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Roxana Nita on This Year’s ‘See It Be It’ Program at Cannes Lions

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The CD at DDB Romania spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the honour of being the only representative from Eastern Europe in the initiative, meeting Tarana Burke, the originator of the #MeToo movement, and why men need to be part of feminist discourse

Roxana Nita on This Year’s ‘See It Be It’ Program at Cannes Lions

This year’s Cannes Lions provided us with another strong instalment of their ‘See It Be It’ program, developed to address the prevailing gender imbalance in advertising and help bolster female creative talent. Each year, 15 female-identifying people from around the world and every corner of the industry are selected to attend the program, which is a series of workshops and lectures aimed at helping them find their voice and “achieve their leadership potential.” Each year applicants from around the world are in the hundreds, all women in the creative industry who are either struggling to understand how to step into their best selves within managerial positions, or plainly those who would like to know more on how to climb the ranks of their agency ladders while dealing with the embedded misogyny in the workplace. According to Roxana Nita, creative director at DDB Romania and one of the participants in See It Be It this year, all the alumni of the program have a sort of “guardians of the galaxy'' feel to them and are tasked with taking what they learned at SIBI and applying it to their daily lives and helping others within their networks.

Besides becoming patrons of inclusivity, equity and diversity, the women in the program learn through feminist discussions on varying topics, from how to transition into creative to creative director, to pay gaps and how to negotiate salary while trying to combat things like mansplaining in the workplace. The theme of this year’s SIBI was “I am enough” and was led by Madonna Badgers, CCO and founder at Badger and Winters, and Swati Bhattacharya, and CCO at FCB India. The two of them spoke about how to take up your rightful place in the industry and learn how to accept that the space you occupy is yours to take up. 

Roxana spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about her experience in this year’s SIBI, why the US is falling behind other countries, why more pressure should be put on the Global North, and the duty of agencies to include themselves in feminist conversations.




LBB> How did you get selected for the initiative and what was your initial reaction? Why did you think you'd benefit from the program?


Roxana> I applied in 2020 and was chosen from over 800 applicants from all over the world. I really wanted to be selected as I was back then recently promoted to CD and was struggling to make the transition between being a creative and becoming a manager. I also wanted to hear more advice on how to define your leadership style, especially as an introvert such as myself.


LBB> Do you feel like there was enough fair representation at the program amongst the 15 chosen candidates? 


Roxana> I was very surprised and honoured to learn that I was the only participant from Eastern Europe in my group that year. The rest of my colleagues were from all over the world: the US, UK, Brazil, India, Singapore, Mexico, Japan, Dominican Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Australia and the Philippines. I think the SIBI organisers did a great job when it comes to representation, as we had a diverse batch of cultures from all continents and a good match of personalities, both introvert and extrovert.


LBB> As an Eastern European woman in the creative sphere, do you believe overall there is enough push for inclusion of people from Eastern Europe and how could that improve? Do you expect to see some programs that concentrate specifically on this part of the world, or do you think the push needs to come from within those countries?


Roxana> To date, over 120 women have participated in the See It Be It program, and many of them have gone on to leadership positions, won Lions awards and become Cannes Lions jurors. Out of these SIBI alumni over the years, four of us are from Romania (Miruna Macri, Ruxandra Drilea, Simina Zidaru and myself), so that’s a pretty big recognition for us as a small Eastern European country. 

All the alumni become a kind of ‘guardians of the galaxy’ who are tasked with taking forward what they learned at SIBI and promoting principles of inclusion, diversity, and equality in the environments in which they work.

Although we are competitive and have access to this kind of international program, I would love to see more initiatives aimed exclusively at Eastern cultures, as we share a similar background in history and have the same social issues to solve. 


LBB> Do you believe that 15 chosen candidates out of the 797 applicants is enough and do you think the initiative should expand beyond this?


Roxana> What was interesting with this edition was the fact that the selection process for new groups was on hold for two years because of the pandemic. So we had plenty of time in online workshops in the first two years to actually discover lots of things about my fellow group members and have various discussions that brought us closer together. So what initially seemed like a disadvantage (the pandemic), turned into a great advantage and I was able to benefit from this programme for three years and make friends with women from different cultures and backgrounds.

Then in 2022, when we finally went psychically to Cannes, a new smaller selection process took place and six new women joined our group, so this year there were 21 of us and it was even better, as we got to know even more cultures.

From my experience, although it may seem small, I think 15-20 women is the optimal number of participants to create an intimate group where uninhibited discussions can flourish. 



LBB> What were the main takeaways from the initiative, and what were its biggest pros?


Roxana> Madonna Badgers (CCO & founder, Badger and Winters) and Swati Bhattacharya (chief creative officer, FCB India), the two ambassadors of the SIBI program guided us throughout the days and together we talked freely and uninhibitedly about difficult topics such as how to transition from creative to creative director, how to define your leadership style, work-life balance, pay gaps and how to negotiate salary, how to manage difficult client relationships and much more. 

