Victoria Brooks on the power of truth as a force for change

How can we move the gender divide conversation on without anger and defensiveness?

What truths need to be unearthed for that to be possible?

And then, once the lid has been lifted on these issues, what solutions can truly make a difference?

Today my long-time super close friend Victoria Brooks is with us. And she has a love for things that matter.

Victoria is a strategist specializing in the development of stories that inspire environmental and social impact.

She has been featured in the Guardian for their famous piece on sexual harassment in the advertising industry in 2019, was named a Pitch 100 Superwoman in 2019 and was honored as one of 30 industry inclusivity champions in the IPA’s inaugural list in 2020.

Today we will be talking about the power of truth as a force for change.

We’ll talk about her move from working with strategy and the environment to equality and inclusion.

And we hear about her work focused on closing the gender divide, and the ground-breaking solutions that she’s not only designed but also implemented with tremendous success.

There is a lot here. But you will be smiling and inspired throughout.

So, throw on those running shoes or grab that cup of tea or coffee, and here is the incredible Victoria.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review, and subscribe.

00:00:02:04 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving light around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:00:50:12
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed. Hello and welcome to episode 44 of TIE Unearthed. Today, my long time super close friend Victoria Brooks is with us. And I’m just so excited to share this episode with all of you. We were both buzzing after this conversation, and I’m certain you’re going to feel the energy when listening.

00:00:51:01 – 00:01:19:10
Philippa White
Now, Victoria is a strategist specializing in the development of stories that inspire environmental and social impact. She’s worked in the communications industry for over 20 years, and we both met in the early 2000s when working at the ad agency BBH in London. In 2006, Victoria began her own consultancy with agencies, brands and NGOs meeting the rising sustainability agenda with unexpected creative solutions.

00:01:19:24 – 00:01:44:13
Philippa White
Victoria has been featured in The Guardian for their famous piece on sexual harassment in the advertising industry in 2019. She was named a pitch 100 super woman also in 2019 and was honored as one of 30 industry inclusivity champions in the IPA’s inaugural list in 2020. Today, we’ll be talking about the power of truth as a force for change.

00:01:45:01 – 00:02:18:19
Philippa White
We’ll talk about her move from working with strategy and the environment to equality and inclusion. We hear about her work focused on closing the gender divide and the ground breaking solutions. She’s not only designed but also implemented with tremendous success. She tells us about the work she’s doing with companies on building inclusive cultures where people truly feel they belong, and on sustainability strategies that deliver deep impact, which, if you think about it, are often two halves of the same brief.

00:02:19:08 – 00:02:37:08
Philippa White
There’s a lot here that you’ll be smiling and inspired throughout, so throw on those running shoes or grab that cup of tea or coffee. And here is the incredible Victoria. Victoria, it is so wonderful to have you with us today. How are you?

00:02:37:24 – 00:02:41:12
Victoria Brooks
I’m so well. Thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

00:02:41:15 – 00:02:53:13
Philippa White
I am so excited to see I know where you’re sitting because I’ve stayed at your house many times and I love the brickwork at the back of your kitchen table. But for our listeners, where are you sitting? Where are you?

00:02:54:20 – 00:03:00:08
Victoria Brooks
I am sitting at my kitchen table in London. I live in Kensal Rise, which is in North London.

00:03:00:24 – 00:03:02:22
Philippa White
Yeah. And what’s it like today? What’s the weather like today?

00:03:03:15 – 00:03:18:09
Victoria Brooks
I have to say, it is absolutely beautiful. It’s a bright blue sky day and we rarely get those in February. So I’m feeling really lucky today and I’m excited because it’s the last day of school term and we are off to have a bit of an adventure as of tomorrow.

00:03:18:09 – 00:03:19:10
Philippa White
Oh, nice. Where are you going?

00:03:20:06 – 00:03:24:15
Victoria Brooks
We’re going to Switzerland, so we’re going to see some snow for the first time since before the pandemic, which will be a.

00:03:25:01 – 00:03:25:16
Philippa White
Wonderful.

00:03:25:16 – 00:03:26:01
Victoria Brooks
Treat.

00:03:26:13 – 00:03:48:00
Philippa White
Yeah, well. Well, that’s. I’m glad that I’ve caught you before. You’re off on your adventure. That’s so much fun. Well, listen, for our listeners, as you know from the show, Victoria is a very, very, very good friend of mine. And we have known each other since the early 2000s. We have many conversations about all of these topics that we’re going to cover off today.

00:03:48:00 – 00:04:01:23
Philippa White
And I am just really excited to get this in front of our listeners so that they can get into your incredible head. But before we get into a lot of these conversations, let’s bring you to life for our listeners. Tell us your background a little bit more about you.

00:04:02:08 – 00:04:24:18
Victoria Brooks
Well, I think I was thinking about this when you asked me that question about my background, and I was wondering if I should start actually at the very beginning, which is where I was born, because actually I think that context makes so much of a difference to how we see the world as we grow up. And I was born in Vermont, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a very, very tiny state in the northeast of the US, bordering on Canada.

00:04:24:18 – 00:04:52:11
Victoria Brooks
We’re very close to Montreal actually, and it is kind of like the Switzerland, if you will, of America in that it’s mountains, rivers, lakes, beautiful. And the culture that I grew up in was very much one of hippie kind of 1970s. A lot of people from around the US flocked to Vermont during that time because it represented a lot of liberal political views and liberal thinking around creative industries and thought leadership, etc. writers, artists.

00:04:53:01 – 00:05:17:16
Victoria Brooks
And so it was a very interesting community to grow up in. And I realized in thinking about reflecting on what we’re going to talk about today, that actually a lot of my love for things that matter came from growing up and from a very young age being part of these very grassroots protests around, you know, trying to stop the big malls from taking over our little rural town and protesting with like little cardboard placards and the whole thing.

