A day at WACL’s Festival of Talent

Posted on Friday 03 May 2024 | Jessie Sampson - IAB UK

WACL’s 2024 Festival of Talent was a chance to step away from our ‘to do’ lists, rethink established habits and hear some awe-inspiring human stories, writes the IAB’s Jessie Sampson

It’s rare to go to an industry event that has you dancing one minute and welling up the next, but that was my experience at WACL’s Festival of Talent this year, hosted at Sky's vast and impressive campus. The day was billed as ‘a one-day accelerator designed for established and emerging female leaders’ - a sentence that had me expecting group role play, flip charts and scrawling on post-its. Happily, I was wrong. 

My preconceptions evaporated as soon as Shiva Raichandani - a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, director, producer and inclusion consultant - opened the morning by leading us in a Bollywood-inspired dance routine. There’s nothing like shimmying next to strangers to break down inhibitions and Raichandani set us up brilliantly for an uplifting, challenging and - unexpectedly - cathartic day. 

It really is OK to be vulnerable

Objectively we know it’s OK to be vulnerable at work - this is 2024 right? But it’s one thing to know something and another to see it on stage in all its honest, messy and moving reality. That was the case during a discussion with It Takes a Village’s Chloe Davies, Sky’s Claudia Osei-Nsafoah, writer and campaigner Ellen Jones and former CEO of dentsu media Hamish Nicklin - who has recently traded strategy meetings for stay-at-home dad duties. 

Speaking to Google’s Nishma Robb about what it means to be an authentic leader, the group were candid about challenges they have individually faced - from the 4am panic attacks that eventually led Nicklin to make life-altering changes, to the responsibility that comes with “becoming a poster child for your community” as Davies shared her story as a successful Black woman in an industry that remains overwhelmingly white. “I don’t get to switch my mask off”, she explained. 

As Osei-Nsafoah put it, “it’s ok to be vulnerable [as a leader]” and the speakers really showed us the power and freedom that can be found by embracing that. I’ve sat through many panel discussions over the years, and this was up there with the best. I definitely wasn’t the only one who wound up shedding a few tears. Props to the woman sitting in front who was handing out tissues. 

Give yourself a chance

Another highlight came from behavioural change specialist Shahroo Izadi, who took us through practical steps to challenge self-limiting beliefs. She explained that many of us simply “don’t give ourselves the chance to master something”, but small behavioural shifts can help to unlock our full potential - such as prioritising consistency over the urge to go ‘all in’ when we set ourselves a challenge.

For example, say your aim is to master meditation. Izadi pointed out that it’s better to meditate for one minute a day, every day for a month vs meditating for an hour three days in a row, only to give up on the fourth day. If you actually want to achieve something, there is a lot to be said for “picking the path of least resistance” to establish a habit. 

She also cautioned against the very human tendency to withhold rewards from ourselves until we have achieved our objectives. Rather than not allowing yourself to do, buy or be something until you have done what you set out to do, embody and own it from the get-go. 

Keep a part of you for frivolous, unstructured joy 

We’re often urged to bring our whole selves to work, but Kelechi Okafor - author and actress - made a brilliant point. “You have to keep a part of you for home… a part of you for frivolous, unstructured joy” and holding that back doesn’t mean you’re being inauthentic. In a similar vein, Baroness Ruth Hunt pointed out that “women are constantly analysing how authentic they can be at any given moment and we don’t factor in the price that has [on them].”

Bringing it back to unstructured joy towards the end of the day was Dionne Reid, Founder of KiD iN YOU. She encouraged us to step into our seven-year-old shoes and get into a childlike frame of mind to make new connections and tap into the genuine curiosity that kids have in spades. It struck me that a word that came up again and again in people’s answers during this session was ‘kindness’. We often use words like ‘authentic’ and ‘resilient’ when it comes to workplace traits, but kindness doesn’t usually get a look in. By taking us back to our childhood mindsets, Reid helped to bring it to the fore. 

There’s so much else I could include - from Pets at Home’s Lyssa McGowan on rebalancing work culture to Reeha Alder who used IKIGAI to help us identify our unique strengths. WACL’s ‘Festival of Talent’ was a chance to step away from our ‘to do’ lists, rethink established habits and hear some awe-inspiring human stories - not to mention embracing public dancing stone-cold sober. All without a flip chart in sight. 

Written by

Jessie Sampson


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