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Changemakers: Leo Burnett’s Chaka Sobhani on why workplace diversity really matters

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Chaka Sobhani is the Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett
Chaka Sobhani is the Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett   -   Copyright  Image supplied by Sobhani to Cannes Lions
By Annabel Murphy  & Oleksandra Vakulina

“Our job is to help create a better world, being in the right place with the right people to do it, and if you ain't - get the hell out, it's not worth it,” said Chaka Sobhani.

That’s the advice Sobhani, the Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett and a passionate campaigner for building the next generation of creative talent, gave audiences at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Sobhani says diversity, equality and inclusion are as important as new business development at Leo Burnett and her team is “revisiting daily” their plans and asking themselves “who can we learn from, who can we partner with to move these things forward”.

“You have to have initiatives, I think, really clear ones that run through your entire business not just for creatives, not just for different disciplines,” she added.

Speaking to Euronews Next during the event’s female leadership Changemakers’ series, Sobhani described the reasons why diversity is so important to the industry and what her agency is doing about it.

Connecting with underrepresented communities

Diversity is about bringing voices from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds into the creative thinking process so that campaigns “genuinely, genuinely play in culture” and better connect and resonate with audiences.

The rise of technology, such as the metaverse, for instance, or the use of creators in communication, is another reason why she thinks the industry must connect and learn from the unique perspectives of young people.

Investing time and energy reaching out to the communities that wouldn’t normally consider the creative industries as a career is critical because it’s about cultivating a pipeline of talent at all levels for the future, Sobhani argues.

“We have to accelerate that growth and that learning of communities and people who have not been represented in this industry to get them up to speed, to get them in the C-suite so that they are seen, they are visible, and that they are impacting and effecting change in everything that we do,” she said.

Learning from each other

Creating more equality and representation is a team effort - it’s not something that women need to do on their own, she added.

To make progress, to be more creative and relevant it’s about collaborating “as a crew” and learning from each other’s strengths.

“It's a collective thing - this is not about women doing it on their own. Are you cool? Are you decent? Do you want to get to better ideas? You want to create stuff that connects. Then we do it together as simple as that,” Sobhani said.

The Leo Burnett CCO also said that whilst males and females are often brought up to be a certain way - for instance, men more assertive and women, more humble - the best female leaders are the ones that have embraced both male and female traits.

“The minute you can get into the place where it's not about good and bad, it's not about better or worse. It's about learning from each other's strengths and weaknesses and trying to take on board some of those and come to a middle place, and kind of learn from each other,” Sobhani said.

“When I look at female leaders, the most successful female leaders, there is a thread that goes through that”. 

  • For more on this story, watch an edited version of the full interview in the media player for more comments on female leadership and retaining talent in the creative industry.

  • To watch the entire video, visit the Cannes Lions website.

  • The Changemakers series in partnership with Cannes Lions Live and Euronews Next is a one-to-one interview series with female leaders who are rethinking their roles and creating a better future for their industry.