00:05:17:16 – 00:05:42:20
Victoria Brooks
So I think actually this context is really important in terms of where I started my story. So I think maybe one of the things that I think about is Ben and Jerry’s, which is obviously one of our all favorite ice cream brands, started when I was two years old, two blocks away from my nursery. So it started in a petrol station and they actually were they were making homemade ice cream with this little machine that they’d made.

00:05:42:20 – 00:06:04:05
Victoria Brooks
And Ben Rosen and Jerry Greenfield, they were basically they’re creating this little dream. And I was wandering down there once a week from my daycare, getting ice cream from them and the beginning of them as hippies. In the 1970s, starting an ice cream brand, they actually already stood for political issues and tried to raise money for political causes.

00:06:04:05 – 00:06:30:02
Victoria Brooks
Was such an interesting place to begin. So, yes, that’s where my story started. I am then moved on to I was out of Vermont and went on to university in Rhode Island at Brown and graduated with a psychology degree. And I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to go into clinical work or actually into marketing. And I did an internship at Converse Sneakers and in parallel did internship at a children’s mental hospital in doing research.

00:06:30:02 – 00:06:56:19
Victoria Brooks
So and it was this kind of moment of departure where I was like, am I going down a clinical route or am I going down a marketing route? Because I did see that that same skill set could be used in either way. And I have to say, after that summer, the decision was made for me that actually, as much as I felt passionate about the topic of psychology in terms of my personality, I was very drawn to the creative process and drawn to the idea of creating, creating a relationship with people through creative ideas.

00:06:56:19 – 00:07:05:21
Victoria Brooks
And so that’s where I then started my career in New York at Ogilvy as a strategist in advertising. And the story kind of goes on from there. I came then to London.

00:07:06:07 – 00:07:30:01
Philippa White
So actually my BBH, I remember when I came up with the idea of TIE because I was working at BBH when I came up with the idea of it, and that was in 2004. And I started talking to people at the agency and there were these sort of rumblings of, okay, that’s interesting. And then obviously it was you need to me because I had just I think had I was still quite new to the agency.

00:07:30:01 – 00:07:45:08
Philippa White
So I came and there were a few big things that had happened in my life. I lost my my uncle. I went to his funeral. And anyway, there’s a lot of stuff that sort of sparked this idea of time. And so I still didn’t know very many people at the agency and then said, You need to leave Victoria.

00:07:45:08 – 00:08:06:05
Philippa White
She’s like, She’s spearheading the CSR initiative, but deviations like, Oh my God, I need to meet with Victoria. So that’s, you know, you were already a couple of years ahead of all of this thinking and I was sort of starting to come up with these ideas in 2004. So it’d be really interesting to know what was that jump to the CSR space for you.

00:08:06:09 – 00:08:23:19
Victoria Brooks
Yeah. So first, before I go into that, I just have to say that moment where we actually met and had this kind of mind meld on the feeling of like there is another way, there’s a page where we can actually do something that’s meaningful and actually create change as well as build business. It was a wonderful moment for me in terms of that move.

00:08:23:19 – 00:08:51:15
Victoria Brooks
I actually again reflecting on it this morning, thinking about this chat, I realized that it probably started before then. So in New York, my second agency was called Fallen. I was working on a brand that was a street basketball brand called “And One”. And And One was very much a grassroots basketball brand. And I was put on the account as the strategist to get into the headspace of these young basketball players and the street culture around it, and also what would drive this brand to grow.

00:08:51:24 – 00:09:09:08
Victoria Brooks
And of course, being you know, I had played basketball as I was about ten years old, but I certainly wasn’t part of a street culture having come from Vermont, I’ll tell you that. So I think that the first thing I did was realize that I you know, I was completely out of my depth. And the reality was I needed to really get into that culture.

00:09:09:08 – 00:09:32:11
Victoria Brooks
And so I ended up finding a team, a basketball team in Harlem that was led by this amazing guy, Nick Blatchford. And Nick had this program that was half academics and half basketball to try to keep young boys really engaged in academics, as well as their love for basketball. And so I posed to him, could I come down and actually kind of learn everything about kind of the street basketball culture?

00:09:32:18 – 00:09:57:24
Victoria Brooks
And, you know, in return, since you’re focusing on academics, perhaps we could do an internship with the boys in the team coming into the agency and they could help us create the campaign. And so that experience, which spanned a year and a half, was absolutely kind of my first experience of how beautiful it can be when you not just kind of exploit a niche market, but actually embrace the people that you’re trying to talk to as humans and say, should we create this together?

00:09:58:04 – 00:10:20:13
Victoria Brooks
And it felt so incredibly meaningful and so beneficial to the brand of the brand had such an incredible reaction from it, not only internally, but also in terms of the, you know, the traction that they had, because the music that we chose was chosen by the boys. And it felt like it’s such a different process that when I came to London and then I started working on more traditional pieces of business, and one of my clients actually at BBH was a big bank.

00:10:20:13 – 00:10:47:16
Victoria Brooks
I felt like some of the conversations that I was having and the psychology I was trying to get into was actually didn’t sit well with me. It felt really uncomfortable that I was being asked to engage people in credit card. Basically that means engage them in some debt. And so just the kind of ethical dilemma I felt really drove me to look at how can we bring that experience I’d had in basketball project into the day to day of my work at BBH and actually a BBH.

