Hanna speaks with Victoria Fox, ex-CEO of LIDA and current CEO of AAR, who participated in Fearless Futures’ Design for Inclusion programme (DFI) in February 2018 to hear her reflections on her experience.
What were your expectations of the DFI and why did you sign up for it?
I joined because I had taken on a role in M&C Saatchi, accelerating a diverse and inclusive culture. I wanted to dive deep and see the complexities — rather than surface understanding. I didn’t have any expectations but believed that I would come out profoundly changed.
Talk me through your experience of DFI
It was pretty life changing. It was very intense. It took a lot out of you, even more than I expected. So much of it was unlearning. 42 years of unquestioned society.
I really liked the way that you were taught little but discovered a lot. The open cohort was fantastic, a very giving and connected group. It helped to build even bigger learnings. The differences of the people in that group. It felt like I left my old life, and went into a bubble for three days. It was really enjoyable. I’ve always learnt with my head, learning has always been very rational for me. I have never learnt with my heart. That really blew my mind.
Was there a lightbulb moment?
The biggest take out was that privilege is invisible to those who have it.
When we went through white supremacy, when I went through things as a white, Jewish woman. I had a dual experience.
What was your statement of learning?
You cannot ideate, you cannot come up with ideas for change, without going through a process of learning and thinking about the voices that aren’t in the room. Considering the overlapping oppressions. That is much harder to do. Trying to make simple something that is complex, it is much harder to do. I feel much more awake — it halts me in lots of areas of my life.
How has your world view changed?
The biggest change has been that I don’t accept information at face value now. It has changed my view on how to think critically. It throws up everything. It is more exhausting. Everything has an angle and agenda. You have to make your own mind up.
- Stella McCartney fashion show — where the theme was African fashion was real cultural appropriation. Putting a £17k price tag onto something that local people created.
- Working with Helen Pankhurst. I didn’t understand why or how the movement was violent — that (some) people have to take real personal risks.
It has stopped me being fixated on being liked. You have to be firm and challenge the status quo.
Has it informed your leadership style?
Yes it has, it has made me stand for something and not accept as much. Makes me more direct. I was an inclusive leader but I have taken it to the next level. I actively consider whose voices aren’t in the room, and realised you are liked so much more for acceptance than challenge.
What did you do as a result of the programme when you were still at LIDA?
- Engaged in a huge listening exercise – 140 interviews in groups to get feedback on what it feels like to work here
- Set up three networks: LGBTQ+ network (renamed Pride), Heritage network, Women’s network, Parents network
- Intersectionality with a committee across all four
- Eliminate bias in employee recruitment processes
- Committed to invest in D&I financially
How do you understand the issues now?
I presented at a conference in Madrid in 2018, and presented in New York the year before (2017). My presentation in Madrid after the programme was much more profound. Alienated some people but a stronger swell of support. A big milestone. Being powerful, not caring about bringing people on the journey.
What have you learned?
- To take more accountability (I don’t get it right all the time — who does!?)
- Making sure I bring different voices in by using my power and influence
- Challenge now! Be less complicit. I would have been silent before
- There is a genuine belief that I understand the complexity. I believe wholly in the need to make the changes. Investing in something that isn’t a tick box.
Half the battle I learnt is that you will be challenged all the way along as you are challenging status quo.
Half is a debating skill. Honing how you express your point of view is the key to unlocking change.