoughts, anything they'd like to share, any questions, any challenges, feel free to send us an email, get that stamp. Send us a letter in the post. Do you remember when PO box was a thing?
Stephanie Alcaino (48:28):
I think it's still a thing, isn't it?
Matt Miller (48:29):
Well, it is. [Laughter]
Stephanie Alcaino (48:29):
Oh hahaha us millennials going what??
Matt Miller (48:35):
Like we've forgotten the concept of mail unless it's Amazon during COVID. But we appreciate everyone for listening. Thanks. That is it for this episode.