00:10:47:16 – 00:11:12:19
Victoria Brooks
As you’ll know, a lot of the clients there already were engaging in early stage CSR, so like British Airways had changed for good and Tescos had computer for schools, which was not one of our clients, but it was in the same room and there was Woolworth’s at the time and they had playground partnerships. So there were these kind of, they were almost tokenistic charity partnerships that sometimes didn’t strategically align with the brand, but they were very much kind of the ethos maybe of that the current leader of that company.

00:11:12:19 – 00:11:26:22
Victoria Brooks
But it wasn’t baked into the very strategy and kind of backbone of the brand. And that’s where I saw the opportunity for an agency like BBH to really marry the strategy with the types of partnerships and types of engagement that they were going to have.

00:11:26:23 – 00:11:49:23
Philippa White
That is so cool. I mean, it’s obviously a really long time ago now and as you’re talking, I’m sort of going back in my mind. I remember you talk me through a presentation like I remember our meeting when we talked through it. You had this incredible presentation say, Oh my God, that’s extra ordinary. What you’re coming up. I mean, it’s you have an incredible memory that you’re even remembering all of that detail about the the brands at the time and what they were working on.

00:11:49:23 – 00:12:00:02
Philippa White
But in the time that you were at BBH, like what is there an example of something that you you managed to get off the ground or something that you managed to to create in that space?

00:12:00:03 – 00:12:24:09
Victoria Brooks
A lot of my work was doing at BBH was actually creating a business plan for the agency about how this could be a new consultancy within BBH. So what I was doing is I actually did an audit of all the current BBH clients, and I spent a lot of time talking to the different leaders who were working on these issues and trying to ask some questions about how their strategy aligned with their thinking around the environment and social impact.

00:12:24:16 – 00:12:45:15
Victoria Brooks
Of course, we were using those words of social impact at that point, and I learned so much from that experience that I basically took those case studies and built a business case and a business plan in a way for BBH to take forward. So what was exciting at the time is that it meant that I got a huge amount of exposure to very senior marketeers who were looking at this and we were able to build a business plan that was great.

00:12:45:21 – 00:13:06:12
Victoria Brooks
And then what I realized is when I had the sign off from Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty, then I actually still had to do my day job and figure out how to make this new consultancy get off the ground. I realized maybe I don’t have the right credentials yet to do this and maybe I should actually work in the nonprofit sector briefly to try to just get to grips with how these things work from the other side.

00:13:06:18 – 00:13:31:02
Victoria Brooks
So I took a bit of a pause, and that’s actually when I started working at Media Trust, which is when the first time that I worked on the charity side. And basically my role there was to build partnerships between grassroots youth organizations and media brands. And so just that and that was great because it was hands on experience of how do you build a partnership, which is essentially translation between two very, very different organizations.

00:13:31:02 – 00:13:46:10
Victoria Brooks
And it’s almost like you’re basically trying to bring together two very unlikely fellows and try to weave their purposes together, which is wonderful to do on the ground. But I realized quickly that I belonged on the on the creative side, not on the charity side. What I learned that.

00:13:46:11 – 00:14:03:01
Philippa White
Yeah, but I mean, it’s all, it’s, it’s funny. I for a long time I’ve seen life is like a puzzle, but you’re not even sure what that picture is yet. But you have all of these different pieces of the puzzle and each experience is another piece of the puzzle that just starts to fit together. It was necessary, right?

00:14:03:01 – 00:14:25:05
Philippa White
And it was a necessary part of the puzzle. And but things had moved on a lot. And I think what I’m really excited about is it’s been busy and so much growth and I think obviously the world is evolving so quickly. And when we look at even just the terms, you know, the CSR and sustainability and purpose and now there’s ESG and you know, there’s just all these different terms and all these different.

00:14:25:14 – 00:14:36:11
Philippa White
But you’ve been, you’ve been really involved in the trajectory of this movement, I guess. And I think you’ve just been really lovely now too. Just can you bring to life. Yeah. What you’re seeing now. Yeah.

00:14:36:11 – 00:15:02:16
Victoria Brooks
So I mean, it’s been a really interesting journey like you said and it has. And I think because you and I both were on this journey very early, we’ve seen a lot and we’ve seen a lot of evolution of the business, but also in the language, as you’ve rightly identified, that we used to describe this stuff. And I think at the end of the day, it’s just taken everyone and all businesses a really long time to understand the power of what they’re doing is actually about the impact they’re having holistically.

00:15:02:16 – 00:15:35:01
Victoria Brooks
And so there were different words for that at different times, but the end of the day is about humans and it’s about the place we live, which is this planet. So that’s the basic truth of it all. And there’s lots of fancy things to describe, but that’s at the end of the day what we’re talking about. So I think what I’ve what I’ve done in my journey is I was a sustainability consultant for the ten years after BBH, and the way that I worked was very much with brands and with agencies and with NGOs, and I was essentially kind of the central pin between those bringing them together to create new partnerships.

00:15:35:01 – 00:15:54:18
Victoria Brooks
So just to give an example of one project that I did on that journey, which helps bring it to life, is I was working with Sony Europe and they were very interested in trying to figure out how to take what was a very corporate top down sustainability strategy, which was looked great on a PowerPoint, but it didn’t necessarily have any life to it.

00:15:54:18 – 00:16:13:08
Victoria Brooks
It didn’t actually have any breadth or kind of humanity to it. So they were saying, how could we actually bring this life for people and for our internal audiences? And so what we were able to create for them with them was actually about getting out of the marketing team and actually starting to talk to the people who make the products and figure out what is the core truth about this brand.

00:16:13:14 – 00:16:37:14
Victoria Brooks
How can that marry up with some issues that the world is facing so that the Sony engineers were working on this really interesting CCTV camera system, which was, you know, they’re in their professional products division. And I met this one amazing engineer called Morgan David, and he was so passionate about these cameras. And I felt like if I could bottle that person and figure out the right vessel for it, it would be incredible.