The theme of this year's programme was "I am enough". Swati reminded us that in order to take our rightful place as soon as possible, we need to accept that we are enough just as we are at the moment. Enough to lead, enough to experience, enough to progress. We had some intense days of workshops and training, we talked about ourselves, about creativity, about the problems we face, about how we can solve them and about our plans for the future. 

We did value mapping with Mackenzie, where we defined our values, the ones that make us happy with ourselves, then we talked with Maddie Kramer about side hustles and how to work on personal projects outside of the agency. We also had access to the judging rooms, the Film category and the prestigious Glass Lion, where we talked to the jurors about what criteria they use to select award-winning campaigns. We also talked about cultural appropriation with Karabo Poppy and why it's a toxic phenomenon and what we can do in agencies to avoid it. 

What was also useful was that we had different hour-long sessions with different leaders, where we got to know different types of leadership. We had the honour of meeting the originator of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, and FBC's CCO, Susan Credle, both incredibly talented and empathetic women who were eager to chat with us without censorship.

We also had one-on-one mentorship sessions and we attended inspirational talks from famous names such as Issa Rae, Liz Taylor, Tea Uglow and Regina Hall. 


LBB> Many talks and programs regarding gender inequality in adland tend to attract mostly women - of course, some of them are programs exclusively for women, however men seem to not often engage with these talks, panels, and general conversations when it comes to why women are leaving the industry. How do you think this can change, and should it, or should this stay an exclusively female space?


Roxana> I think men are also a part of the conversation, perhaps although not as much as we’d wish. At SIBI we also had male speakers who fight for gender imbalance and misrepresentation like David Griner and Ryan Reynolds who recently launched Creative Ladder together, a platform aimed to support underrepresented communities in the creative industries. 

Also, besides See it Be it, I’ve attended various programs such as Google RARE Academy or Creative LIAisons where I had male mentors and I had a wonderful time learning from their own experiences as leaders.

I also believe that once we get into leadership positions, regardless of our gender it becomes our individual responsibility not to perpetuate certain clichés in campaigns, not to assign men to beer briefs and women to margarine briefs, not to ask women when they plan to have children in interviews, and not to assume that someone has nothing to say just because they are not outspoken in meetings. 



LBB> Even though we see more women in leadership positions today, do you think we're almost there in terms of goal reaching? And do you think that many times this conversation is too Western-centric, excluding smaller countries and the issues there?


Roxana> Globally, only 29% of creative directors are women, a rather disarming statistic for women working in creative departments everywhere. There is still a lot of discrimination and imbalances that creative women face on a daily basis, both at a macro-level when it comes to pay and promotions and at a micro-level with things like mansplaining and other micro-aggressions.
 
I think this imbalance discussion is clearly more predominant in the US and the West, but I also think that the situation is more serious there than in Eastern Europe. 

In Romania for example, in recent years, a lot of women have taken over the role of leading creative departments in big agencies. I am grateful and confident that the strong women who are now in leadership positions are going to create a domino effect and are going to empower the next generation of female creatives.

As a random fact, Romania and Bulgaria outperform other European countries when it comes to the representation of women in technical, typically male-dominated, professional sectors and also when it comes to women, leading in businesses in other domains. The average number of women scientists and engineers in Bulgaria was 52% and in Romania 41%. 


LBB> How do you believe Eastern Europe can be fairly included in these conversations and who has to push for it? What do you want to see in terms of recognition?


Roxana> I think it’s our duty as agencies to include ourselves in these gender equality conversations and take steps towards eliminating the glass ceiling. In Eastern Europe, we still have so many areas where we can contribute through education campaigns on issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse in schools, abortion rights, the elimination of virginity tests and more. I think recognition can come when we can produce more social work that has real impact.


LBB> Do you believe that all countries can pick up the same pace when it comes to gender equality, or is that not possible? What's the alternative?


Roxana> Paradoxically, while we were in Cannes, on the very night of the Glass category awards ceremony, the US overturned their Roe v. Wade law that underpinned the constitutional right to abortion. It's a constitutional law dispute that affects the lives and health of tens of millions of women in the United States and could have repercussions in Europe as well. 

It was shocking to everyone especially as the US is considered to set the tone in terms of gender equality and women’s right, this decision is expected to create a ripple effect, as it did a couple of years ago with the #MeToo movement.

So no, I don’t think all countries can move forward at the same pace, I think there is a lot more responsibility and focus on bigger countries like the US and then smaller countries follow their lead or are impacted by their decisions. 

It’s more important than ever that both agencies and brands fight to uphold women's rights, which can sometimes disappear overnight like they did with Roe v. Wade.


LBB> Any final thoughts?


Roxana> All this time spent with the participants for almost a week, going together to trainings, mentoring sessions, workshops, jury rooms, networking, talks and parties brought us very close together and I think made us all realise that despite the differences in culture and background, we are actually extremely similar and have the same problems and fears. So we all went home feeling a bit more reassured that we’re not alone in this.

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DDB Romania, Fri, 29 Jul 2022 16:10:43 GMT