Creativity and good ideas can come from anywhere and at Amplify, this notion is championed. Sophy Vanner Critoph, Head of Strategy, Culture and Comms at Amplify, weighs in on how to support a more diverse workforce; collaboration, empathy, and a willingness to listen and adapt.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and your journey to arriving there?
I’m Head of Strategy at Amplify where I lead our UK team and support our global and sibling-agency strategists too. I’m also part of our agency management team, responsible for the creative output, commercial success and agency culture.
Having come from a working-class household, my lack of social-mobility and school grades didn’t offer the obvious route into the industry. However, time spent in retail management, experiencing uni later than most, and catching my first break in Manchester at the dawn of social media gave me a head start before moving into agency life in London. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to find some brilliant cheerleaders along the way, and work at agencies such as Truth, Momentum, FRUKT and Portas.
Amplify Strategy Team
What barriers do women still face in our industry and how can we challenge them?
In my view, the main barrier that exacerbates so many other challenges is the lack of diverse representation at a decision-making level where the structure and culture of a business is decided. There are not enough women in leadership positions, and the situation is much worse for women from underrepresented groups.
To support a more diverse workforce, our businesses need to be set-up to support people in different situations, with a variety of perspectives considered. Without diverse leadership, decisions are only made through a similar lens, and changes can often end up as superficial, leaving policies, structures and culture unaffected and people disengaged. Collaboration and openness to change is key; employee engagement needs to be personal and long-term.
Without women in those seats, we’re lacking role models, which isn’t being helped by the fact that women are leaving the industry. Talk of burnout and fake flexibility is gaining more traction as we vocalise the exhaustion faced in an industry built for men. So, while dramatically improving recruitment and retention policies should be an immediate focus, it’s more urgent to make sure our businesses are built for the women in them, and real flexibility is key.
It’s time to start prioritising feminine leadership traits, moving from a celebration of confidence, competitiveness, results and ambition, to flexibility, empathy, collaboration and kindness. Still results-focused, but through the lens of understanding people and what makes them feel good. Because when people feel positive, they’re more likely to deliver.
Allyship is a huge part of that culture change - and every day, not just a one-off. Activating gender inclusion programs can be a great start. Women and underrepresented groups are often more open to challenging the status quo, because they’ve lived in discomfort, but we all need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable to change.
How do you use your position to build equitable teams that are diverse and balanced?
As an agency, we celebrate the diverse talent we already have onboard and we’re lucky to have a real tapestry of talent that calls Amplify home. With our culture shaped by B-corp ambitions, we have several different streams of focus.
Our social mission is to champion young creative talent from all walks of life, and so four years ago I founded a learning accelerator program called New Wave to do that. We now have a stream of talent coming through from our partnership with Brixton Finishing School and have plans to supercharge this in other ways this year.
As well as a DE&I steering group, which provides information, education and direction to all policies, processes and initiatives that we undertake, we also encourage the use of ERGs to connect like-minded people. For example, I founded ‘Women of Amplify’ (WOAH) to bring women together through programming, to educate, support and inspire.
From a project point of view, our kick-offs include open conversations about the make-up of project teams, moving away from simply looking at seniority and availability, but focusing more on lived experiences, expertise, potential and diversity in all its forms. We believe that ideas should come from everywhere, and we see the best work when teams feel connected and are diverse.
‘Women of Amplify’ (WOAH) | IWD
Who are your female advertising icons/role models and why?
I’ve only recently become aware of WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications, Leadership), which is mad because they’re doing amazing things, but I’m really looking forward to being more involved this year. I have mentoring sessions lined up over the next few months with some incredible women from our industry, and I’m excited to gain guidance from those with different experiences so I can continue to move forwards and open doors for other women.
Someone who continues to shape my outlook on our industry by being unapologetically true to herself is Charlotte Mair, founder and CEO of the agency The Fitting Room. Being a female-led, black-owned business is breaking the mold in itself, but she continues to challenge the archaic rooms she walks into and refuses to accept things because they’ve always been that way.