00:16:37:14 – 00:16:56:22
Victoria Brooks
And so what we did is we actually partnered with Lego Education and Lego Education as well as WWF, and it was just coming up to a cop and it was a very long time ago. Now this was the cop in 2009. And so it was a moment where we said, let’s bring together Lego, WWF and Sony and ask.

00:16:56:22 – 00:17:19:07
Victoria Brooks
Lego has a global competition where they ask children and young people to come up with ideas, to use Lego and use technology for good. And that year’s theme, because of the Cop, was all on climate change. So Sony’s category was very much about how can young people use Sony’s technology to solve the climate change issue? And then the winner would be able to present that at the COP in Copenhagen.

00:17:19:09 – 00:17:37:13
Victoria Brooks
So what we did in my role was really to try to piece together this idea of like, what are the what is the technology and what how can we show the benefits of that technology both to the engineers themselves as well as to the world? And then to find that synergy between Lego and WWF was brilliant and the result was we found this.

00:17:37:14 – 00:18:07:23
Victoria Brooks
The winners were these group of children who are home homeschooled in California, and they came with the idea of repurposing these CCTV cameras to watch for forest fires in the California and Nevada, where obviously there was a cut in budgets for a volunteer for volunteer firefighters. There was no support for the volunteer fire watchers. And so they instead installed these CCTV cameras as a prototype in the trees and then they would be able to feed the images.

00:18:07:23 – 00:18:36:06
Victoria Brooks
The Internet and volunteers could sit at their desk in between work having a cup of tea and be able to monitor the forest. And if they saw anything, they press the spacebar and an urgent message would go to the the fire department. It was brilliant. And these kids were aging from 8 to 12 and they were incredible. And the story was so wild and the engineers got so excited that we ended up actually filming a documentary of these kids flying over to London, going to Basingstoke, meeting the engineers, and working together to create the prototype for the university.

00:18:36:18 – 00:18:56:00
Victoria Brooks
And they actually put these cameras in the trees and I just found out I will actually this is now well is 2009. So this is now many, many years later, that project. And those cameras have now evolved into an entire virtual fire watching system, which is still run by the University of Nevada, which is so cool. So in terms of.

00:18:56:00 – 00:18:56:23
Philippa White
Like, oh.

00:18:57:06 – 00:19:16:14
Victoria Brooks
It’s so cool, isn’t it? So like, that’s the kind of project, that’s my dream project where you basically have a sustainability strategy on paper, but it’s not brought to life. Then you go, okay, here’s our products, what can we do? And then this whole world emerges out of a creative synergy of three different partners who are coming from different perspectives.

00:19:17:02 – 00:19:41:04
Victoria Brooks
So that that piece of my puzzle, if you will, as you called it before, fits really nicely into kind of the next segment, which you asked about, which is what am I saying? Now, interestingly, I’ve had a bit of a pivot in recent time because one of the projects that I worked on was a volunteer project, and that was in the advertising and communications industry in the UK around gender equality.

00:19:41:15 – 00:20:04:13
Victoria Brooks
And I volunteered my time to speak at one of their events actually on purpose led marketing and then discovered that there was a whole whole group of women who were looking at how the lack of gender equality within our industry. So I’ve actually spent the last five years pivoting my thinking around brands and gender brands and equality and looking at diversity more deeply.

00:20:04:21 – 00:20:06:13
Victoria Brooks
So that’s where I am now.

00:20:06:15 – 00:20:32:14
Philippa White
Yeah. And I would love for you to bring this to life because Victoria has unearthed some extraordinary insights from one simple initiative that launched a simple one of those things that sort of seems so obvious, but obviously had never, never been invented before. And it did I think it was 2017. Talk to us about the birth of truth, please.

00:20:32:14 – 00:20:58:02
Victoria Brooks
Thank you. Well, you’re absolutely right. Is it an extremely simple invention, if you could even call it that? Basically, Blum is a professional organization within the industry that we work in, and we were just very small. I think there are 35 or 40 people who were involved at the time I got involved. We wanted to do our first day long conference and we’re looking at how do we actually create the content for that, what are the topics we’re going to talk about?

00:20:58:08 – 00:21:16:15
Victoria Brooks
And I suggested during one of our meetings, why don’t we actually ask the people who where we’re trying to bring in our audience and actually have them do that live at the event. So I happened to have a friend who has an inflatable space company because of course, why don’t you have somebody who makes inflatable spaces? So he lent us this incredible igloo.

00:21:18:14 – 00:21:26:04
Victoria Brooks
Igloo? Look, you were there, but you were a speaker at the very at my very first event. You were one of my first ever speakers.

00:21:26:04 – 00:21:28:11
Philippa White
Very defiantly invited me to speak.

00:21:28:11 – 00:21:46:21
Victoria Brooks
And it was incredible. You talking about topics that was about purpose, actually, wasn’t it? But sort of. But the truth was this inflatable igloo and inside this igloo, you could find two chairs, some tables, lots of Sharpie, pens of all different colors and lots of these a five cards and a box. The box just had a slot in it.

00:21:47:01 – 00:22:04:21
Victoria Brooks
And the idea was, you would come in and there were questions around the inside of the igloo that you could be asked, know actually have some of those today that I was just going to read from the original both objects. So for example, one would say this is about the negotiation of money. So why are we paid an average of 79% of what a man would make in the same job?

00:22:05:01 – 00:22:26:00
Victoria Brooks
What happened the last time you asked for a raise? So that’s an example. Another example was around, you know, Fantasy Island can be a high pressure, high octane, all consuming industry. Have you ever hidden a part of yourself at work rather than risk your career progression to what end? So we basically asked lots of different provocative questions about what are the barriers to women’s success in this industry?

