From actress to activist, public speaker and writer, Sereena Abbassi has held many titles, but among all of these roles, Abbassi never lost sight of her true purpose: helping people connect with themselves so they can better connect with each other.
Breanna Reeves reports on the latest @PolisLSE Media and Communications In Action Talk.
Abbassi currently works as the Worldwide Head of Culture & Inclusion at M&C Saatchi Group, a role in which she prides herself on integrating diversity and inclusion into the business strategies of partnering agencies. She is also a Diversity & Inclusion expert who advises the UK Advertising & Media Industry Diversity Taskforce.
Abbassi spoke about several reasons such as dispossession, culture fit and proximity that explain why industries, including advertising, lack greater diversity. She described how systemic issues such as race, class and disability translate into the industry and how these issues are reflected in different job roles and marketing campaigns:
“My job is essentially to make the inaccessible accessible”
One of her approaches to making this a possibility is by attempting to enter every space without judgement.
This approach has allowed Abbassi to acknowledge the lack of diversity and representation across different agencies and campaigns, and also within her own company. She recalled a time when M&C Saatchi hosted an event with a business that wanted to pilot a skill exchange in which the visiting company would teach M&C Saatchi employees British sign language in exchange for learning creative skills.
“The fire alarms went off and we hadn’t considered…we just never thought about it. Obviously, if you’re deaf and the fire alarm goes off, you can’t hear them,” Abbassi explained. “And (because) of that, we decided to do a huge audit of all our buildings.”
This occurrence reminded Abbassi that her company was only fit for the archetype which is able-bodied and male. Abbassi noted that her company, and many others, still have much work to do. Understanding differences among people and cultures is important in creating representative campaigns, but Abbassi believes values are the key:
“What I want advertisers to do more of is really kind of use (storytelling) to create effective, meaningful campaigns. So it’s not just selling, but actually really changing society.”
According to Abbassi, values are what bind people and companies need to do a better job at creating and cultivating values that are in the best interest for the consumers who are being targeted.? Abbassi’s approach to diversifying the advertising industry involves recognizing and incorporating multiplicity in terms of producing advertising campaigns that reflect the diversity of the world. Her approach also means being an ally to those who are being represented:
“To be an ally is to give your platform up to people. It’s about empowering,”
M&C Saatchi Worldwide has just concluded its first international Diversity & Inclusion Week in which “over 30 events took place across its 29 international offices, including Berlin, Jakarta, Johannesburg, London, New York, Sydney and the UAE,” according to M&C Saatchi Worldwide’s website.
Events like these are what Abbassi believes all agencies should participate in as a way to encourage diversity and create long-lasting relationships among different communities.
This article by LSE Media and Communications MSc student Breanna Reeves @_breereeves
The Polis Media and Communication Talks feature leading media practitioners every Tuesday at 5pm – they are free and open to the public