This interview was originally published by Ad Age.
Sam Phillips wasn’t always outspoken. But 15 years ago, when her son was born with Down Syndrome, she realized that while many people know someone with a disability, it’s mainly a verboten subject in the U.K.
“I found my voice talking about areas of diversity and inclusion,” says Phillips, who is now chief marketing officer of Omnicom Media Group U.K. She was recently invited by the U.K. government to be its inaugural Advertising Sector Champion for Disability, educating the Council of Europe on media’s role in increasing awareness of people with disabilities. In May, she will lead a session on disabilities at the Global Festival of Media in Rome, and will do a fireside chat with the U.K.’s Minister of State for Disabled People, Health & Work Issues at Media Week’s Media 360 event.
She says these efforts help people see the world in a different way—and that it behooves the industry to understand these perspectives. “You think differently because you’ve had different life experiences,” she says. “Why are we not tapping in to this?”
Phillips also leads overall diversity and inclusion efforts across Omnicom U.K.’s agencies in her role of chair of Omnicom People Engagement Network in the region. WIthin the company, she’s a founding member of Omniwomen UK, a global organization dedicated to improving the number and influence of female talent at the holding company, and executive sponsor of Open Pride UK, which launched last year across Omnicom UK to foster an inclusive and engaging work environment for Omnicom’s LGBT community.
“We are really at the start still, but starting to get steam,” she says of these efforts. But in terms of diversity and inclusion, “until we can honestly say that we reflect our population, we’re not there yet.”
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
I would love to be in politics. I just have a genuine belief that we can make life better. I’m passionate about that.
What was your worst career mistake and what did you learn from it?
I haven’t had any actual disasters. That’s not to say I haven’t had some big learners along the way. A big learning is I didn’t appreciate when I started work how important culture was. In retrospect, I was at a job where I wasn’t the right cultural fit, which made me uneasy and doubt whether I was good enough.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To understand that being the authentic me genuinely was enough. I wish I’d realized earlier that being myself and being different was an advantage, not a bad thing. For example, if I talk about my disabled son, people are going to remember me. That’s not why I’m having the conversation, but it is something that makes you a bit different. Why hide that? It takes a lot less energy to be yourself.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the founders of the suffragettes in Britain. She was right at the start of this movement.
What’s one thing the industry can do to encourage more women and people of color into its ranks?
Get allies more engaged. To drive more gender equality, we need to get the men more engaged. We’ve got some great examples around Omnicom about men who are really, really into this.