00:22:26:00 – 00:22:45:06
Victoria Brooks
Why is it that the industry starts at the junior levels? It’s 5050. We’re 50% men, 50% women. But by the time you get to the top, those numbers are absolutely dramatically different and there aren’t that many women in the boardroom. So to try to identify that this booth of truth invited people to write their innermost secrets, they’re kind of the barriers.

00:22:45:06 – 00:22:55:01
Victoria Brooks
They never say it out loud. And sometimes things they have even really allowed themselves to realize onto these cards. So we now in that day, we collected tons and tons of tons of these cards.

00:22:55:01 – 00:23:04:05
Philippa White
And you remember one of them because I remember there was one there were a couple that really stuck out. I can’t quote it because I definitely don’t remember. Well, but do you have any of that? Oh, good. Yes.

00:23:04:05 – 00:23:23:10
Victoria Brooks
Okay, I’ve got it here. So and I will not use the swear word that is included in it, but I will just read you what it has said. Now, there are a few here that I’m going to read just to set the tone for what kind of shock the industry felt when this stuff came out. The first ones that I arrived in London for my new job and the CEO said, So when are we going to go to bed?

00:23:23:10 – 00:23:41:23
Victoria Brooks
Basically, when I rebuffed him, he said, Why did you think I recruited you for your excellent strategy? So that was one. The next one was I went on secondment and found myself working with a male client. He would make racist and sexist remarks and would smack me on the bum playfully. I was told to deal with it when I brought it up.

00:23:42:21 – 00:24:02:13
Victoria Brooks
So these are kind of those just two flavors. But what I think is important to say is that it’s not just about sexual harassment. So those are two examples where it’s very sexual. There’s actually lots of other very interesting kind of nuances around women in business. For example, I had a boss tell me, I want you to I want you on this project next year so you can’t get pregnant before then.

00:24:02:19 – 00:24:20:15
Victoria Brooks
He even told me which month would be ideal for conception for the business I had. I had. I know, right? I hadn’t even told him that I was already trying. It made me feel like it would be a really bad thing. So I felt so guilty. And so that’s about pregnancy and about just your own life journey being impacted overtly and controlled by your boss.

00:24:20:15 – 00:24:40:04
Victoria Brooks
Interesting. And then there were some others, but I think the reality is some of these things were very much about women and how women treat other women as well. So it wasn’t actually just all about the barriers that women face with men. It’s not all about gender. So one of them was about you know, why do some women choose to join the boys club rather than help other women on the way up?

00:24:40:08 – 00:24:58:12
Victoria Brooks
You know, there were lots of interesting questions about the culture that we work within and the interesting thing about this is that this happened at the same month that the Harvey Weinstein story broke. So as you can imagine, all the furor and the MeToo movement launched that same month and we just happened to have already been planning to do this.

00:24:58:18 – 00:25:31:05
Victoria Brooks
So this was like our industry’s MeToo movement or MeToo moment, and it was picked up by the press. And what we did at the end of this, that daylong conference where you were there, Philippa, was take those truths. And we did what we call truth of birth of truth live, and we put those up on a board and had journalists, panelists from the day and the audience all engaged in a really rich, radically candid conversation about what these issues are, how we can combat them and start to really open up these kind of lift the lid on some taboo issues in a way that it was hard to put the lid back on.

00:25:31:09 – 00:25:46:13
Philippa White
Yeah, right. And so I’m curious to know what have companies or what has the movement done with this information? Because one is is opening the lid and having all of that come out. What next? What do people do with that?

00:25:46:15 – 00:26:03:19
Victoria Brooks
It’s such a good question because actually we were in the shock moment for the first year of the birth of truth. So we launched it at that event and we held a then we decided every event we ever do, from now on, we’re going to use the birth of truth in various ways. So we’ve done that now like dozens and dozens of times over the years.

00:26:03:19 – 00:26:27:17
Victoria Brooks
And what interestingly happened after, say, a year of just lifting the lid, it’s actually really depressing and it makes everybody feel worse. It actually doesn’t solve anything. And the problem is that also the MeToo movement was having an unexpected backlash, which has actually been researched by the Lean In Foundation. And there’s evidence to say that women were getting less access to senior male leadership because men were suddenly paralyzed, thinking, I don’t want to do a foot wrong.

00:26:27:24 – 00:26:52:04
Victoria Brooks
I don’t want to mess up, and I don’t want to actually be have whatever I’m doing misconstrued. So I’m just going to not engage, which meant that actually there was a greater distance between women and opportunity to the leadership. So what we decided to do within Blum was to move into what we call everyday actions. So we then decided to ladder from these insights directly into specific actions that could be taken by businesses.

00:26:52:04 – 00:27:18:12
Victoria Brooks
And we co-created that with people in the industry and with businesses in the industry to realize what are the things that will create step change. And some of those things are tiny and actually that’s what the best stuff is, is the stuff that’s very small, not the macro policies. I mean, the policies are really important, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of it is about realizing, one, I’m one guy that I know started a emotional tracker in his office of who is actually doing the emotional load work, i.e. welcoming clients.

00:27:18:12 – 00:27:36:12
Victoria Brooks
And when they come in doing the small talk, pouring the tea, taking the notes, doing the follow up email. And what obviously he found was that it was being done by women. And so what he did is he’d created a chart in the office that everybody had to flip. So then the men had to pour the tea, the men had to greet them at the door.

00:27:36:18 – 00:27:50:11
Victoria Brooks
And actually then it was able to loosen up one of these very simple insights that actually takes no money, no policy, no nothing. It’s actually just about having your eyes wide open and having some visibility about these blind spots that are creating quite a lot of inequality.

