Last Thursday, 170 women from Omnicom Group agencies across the U.K. donned comedy red noses and danced the Macarena in the London atrium of BT, one of the company's big local clients. The dance off was actually part of an event for fundraiser Comic Relief, but they happened to be there at the U.K. launch of Omniwomen, a global initiative for rising female stars across Omnicom.
Omnicom launched the Omniwomen project in April 2014 in the U.S., and in September in China. The one-day U.K. conference was timed to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8.
The plan is to roll it out to "as many markets as possible," according to Janet Riccio, EVP at Omnicom and Dean of Omnicom University. Omniwomen's aim is to increase the influence of and number of female leaders throughout the network.
The idea was born when Ms. Riccio noticed that very few women were progressing through to its Omnicom University's Advanced Management Program, although they were plenty at the level below. After gathering senior women in the network to talk about what could be done, it was decided to identify rising female stars across the company who could be inspired to go further, and also to encourage and sponsor the next generation.
Much of the talk at the London event was about finding your "sponsor," not necessarily a "mentor," but someone who would put women on the radar of senior management." Attendees were picked by the heads of their respective companies.
"We chose people we thought would be good protagonists and good advocates," said Cilla Snowball, group chairman and group chief executive of AMV BBDO, who co-chaired the U.K. event with Ms. Riccio.
Conference speakers included Jo Swinson, Junior Minister for Women and Equalities in the U.K. government, who spoke about her experiences of being both female and the youngest Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.
Two CMOs, Amanda Mackenzie of Aviva, and Sarah Warby of grocery chain Sainsbury's, spoke about lessons they'd learned over their careers. Ms. Mackenzie recounted how bursting into tears in a meeting had actually been beneficial in the end, while Ms. Warby said she had initially disliked networking but then realized that it "doesn't have to be Machiavellian."
In breakout sessions, delegates enthusiastically discussed subjects such as becoming more resilient and confident, and "the myth of the slow lane after kids." There was also a "He for She" session in which senior male Omnicom execs, including Mike Cooper, CEO of PHD Worldwide and Ije Nwokorie, CEO of Wolff Olins, discussed their experiences of working with female executives.
Omnicom plans to hold quarterly Omniwomen events, and, according to Ms. Riccio, sees the success of the initiative as integral to making the group "future-fit." As she pointed out throughout the day: "Companies that have diverse, inclusive management teams and boards financially outperform those who don't."