A Week in My Life: Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals - an award-winning organisation 'championing diversity and inclusion in the creative industries' - takes us through a week in her working life.


Our Creative, Digital and Media Equalities Standard was launched in September 2017. This is a diversity, inclusion and equality kitemark for companies, which helps give them a rating, review and a roadmap. In the morning, I visit a high profile advertising agency to meet with their managing director, head of talent and chair of their diversity council to talk them through the model. In the afternoon, I pop into see Stuart Taylor, CEO of Kinetic Worldwide and Jo Williams, one of the most progressive HR directors I know who were one of first 10 companies to go through our Equality Standard.

Since our audit with them in April last year, they’ve rolled up their sleeves and put tangible programmes in play within the business - and it’s paying off. They have less staff churn, staff are happier, less staff have been off with sick days - and more people are coming to Williams with some of their personal challenges (like mental health, workplace adjustments and health concerns). There is less stigma for them - they now feel it's OK if HR know there is stress or depression is affecting their work.

This meeting has all the outcomes we’ve been looking for in conclusive case studies. Inclusive cultures work. I crunch some numbers in my head on the way home - it costs an average of £25,000 to replace a staff member on an average salary (off-boarding staff, recruitment fees, on-boarding new staff, and so on). For a company of this kind, they will have saved about £250,000. It’s one of those days when I know why I’ve given up my former job as a creative director to do this work. 



First thing in the morning, I talk on the phone with Rachel Gott, our Creative Comeback recruitment partner. In September 2018, we won funding from the Government Equalities Office to run a programme for creative women to return back to work. To deliver it, we’re partnering with D&AD and Facebook.

The creative sector has a huge gender pay gap - in some cases, over 40%. One of the key causes is a lack of women in creative departments (only 12% of creative directors are women). And, one of the challenges around this is parenting - caring is a key inflection point for women. Just as they are stepping up to a leadership role, motherhood or caring responsibilities come along and they take a career break. Getting back in can be tough.

The challenge with the creative sector (and others) is your creative work can ‘date'. So much can change in the digital era and if you’re out for a couple of years, your portfolio may not have what’s seen as ‘relevant’ work in it on the most ‘in’ social platforms. Recruiters are also biased and are reticent to negotiate flexible working for candidates. Rachel and I go through the list of applicants together, working out who we can take on the programme, as we have had 195 applicants for our 70 places in London and Manchester.

Some have had cancer, some have had children, one candidate is deaf and some are over 50, experiencing ageism. We decide who we’re going to take on. The rest of my day is back-to-back meetings pitching our work. 



Today, we’re in a workshop covering ‘action on bias’. While many sectors have diversity, inclusion and equalities training, we don’t see many creative, media or tech companies covering this for their employees. The fact is we all have unconscious biases - and, when there is a dominant group in play in the workplace, it can make it difficult for those in ‘the only’ group to navigate their way through the business.

There are over 150 different types of bias, but the most well-known one is affinity bias - where we have a direct preference for someone who looks and sounds like us, and who comes from our own social group. Bias has a huge influence over who gets recruited, promoted, retained and groomed for those critical leadership roles. If there is time, we go deeper, looking at concepts of privilege, social justice and inherent challenges within the ‘system’.

In this workshop, we plotted out this company’s ‘recruitment journey’ and, once the group understood unconscious bias, we overlaid this throughout the process, exploring where it might be depending on different demographics (age, ethnicity, gender, disability, and so on). One of the attendees was shocked. "The whole system is biased, end to end," she announced. That’s when we know the learning has worked. Bias runs deep - and it’s real. After a full day, it’s time to go home. 



A couple of exciting things are happening today. We have a huge piece of news to announce. In December 2018, Diageo asked all their agencies to submit their gender statistics as they think the pace of change within the industry is too slow (they’re right, it is).

As part of our Creative Comeback programme, we have a series of briefs to put into our cohort. As part of their commitment to helping their agencies change, Diageo is sponsoring all our briefs. Our returners are going to get the opportunity to work on a live brief for two key Diageo brands. Today is the day this story hits the media press... our Twitter feed explodes.

The comments on LinkedIn are so positive. In the afternoon, I head up to Diageo’s head office in Park Royal, London, to record a video for International Women’s Day, then head back into town to meet one of my mentees, a designer called Lara, who is working out what she needs to do to get promoted. 



This is a working from home day. There are two jobs. One is to promote our neurodiversity conference: Diverse Minds, in partnership with The Hobbs Consultancy. Only about nine per cent of businesses are considering neurodivergents: dyslexics, autism, dyspraxia and more in the workplace.

The other is to build the speaker line up for our flagship conference, RISE, on May 15th. So far, we have Mary Portas, retail guru, author and TV presenter, Samantha Renke, disability activist and actress, Sir John Heggarty, co-founder of BBH, photographer Ian Rankin and trans activist Munroe Bergdorf confirmed at the London Symphony Orchestra’s venue in Shoreditch.

We’re looking for a headliner to finish, so Emily Philp of Flex Events, our partner and I are shooting ideas and thinking of who we would like to have wrap up the day. One of our aims is to double the number of female creative directors so this day is one of our key events to put this topic on the industry’s map. We spend the day contacting speaker agents, potential sponsors and going through our timelines until it goes dark...

And then we figure it’s time for a Prosecco to celebrate the end of the week.