00:27:50:16 – 00:28:00:08
Philippa White
Yeah, really interesting. Talk to us about the exchange because I feel like that’s also a tangible way that you’ve managed to do something similar.

00:28:00:11 – 00:28:24:18
Victoria Brooks
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think that was almost the third phase. The first phase was the lifting the lid. Second phase was starting to come into these everyday actions. And the third phase, which we started in 2019, Services and Experiment, which was let’s try to engage men in this conversation. And we had always had men come along to their two hour events and we had men on every panel that we always felt was very important to have men involved, but we wanted to do it more fundamentally.

00:28:24:18 – 00:28:51:11
Victoria Brooks
So we thought, what if we had men and women mentor each other in parallel and we put them into pairs and see what happens. So what we did is we actually did exactly that. We recruited 23 men and 23 women. The women were blue members. The men were all senior leaders in the industry, and we trained them in what was actually a very awkward art, the art of co mentoring, which is not reverse mentoring, and it’s not mentoring somebody who’s more junior than you.

00:28:51:11 – 00:29:08:11
Victoria Brooks
It’s very much about both parties mentoring each other in parallel, which is actually hard to do because I’ve actually taken part in the program twice as well as created it. It’s hard to actually figure out what your role is and what hat you’re wearing, but just that discomfort dislodges some of the challenges that we face and some of the ways that we are stuck in our roles.

00:29:08:11 – 00:29:30:08
Victoria Brooks
Systems of behavior, culture. Exactly. So what happened was these this first year went so incredibly well. And what we did is you measured it quantitatively with a before and after survey, as well as qualitatively with interviews with everyone who took part. And what was so dramatic is that we saw that basically 76% of the women in the exchange felt they did not understand the challenges facing men in the industry.

00:29:30:14 – 00:29:51:12
Victoria Brooks
And 93% of men felt that they did not understand the challenges facing women in the industry. So actually, that is what I call a profound communications gap. And when you see that, you then say, okay, how can we bridge that? And the bridge really was all about creating the safe space that allowed for this radically candid conversation to happen between these pairs over six months.

00:29:51:19 – 00:30:07:24
Victoria Brooks
So these pairs probably met for between four or five and six times, not that many hours of their life. But what happened was because of the way we prep and what we asked them to tackle in those conversations was so different from anything else that they’ve ever done in their leadership journey that it got them right down to action.

00:30:07:24 – 00:30:27:20
Victoria Brooks
And we challenged them to set up experiments in their own businesses and see what worked. And so the impact was so extraordinary by the end that we were able to close that gap. And by the end there was this kind of 397% increase in the awareness of what actions they can take to close the gender divide in their business.

00:30:27:20 – 00:30:33:14
Victoria Brooks
So that tangible result is so important for us to be able to quantify because this is all very intangible stuff.

00:30:33:14 – 00:31:01:15
Philippa White
Culture change now. Absolutely. When I when I reflect on some of the organizations that we work with, with tie in, there’s more we’re looking at women empowerment in India, for example, to decrease the number of women who are being harassed or abused. What the some of the organizations, many of the organizations that we work with, they have they really engage the boys because the only way that you can really start to tackle any kind of challenges you need to involve.

00:31:02:01 – 00:31:26:24
Philippa White
We love both sides. And I the angry feminist movement, and I’m possibly being quite kind of political right now, but I really, really believe this. I am a feminist. I am I believe in equality 100%, but I don’t believe in being angry against the other side. It’s the same with politics. The politics. So in politics, you you believe in one thing, so then suddenly the other side becomes evil.

00:31:26:24 – 00:32:01:14
Philippa White
It’s really difficult to make change when you’ve got one side against the other side, because it just makes the other side scared or angry or just sort of defensive, defensive, and they repel against the other side. And I and I understand the need for anger. I understand the need for really pushing change. But I do really believe that, as you said, communication, transparency, honesty, bringing different sides together and finding ways to bring that those connections, in my mind, with everything, it’s the it’s the only way.

00:32:01:14 – 00:32:11:24
Philippa White
And I do feel, you know, with the diversity conversation with women opportunity is for women in the work place. What you’ve done with the exchange, I think is just genius because it does that.

00:32:12:02 – 00:32:27:12
Victoria Brooks
Thank you. I mean, I think, again, it’s a simple premise, and I think what we’ve learned in the last two years where we’ve grown the program and actually has gone virtual because of the pandemic, of course, that now we’ve been able to reach 300 men and 300 women across the three years, which is extraordinary in terms of scale, but also in terms of depth.

00:32:27:18 – 00:32:45:22
Victoria Brooks
So like we actually run the booth of truth as part of the program too, and we have lots of men writing into the booth the truth. And so if I may, I would just like to read two of the booth of Truth from Men, because it really does kind of unpack the challenges that men face. And if we don’t truly understand the sort of saying that.

00:32:45:24 – 00:33:07:19
Victoria Brooks
Right, I mean, because here’s one from a man that took part in 2020. Men can be scared to face gender issues at work. On one hand, we’re scared to break ranks with male peers, and on the other hand, we fear being taken down by female peers. So that absolutely nails the insight behind inaction. And inaction is exactly what we don’t need, but that’s exactly what we are getting, because people are felt they felt a.

00:33:07:20 – 00:33:08:05
Philippa White
Parallel.

00:33:08:05 – 00:33:15:21
Victoria Brooks
Between a rock and a hard place and therefore paralyzed. Exactly. Another one is an interesting one in that it.

00:33:15:21 – 00:33:16:17
Philippa White
Is.

00:33:16:17 – 00:33:39:02
Victoria Brooks
An acknowledgment of this discomfort. So I can only assume as a middle aged white male, I’ve never experienced anything other than unequal opportunity in my career, which, when I look back, is really uncomfortable and I don’t know what to do. So like even facing into that, you know, and I think partly the exchange, it operates on visceral empathy because when you’re engaged with somebody that you don’t have any relationship with, you don’t working with that person in the project.

00:33:39:08 – 00:33:58:01
Victoria Brooks
There’s no kind of implications of that relationship except just to connect on these issues. There’s a visceral empathy that comes with that, and they start to be this discomfort for men and for women becomes real because you start to realize, I’ve been assuming things that are just not correct, or I’ve been saying things that I think are right and they’re being completely misconstrued.

00:33:58:01 – 00:34:13:24
Victoria Brooks
But I didn’t understand how. So great example actually that we use in the training is that we show them a booth of truth comment around a woman saying, My boss said to me, Don’t worry about your career, just focus on your baby. And we use that because there’s two different ways you could interpret that. One side, the woman’s.

00:34:13:24 – 00:34:26:01
Victoria Brooks
He told me not to worry about my career and I should just focus on my baby because I have no career left. It is all going out the window. And then his point of view is, I thought I was being such a great boss. I was just like, Please don’t worry, we’ve got you. You you’re coming back here.

00:34:26:08 – 00:34:44:13
Victoria Brooks
And I think it’s so interesting how these very well-intentioned people can get completely misunderstand each other. And so at that point, it’s really about that empathy to understand. But put your head into that woman’s mind and realize, actually, she’s so worried about leaving her job for the first time in her career, and she’s wondering if there’s going to be anything to come back to.

00:34:44:16 – 00:34:56:02
Victoria Brooks
So because of that, I’m going to overcommunicate how enthusiastic we are about her return as I’m talking to her about her departure. So it’s really just about that kind of next level of empathy and visibility. Yeah.

00:34:56:03 – 00:35:21:22
Philippa White
And it’s so powerful. All of this is so powerful because. Exactly. It’s opening the communication. It’s understanding, it’s know. Neither side feels threatened, it’s creating that safe space. And I think this is you know, this is something that is needed in so many parts of society, but certainly the corporate world. And I just wonder, you know, how has this evolved now?

00:35:21:22 – 00:35:24:02
Philippa White
Like, what are you doing with other companies?

00:35:24:03 – 00:35:54:17
Victoria Brooks
Yeah, I mean, I think in so many ways you’ve seen a lot of the men and women who’ve taken part in the program take some of the learnings from exchange back into their businesses. And some of that has been about setting off experiments of trying to create a mini exchange within their organization. And actually some of the organizations we’ve engaged in the process have asked us to come in and try to create an exchange in a network agency where they’ve got a number of different agencies under their umbrella and matching people between those agencies who don’t work with each other and have no impact on each other’s careers.

00:35:54:24 – 00:36:12:00
Victoria Brooks
But we’ve actually been able to replicate and we’re in the middle of actually a pilot of trying to do that internally, because what we want to look at is how can we deepen the impact? So there’s an impact on one person that happens in a two way partnership and that exchange. But we want to see how can we maximize that impact and actually bring that back into the business.

00:36:12:00 – 00:36:40:06
Victoria Brooks
So we also have a number of different individuals who work in the same management team who’ve taken part so that we can see how can that management team then work together based on those learnings to really accelerate change in organizations that need it. So I think it’s a really interesting moment we’re at, which is like how do we kind of deepen that impact and the other point you made actually I want to come back to around anger is really interesting because there has been a lot of, you know, angry press in the last six months actually about sexual harassment.

00:36:40:06 – 00:36:58:04
Victoria Brooks
Again in our industry. And we actually were challenged by one of these authors saying, we think that you’re not brave enough to stand up against some of the challenging behaviors in this industry because you’re not actually being angry about it. And our our retort was actually, there are different theories of change. And they all of these types of change are needed to work collaboratively.

00:36:58:04 – 00:37:21:07
Victoria Brooks
We need the the person who’s in the front leading the charge in the protest to set the tone and put the provocation out there. But then we also need the people who are going to work on the ground with the people who are in positions of power to actually feel comfortable enough, as you said earlier, like not feel defensive, but actually feel that they have a role to play and that they are capable of creating change that’s powerful.

00:37:21:12 – 00:37:24:02
Victoria Brooks
So I think it’s just interesting, you know, an either or is both.

00:37:24:03 – 00:37:46:15
Philippa White
That it’s true. Actually, I was having a conversation with somebody the other day and wish I could remember the name of the I think it was a poet and I can’t remember the name of the woman who said it. Anyway, I did not come up with this idea, but I really liked it. It was something along the lines of you know, if you look too much to the you know, if you look too much upwards or if you look too much downwards, it hurts your neck.

00:37:47:13 – 00:38:05:04
Philippa White
And I, I really like that, you know, as a as a way of just explaining kind of this kind of if you’re looking down at people or if you’re looking kind of up in up, oh, my God. You know, either way is not healthy. You know, there needs to be equilibrium and but you need but you need both sides.

00:38:05:04 – 00:38:06:01
Philippa White
And I agree with that.

00:38:06:01 – 00:38:22:11
Victoria Brooks
I mean, I think that actually that’s what I try bring such a chord for me because actually what you’re doing with TIE is exactly that you’re bringing people to collaborate around an issue rather than a charity shouting from the rooftops it in a way that is actually quite, you know, to be using shock tactics wherever it might be.

00:38:22:11 – 00:38:35:09
Victoria Brooks
But you’re bringing people in to the core of the issue, asking them to solve it, and they feel empowered. They feel ready to act, and then they actually can do so much more than they could if they were in paralysis from being shocked. So I think.

00:38:36:02 – 00:38:56:10
Philippa White
It is true, it actually just to that point because a little bit like what you’re doing with the exchange, you know, I think we all agree that for the world to change the sector most responsible for that change is the private sector. The only way that the private sector can be part of that change is really understanding what is happening.

00:38:56:10 – 00:39:17:07
Philippa White
Now. You could yell at the private sector and say, you idiot, like this, you know, but the thing is, is for change to happen, the people running the sector, the people who are making the decisions need to understand it. And so, again, it’s a little bit like the exchange. It’s bringing these two worlds together for them to understand each other, for that empathy, for that, oh my God, for those realizations, for that clear communication.

00:39:17:07 – 00:39:27:18
Philippa White
Because, I mean, cross-sector partnerships, in my view, are the you know, when it comes to the big challenges that we face is also a big part of the solution. But again, it’s all rooted in this definitely the same thinking that you have.

00:39:27:23 – 00:40:00:24
Victoria Brooks
It’s actually funny because I had a chat in the last year with someone who was working with a big fuel company, and I was suggesting that we should use the principles of the exchange to bring in the next generation of climate activists like agreed right to meet with the CEO, meet, meet with the CEO. The CEO is obviously, you know, a white male who’s in his sixties and have him meet with Greta and understand not better, but that generation of young people who see the vision for why this needs to change and have them engage in a one off conversation but have them meet six times like they are doing the exchange and talk about

00:40:00:24 – 00:40:27:02
Victoria Brooks
it and just chew through things. So I think the important thing is that Greta also would understand better what that CEO faces, the pressure he faces. So in our program, women are actually the reason that women come out of it in a very different position is because they actually build confidence and about how to have empathy for the senior male leaders because in some ways, because there’s so much power held by senior men, it creates almost like a fairy tale around what it means to be a senior man.

00:40:27:02 – 00:40:51:03
Victoria Brooks
And then you talk to them in these intimate, safe spaces and you realize the fears that he faces, how lonely it is at the top, how trying to talk about their own imposter syndrome. Exactly. Exac. Actually have one about that right here. Yes, absolutely. And so I think that the only true way to equality or to any solutions on any of these very thorny topics is about having conversations in a safe place.

00:40:51:18 – 00:41:05:08
Philippa White
Totally. Okay. Now, is there anything I haven’t asked you? I mean, we’re coming to the end of the podcast. I could uncover the goose bumps. You should see my way or my legs. I’m just so I am. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you?

00:41:05:08 – 00:41:30:17
Victoria Brooks
I think you’ve covered so much, but I think one thing that I didn’t bring into the podcast at all and I want to make sure that I do, because the really important part of myself and what I’ve learned through the exchange is that women in business in particular often don’t talk about being a mother. And I think that that motherhood, as one friend of mine, actually said, that is the best management leadership course you’ll ever take is actually managing small humans.

00:41:31:09 – 00:41:49:20
Victoria Brooks
And there are very bizarre and interesting ways of walking through the world and how you have to navigate that with them. But I do think that it’s something that I’m trying to bring into conversation more openly, because I think that so many senior women are so frightened to be compromised and perceived only as a mother or as a mum boss.

00:41:49:20 – 00:42:04:23
Victoria Brooks
You’re like, No, I’m not a mum boss, I’m a boss. And I actually happen to be a mum. So like just some of this language around motherhood and, and being proud of the fact that, you know, I have taken time out at various points in my career because my children have had various needs. We don’t have extended family in this country.

00:42:05:03 – 00:42:20:05
Victoria Brooks
I needed to be that village for them at that point. And then I can dove back into stuff that means a lot of a lot to me in the business world. But I bring so much more depth of understanding and meaning to my work because I’m a mother. And I think it’s just important to bring that into the conversation.

00:42:20:05 – 00:42:30:08
Victoria Brooks
And I know how you feel the same because we have we’ve been on this motherhood journey together as well as we’ve been on the professional journey together. We’ve also been on the motherhood journey literally together because our children are born.

00:42:30:08 – 00:42:30:18
Philippa White
Exactly.

00:42:30:18 – 00:42:37:12
Victoria Brooks
Both at the same time. It’s so strange. And I love that, and I’ve absolutely adored having that parallel with you.

00:42:37:12 – 00:42:46:07
Philippa White
Yeah, it’s extraordinary. I’m saying Victoria was with me when I discovered I was pregnant in life where you were and. And yeah, I mean.

00:42:46:08 – 00:42:47:20
Victoria Brooks
It still feels market.

00:42:47:21 – 00:42:49:05
Philippa White
Yes. It feels like it.

00:42:50:05 – 00:42:52:17
Victoria Brooks
It was an amazing moment to share.

00:42:52:17 – 00:43:09:09
Philippa White
Yeah, it really was. And it’s funny. Yeah. Because your eldest is the same as is my eldest same age and. And your little one is the same as my little one. So you have four years apart going through, like, identical challenges throughout our motherhood journey. It’s extraordinary.

00:43:09:09 – 00:43:22:06
Victoria Brooks
Yeah, absolutely. And I just think that narrative is such an important one to bring in to this, because I think it’s such a huge part of our friendship and connection, but also why we care even more deeply about these topics and getting it right for the next generation.

00:43:22:12 – 00:43:31:11
Philippa White
Couldn’t agree more. Victoria, I so appreciate you. I appreciate your time. Thank you for sharing your brain with everyone and thank you.

00:43:31:11 – 00:43:35:22
Victoria Brooks
For inviting me. It’s been amazing and you know how much I love you. So this has been wonderful.

00:43:36:18 – 00:43:58:10
Philippa White
Until next time. Take care. Bye.

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